Geesche Laksola 03.02.2021 9 min read

Why and how to keep track of your ocean container shipments

Whether first or last mile, transport logistics is a key component of the buying experience and overall success of every company engaged in goods trade. Close to 90% of goods (in volume) traded worldwide are transported via sea freight. (Also, in monetary value more than half of the global trade). Especially with supply chains becoming more complex and vulnerable and customer expectations shifting towards availability and visibility increasing steadily, efficiently tracking your shipments and sharing tracking information is essential.

The "multiple sources pain" or "too many open windows on my screen"

Shippers and other supply chain stakeholders have multiple options and sources to get tracking information for their shipments from carrier websites to tracking portals, industry-wide platforms such as Marine Traffic to outsourced transportation management services (4-5 PL). However, the more complex and diverse your supply chain and logistics service provider network become, the more sources you must consult. In practice, this means your staff must have many windows open, must be taught how to use different sources, must remember what to track when and where, and every time a new link is added to the supply chain, new screens or browser windows have to be opened, and services have to be learned.

Solution is seamless integrations! (not an easy domain though…)

One good solution to this dilemma is to decide on a central place from where to track all your shipments, such as your central operational system (e.g., your ERP "order book") and integrate all service providers into your system, so your shipments' tracking information is automatically updated when your orders are handled in the logistical chain.

Luckily, many service providers such as carriers nowadays can provide the interfaces for feeding of tracking information directly into customers' own systems (or at least being queried about specific shipments). Typically, carriers requiring electronic transmission of shipping order information are offering tracking information in return. The parcel, air freight, and large parts of the road freight industries have delivered electronic tracking information already for a while. Both public and private or industry-sponsored associations have enabled this development. E.g., IATA with its initiatives and concrete solutions to digitize the air freight industry or GS1 who, with its standards has successfully created a "common language" for digital supply chains. Now also the ocean shipping industry is quickly advancing, and both intergovernmental bodies such as the UNCTAD or specific industry associations such as the DCSA (the Digital Container Shipping Association of the world-leading ocean carriers) are fostering this development with introducing common standards focusing on interoperability. Interoperability and interconnectivity (a topic which we are already addressing since a couple of years, e.g. in this whitepaper written by industry expert Lars Jensen) are crucial enablers of the ocean logistics industry's and global supply chains' digitalization. Does that mean there will be only one integration standard or API (Application Programming Interface, modern synchronous integration interfaces) to get all the tracking information needed for your supply chain? Sorry, the answer is no. Standards and specific APIs are always developed and defined from a specific perspective for a particular use case or industry. They will vary across industry segments (e.g., containerized vs. non-containerized shipping) and geography. For example, even within the same industry and geography, European Road freight, different logistics companies have different services, processes, back-end systems, and IT integration capabilities. They interpret and use standards in different ways. As another concrete example, here, we explain how the same standard message for the US truckload tendering process is used in different ways and how to overcome the challenge.

Good news, there is solution providers like Youredi that help with get all this data into your systems

Now there is no single standard or interface, but many of these. You could buy a piece of integration software and hire integration experts to build the integrations with your logistics partners interfaces. (Perhaps starting with your top-10 partners?). You will see that many of your service providers will not have modern APIs or adhere to specific standards but work with legacy systems and EDI and customized message types and protocols. Instead of managing this jungle yourself, you can choose a solution provider like Youredi who has adopted the industry standards to ensure cost-efficient connectivity and help with onboarding and more customized interfaces. Last but not least, Youredi's turnkey solutions based on its own modern iPaaS (integration platform as a service) will allow you to receive the data directly into your main system, i.e. the place you chose to be your "single window", in the form and at the frequency you chose. If you change e.g., your main system, your full ecosystem will not have to be rebuilt; only one integrated will be updated.

The icing on the cake: from re-active to pro-active tracking

Track and trace information is great, but especially when you have many shipments, it requires a very attentive surveillance. Track and trace data is re-active by default. If you, via a service provider like Youredi have a good coverage of track and trace events including several intermediary shipment events before the final arrival notice, you can also take advantage of pro-active tracking using notifications and alerts. With Youredi’s service you can define what milestones are expected for what kind of shipments and have yourself be notified (via dedicated channels such as your customer service specific email address, company Slack or similar) about anomalies if these milestones are not met by a specific time, i.e. if delays are to be expected. By this you can take the necessary actions to mitigate the impact of delays or other deviations, e.g., tell your inland hauler to pick up your goods later, reschedule the labor, order a temporary storage service, inform your end customer etc. This and all other data connectivity services mentioned above can be accessed via Youredi’s recently launched solution “Youredi Rapids T&T – Maritime Logistics, Track & Trace Data Connectivity”. Do not hesitate to contact us if you would like to hear more about this.


Geesche Laksola

VP, Head of Business Development, Youredi

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