Despite the best efforts of many logistics management solution providers, improvements are needed in international supply chain visibility. With the beginning of the supply chain technology age, shippers were promised complete, real-time visibility and pinpoint lead times; these advancements in track-and-trace technology would usher in a golden age of shipment transparency. This visibility would lead to greater efficiencies and even supply chain risk mitigation.
Years after visibility startups began making waves with big ideas, many shippers are still just providing their customers with very basic visibility data.
A lack of shipment transparency data, especially concerning ocean container visibility, is no longer acceptable. With a rise in supply chain disruptions and the growing demand the e-commerce industry is putting on shipping networks, shippers simply can’t settle for subpar tracking data. Real-time container monitoring is now table stakes for shippers looking to win new shipper business, increase customer happiness, and avoid significant supply chain headaches.
Shippers and beneficial cargo owners need effective container tracking technology that provides quality, real-time updates and integrates with a plethora of carriers. That’s easier said than done. When examining supply chain visibility providers, shippers and BCOs need to carefully consider everything from implementation time frames to support systems to usability and design. The end goal is a more transparent, streamlined supply chain – one where shippers always know where their packages are and receive alerts of supply chain disruptions before these pain points become major issues.
This article addresses how to find the optimal real-time ocean container visibility solution.
1. Know the Goal: Why is Ocean Container Visibility Important?
Container tracking has evolved with advancements in technology, with providers utilizing API connections to provide shippers with no-code solutions for data historically gathered from carrier websites or even over email. This not only saves shippers precious time but gives them better-quality data in a standardized format. Saving time gathering visibility data means there’s more time to execute on that information. Visibility and real-time container tracking help create supply chain resiliency.
What is the Role of Shipment Visibility?
Container visibility gives shippers the information needed to track their shipments and ocean cargo containers. Visibility programs are exception-based; to cut out the data white noise, shippers are usually only alerted to exceptions in the shipment plan or if they want to receive updates on a particular container. All shipments are tracked, and that data is accessible, but most shippers only want to know when things might go wrong.
In addition to exceptions, container tracking data usually tells 3PLs, BCOs, and shippers if their container is moving, temperature information, and if the container has been opened. A trusted technology provider will also send the shipper information about a range of additional ocean shipping milestones.
How Has Container Tracking Evolved?
Container tracking used to be all about the bookmarks. BCOs and shippers would have to go to every carrier’s website and type in container information to receive visibility details. Sometimes, the numbers were entered incorrectly; sometimes, the carriers didn’t have fulsome data – or any data at all. The process wasn’t efficient or sustainable. AIS tracking data websites cut down on the incessant searching, but finding a vessel on an AIS map was still a long way from what the industry really needed as far as shipment visibility.
With API connections, technology providers receive tracking data right from the source, giving shippers and BCO customers an accurate, real-time picture of their ocean cargo. APIs even give customers a window into what happens after the cargo reaches the port, connecting to drayage and intermodal carriers to offer an end-to-end container tracking experience. By using a trusted technology provider, shippers and BCOs can ensure the information they’re receiving is error-free and optimized.
2. What are the Key Features of Supply Chain Visibility Software?
Not all container tracking software is created equal, and it’s imperative that shippers and BCOs interrogate myriad systems to make sure they find the right platform to fit their needs. Here are some essentials:
- Data: Make sure latency is as low as possible (you want real-time information, not last-hour data) and that the data is complete and accurate. That means all relevant data needs to be present. Data cleanliness is important!
- Terminal visibility: Make sure container tracking goes beyond the box to the port itself. The best providers offer port health information, with updates on port congestion, Customs clearance, and other crucial data. Visibility over the ocean doesn’t really matter if there’s a visibility black hole at the port.
- Insights: Predictive ETAs, average transit time information, and carrier analytics are all data extras that help shippers and BCOs create a more optimized supply chain.
Integrating Software with Existing Systems
It’s important that systems talk to one another. If a supply chain visibility provider’s product doesn’t integrate into a shipper’s existing TMS or ERP, then the full range of benefits can’t be accessed. Even if a shipper can create workarounds to mash together systems that don’t truly gel, this creates extreme issues around ease of use. An intuitive system is the best system. All the information in the world is of no use if it can’t be accessed due to a poor user interface.
Real-Time Communication and Security
Just accessibility is crucial, so are real-time communication features that allow meaningful collaborations among internal and external stakeholders. Gaining visibility into container shipments is a huge step toward supply chain optimization, but that data isn’t truly useful if it can’t be shared.
Anytime data is shared, shippers should be aware of security and data privacy concerns. Before investing in a supply chain visibility platform, they need to pressure-test the data security measures in place.
3. Look Beyond the Container Tracking Platform
Once BCOs and shippers find a supply chain visibility platform that meets their needs, the job isn’t done. Careful attention should be paid to the company itself. What companies do they work with? Would you be their biggest or smallest client? How much customization do they provide to the average customer?
To dig into these answers, shippers should look to Gartner’s Peer Insights platform and other trusted review sites like G2. They can also talk to similar companies in the industry, or even reporters, to get a feel for the technology provider. Understanding real-world applications of the supply chain visibility platform is crucial to unearth potential concerns before it’s too late.
Many supply chain visibility startups are late-stage and progressing toward becoming public companies. Even with that track record, it’s important to make sure the company truly has a track record of success and an achievable roadmap dotted with substantial plans for the future.
4. It’s All About the Integration
Though there are only a handful of viable supply chain visibility providers with extensive coverage of the ocean cargo industry, shippers can spend a long time searching for the right fit. That search may seem like the easy part once integration time rolls around.
Managing the transition to a tracking system is hard work. There are technology updates and integrations to existing systems to be completed, and those are sometimes no easy task, but then staff needs to be trained on the new procedures. Care needs to be taken that everyone in the organization is properly utilizing the new container tracking solution.
To ensure a smooth integration, shippers should have complete and total buy-in from everyone in the organization and any relevant external stakeholders. Nobody can operate in a silo; frequent and unfettered communication is a must. With this communication, develop a robust plan at the outset of the integration and stick to it. There will be hiccups and minor issues, but open lines of communication and sticking to a well-reasoned integration plan are crucial to success.
Shippers with smooth integrations tend to ask questions. They aren’t passive clients awaiting a new solution but active participants in bringing a new tool into their organization.
Shippers and BCOs with real-time container tracking can better plan for and respond to supply chain disruption, increase customer happiness, and optimize transportation spending by eliminating surprise detention and demurrage fees at the ports. In short order, container tracking software can become a crucial part of any shipper’s supply chain, but getting there is not easy. Customers need to weigh their options carefully to ensure they aren’t stuck with the wrong solution.
Vizion API: The Right Choice to Track Global Shipments
With Vizion, shippers and BCOs receive an easy-to-implement, API-fueled solution for supply chain visibility that tracks 98 percent of worldwide shipments. To see if Vizion is the right real-time, end-to-end ocean container and drayage visibility solution, book a demo today.