The Ease & Value Of Implementing Ocean Freight And Container Tracking APIs

The Ease & Value Of Implementing Ocean Freight And Container Tracking APIs

When it comes to ocean freight tracking, there is no easier or faster way to collect and share real-time location and other container data than through an application programming interface (API). Much like fuel injectors in a high-performance engine, APIs inject visibility throughout a global supply chain, including the systems of digital solution partners. This is the basis of strategic agility, supported  by easy access to data that has been standardized and enriched. That’s high-octane fuel that drives supply chain operational performance. The richer the fuel, the faster stakeholders can derive the immense value of sea freight tracking. Robust API technology provides the most flexibility to pump that fuel into any ERP, TMS, WMS or other system with ease.

That’s why more and more digital solutions providers view sea cargo tracking data as an integral part of the services they provide. For any digital freight marketplace, ERP, TMS or WMS solution provider, adding an API so the BCO or customer can get sea shipment tracking data and status updates in real time translates into tremendous value. Implementing an API is a force multiplier.

As digital transformation continues to drive the evolution of global supply chains, the demand to be connected and have ocean shipment tracking data readily accessible is soaring as well. When deciding how to track a sea freight shipment, consider that APIs offer unparalleled ease and flexibility when integrating with other systems. Sure, there are some challenges but the benefits of having an advanced, mature API implementation in place are clearly evident. Let’s dive deeper into the use of APIs for ocean cargo tracking.

Why the Demand to Connect and Gain More Data?

Digital solutions providers seek what all stakeholders want when it comes to supply chain performance and sea freight cargo tracking: increased resiliency, greater risk mitigation strategies, and the ability to deliver enhanced customer experiences. The ability to track and trace containers automatically is paramount to accomplishing those goals.

If they are not integrating their systems and data sharing with other partners, DSPs are relying on a manual lynchpin to gain container tracking data, which severely limits their visibility. Visiting each sea freight line’s tracking site takes considerable time, which also creates bottlenecks because only so much data can get processed with limited staffing in any given amount of time. Plus, as information is gathered it then must be entered into other systems—which significantly increases the likelihood of human error. Communications are also inefficient, as lots of information is shared across multiple email systems or via phone.

If the global pandemic has taught us anything, it’s this: to meet ever-increasing customer demands, supply chain partners must collaborate on every level and rely on data-driven strategies and automation. The challenges of today cannot be solved by simply hiring more hands. Information needs to be gathered and communicated in real-time, so all stakeholders can proactively mitigate risks and achieve resiliency. Track-and-trace apps powered by an API can deliver quality, enriched data that provides not only container location status but also data that reflects the health of the company by showing what’s happening in operations and finance—and make no mistake, sea transport tracking is definitely a huge aspect of operations.

Ease of Implementing APIs into ERP, TMS, WMS

A sea freight cargo tracking API is the easiest and most flexible way to start tracking the location and status of container shipments. APIs provide the easiest access and require low overhead to operate. Got only a container number? Great! Let’s get started. There’s no need for a Letter of Authorization or complicated data mapping per carrier. Once the contract is signed, it’s possible to start tracking with a single piece of information.

Using an API is the easiest way to move data into any other cloud-based system, but the true power of this robust technology goes well beyond simply transferring data. APIs facilitate two or more systems working as one, extending each system’s capabilities. One system asks something of another system, and that system responds immediately with what was requested, in the environment where the recipient is most accustomed to receiving information and updates. It could be an ERP, TMS, WMS, a freight forwarder or a digital freight marketplace. Regardless, there’s no end-of-day data dump or latency involved; the workflows are efficient and seamless. And that is why APIs are the future of any company that seeks to keep pace in a high-demand, volatile market. It will take that kind of fuel and visibility to carve out and maintain a strong competitive advantage.

Charley Dehoney, CEO of FreightMango Americas, a global freight marketplace, told FreightWaves that it’s the proactive real-time updates that are truly important in global logistics. “Customers don’t want visibility to watch their shipments all day, they want to know how quickly you can tell me when the expected transit is going to change,” he said.

EDI vs. API vs. Manual Data Collection

What an Advanced, Mature Implementation Looks Like

Once a sea freight tracking API is built and connected, digital solutions providers will be receiving certain data elements to a certain business value.

As an example, let’s say we’re tracking real-time container location in an attempt to control demurrage and detention fees. In the past, 80% of the data received from the destination terminal was outdated; alerts and exception notifications were rare, if they were distributed at all. Equally rare was seeing an empty container returned. Now, with the API running and pushing real-time location status and alerts to subscribed stakeholders, it is possible to receive empty returns 90% of the time, which will reduce detention fees by 50%.

The key question to digital service providers and other stakeholders  becomes, “What business value would you like to see unlocked by what container milestone event being consistently delivered?” The challenge is to come up with more mature use cases for APIs with sea cargo tracking. Getting all stakeholders to assess what information they need and how well partners and providers can get and share that information, that’s a fundamental key to supply chain optimization and high performance.

Benefits of Implementing APIs for Ocean Shipment Tracking

Here are a few more  benefits and rewards of implementing a sea shipment tracking API:

  • Save time - track and trace containers automatically rather than visiting carrier and terminal websites.
  • Eliminate manual data entry and errors - Leverage clean, standardized data regarding terminal availability, including holds, fees, Last Free Day, accessorials required, yard location, pickup status and more.
  • Real-time alerts - push-based API sends updates when milestones are reached, ETAs change, or new data is available.
  • Robust milestone tracking - such as empty-out, fill-in, vessel loaded, vessel discharged, vessel full out, empty returned, etc.
  • Easy access to shipment manifest data - Port of lading, port of unlading, shipping line details, final destination, vessel, voyage, list of container numbers and types.

Challenges of integrating APIs for Ocean Freight Tracking

Few would argue the need for automation over manual processes; still, there can be some challenges that come with implementing API technology for sea freight tracking.  

  • APIs are simple, yet complex. Not just anyone can execute a seamless integration with multiple systems. Finding experts who are knowledgeable in the latest trends of API building is not always easy.
  • Security risks can be an issue. Hackers and cybercriminals are working overtime to wreak havoc in supply chains. That’s why API integrations are not only sophisticated but the connections are never one-and-done. They must be constantly controlled, monitored, and enhanced to stay ahead of parties with malicious intentions.
  • APIs take time to construct. The time frame for building a solid API integration for sea cargo tracking can vary, depending on the complexity of the use case. In some cases, an instant deployment with limited, pre-built functionality is possible. Other cases can take 4-12 weeks, due to mastering the logic of multiple sites and working out bugs. However, once built, the API can be deployed in a track-and-trace app in 6 hours.
  • APIs can be pricey to build. Professional software developers don’t come cheap. In fact, it’s not uncommon for a month or so of integration time to cost several thousand dollars.
  • APIs are never a one-and-done project. In addition to the safety concerns mentioned above, APIs must be diligently monitored to ensure connections among systems do not break. Modifications may also be required to accommodate customer-specific requests.

Building an API for sea shipment tracking often involves integrating with multiple platforms, each with its own unique logic. Yes, it’s complex stuff. However, the challenges of integration mentioned here pale in comparison to the difficulties encountered when trying to get ocean logistics tracking information manually or via EDI. The right partner not only makes it easy to integrate an ocean shipment tracking API with any WMS, TMS, ERP or digital freight marketplace but also eliminates many if not all of the challenges mentioned above.

We Do the Heavy Build; You Reap the Rewards of a Sea Freight Tracking API

Logistics technology companies know that they must buy or build into their software timely container information to stay competitive, yet those that build often significantly underestimate the cost and time to do so. VIZION API provides turnkey access to the most complete, standardized, and detailed container and ocean freight tracking events, faster and cheaper than building it in-house.

With VIZION API technologies, you can control all of your shipping containers. We provide seamless access to data tracked for  97% of ocean shipments globally, thanks to cloud-based connections with more than 27 shipping lines and 800 seaports. You can be empowered with that data too simply by letting our experts integrate a VIZION API into your WMS, TMS, ERP or digital freight marketplace. That’s how you get the agility and vital information needed to data-driven decisions with confidence that result in supply chain resiliency and enhanced customer experiences. To learn more, schedule a consultation with a VIZION expert today.

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