Written by Ashley Klepach
The logistics networks involved in ocean shipping are often complex, involving multiple carriers, ports, and customs agencies across different countries. This complexity makes it difficult to accurately track shipments as they move through different stages of the shipping process. Poor visibility leads to delays, extra fees, and unhappy customers.
Meanwhile, ocean carriers and other parties involved often have different systems and processes for tracking shipments, hindering their ability to share data and provide a comprehensive view of the shipment’s progress.
These webs of handoffs and analogue ways of doing business can create blindspots in your international shipping, robbing you of precious time, dollars, and resources.
The Possible Gaps in Your Ocean Visibility
Data silos and multimodal disconnects
Just because a shipper implements a visibility solution does not mean it will provide the necessary qualities to make it valuable. Some visibility providers only offer tracking for one mode or do not provide connections for the multimodal journey. And with precise inventory management being more important than ever, shippers need to have comprehensive, end-to-end solutions that provide visibility down to the PO and SKU level — granular insight to know exactly what inventory is making it to store shelves on time and what is not, especially for promotions like back-to-school.
Similarly, having more data does not put you in a better position. Digitisation is a journey for most organisations. But once the data is digital, it still might be incomplete, inaccurate, or just plain stale, making it difficult to use in an actionable way. However, once you get the data into a digital format, you can see which sources are better than others and initiate corrective programs to address the root causes.
This process is the foundation for improving carrier performance, supplier performance, and, ultimately, the supply chain network’s performance. Such analysis is critical because as you begin to look deep, you will see interesting anomalies such as Carrier A, who performs well on route one but is the least good on route five. After all, some carriers have more expertise running certain lanes and ports than others. Similarly, forwarders have variability in their performance, which can cause delight or a problem depending on whether your needs match their strengths or weak spots.
That is why your visibility solution needs to offer comprehensive, configurable analytics by provider, region, route, product, division, and more.
Visibility at the port, terminal, and beyond
Terminals are typically a black hole of data for shippers, obfuscating when cargo makes it to the next leg of its journey. Advanced visibility solutions with terminal intelligence can give shippers deeper visibility into global terminals, connecting each leg of the journey for a complete picture of international freight. Some track-and-trace solutions retrieve data from a single source, such as ocean carriers’ websites. This is a fine start, but it will not paint a complete picture. More advanced solutions use many sources of information, including the port terminals directly. With this added visibility, shippers, BCOs, and freight forwarders will reduce dwell, missed transshipment ports and fines, and fees.
Handoffs can also create a black hole of data – which is especially concerning given that these handoffs often are where delays or bottlenecks occur. Since shippers typically use more than one mode to transport goods, an advanced ocean visibility solution that connects each leg of the supply chain journey in a single platform is a must-have – whether you use rail, truckload, or dray. End-to-end multimodal visibility makes it easier to mitigate issues before those problems work their way upstream or downstream in your supply chain.
The Benefits of End-to-End Insights
One key area of managing ocean disruptions is exception management. With a comprehensive ocean visibility solution, shippers can see what containers are (or will be) delayed and prioritise accordingly to reduce the impact of delays on customer satisfaction and transportation costs. And since supply chain managers deal with exceptions on a regular basis, it is important that your visibility system provides users with ways to identify exceptions only when they really are most important.
Notifications and alerts are a great way to identify exceptions before they occur. Visibility solutions can provide configurable alerts based on containers approaching Last Free Days so supply chain managers can proactively make adjustments. With terminal visibility, shippers can see when vessels are stuck at a terminal or have spent a long period of time there, missed a handoff, or when other exceptions occur to minimise the impact on the transportation cost and supply chain network.
Reduce unnecessary fines and fees
With end-to-end coverage across modes and handoffs, real-time visibility solutions can minimise unnecessary demurrage and detention fees. Shippers can proactively prioritise containers that are about to incur fees by using dashboards and analytics, real-time notifications, and predictive ETAs. For example, FourKites’ patented Dynamic ETA is powered by our massive network of data and machine learning and AI algorithms.
Proactively avoid bottlenecks
Supply chains should not be static. When a provider is not performing, or there are regional labour issues or equipment shortages, smart shippers pivot and modify their supply chains to avoid stockouts, penalties, and delays. To do so, shippers need accurate information, history, and targeting analytic tools to analyse the historical performance of key carriers, lanes, and ports within their network. These will help shippers pinpoint bottlenecks or areas with regular disruptions. Shippers can also identify carriers or ports that tend to accumulate demurrage and detention fees and work to improve or replace them, reducing the impact on their bottom line.
Make customers happy
While not having products on store shelves can be a dire situation for a holiday promotion, the risks of out-of-stock items can go beyond the season. With the ‘Amazon Effect’, customers’ expectations for quick delivery and real-time notifications have never been higher. In addition to high expectations, companies are seeing decreases in customer loyalty, especially when consistent out-of-stocks occur.
“If a customer goes to your store and your product is out-of-stock, they will go elsewhere to get it,” said FourKites VP of Industry Strategy, Retail & CPG, Mark Delaney.
“There is no such thing as customer loyalty anymore.”
To combat the risk of unsatisfied customers, retailers using ocean visibility can proactively track items to ensure loyalty is not decreased further.
Today’s global markets require the efficient and timely movement of raw materials, piece parts, and finished goods to be transported internationally. Orchestrating the process is challenging even when there is stability, but volatility is the norm. But by harnessing ocean shipping data and transforming it into actionable supply chain insights, you can stay competitive, minimise disruptions, and enhance customer satisfaction.
While there are many strategies and tools available for addressing the issues, commonalities include:
- Accurate, timely, and complete information as milestones occur
- Reliable processing of the information, available to the right people at the right time in ways that allow them to take appropriate actions
- Collaboration and sharing information such that all partners involved are using current, accurate information
- Comprehensive analytical tools to identify trends, anomalies, and the performance levels of each actor in the supply chain.
As supply chains evolve and grow more complex, leveraging advanced technologies and data-driven approaches will be vital in achieving optimal efficiency, agility, and resilience. It can be daunting to know where to start, but embracing the power of ocean shipping data to enhance your supply chain performance will ensure your business remains at the forefront of the industry.
Ashley Klepach creates positioning and content for FourKites’ products and solutions, showcasing the value of supply chain visibility for international shipping and retail teams. Prior to joining FourKites, Ashley worked on marketing teams at TheStreet, Inc. and ExxonMobil. She has an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin.