Visibility is the state of being able to see or be seen..
Global sea trade has been trading blind for centuries..
Once the ship left the port of load with the goods, there was very little visibility on the whereabouts of the ship or the condition of the cargo till it arrived at the destination..
Even with over 23 million TEUs being shipped around the world currently, the shipping and freight industry has been historically been slow to adopt new technologies and standards, unlike its airborne cousin which is highly standardized and regulated internationally..
This has left the ocean freight sector fragmented, disconnected and sticking to old manual workflow processes..
The advent of containerisation and intermodalism, made ascertaining the whereabouts of a container all the more difficult because containers move to remote locations with relative ease using a combination of rail and road options and the customer may not have visibility of their container all the time..
As trade and containerisation evolved, so did the requirements of customers to know where their cargo and container was at all times as they wanted to plan their production and inventory availability..
The maritime disasters that we have had recently, justifies the demands of the customer in terms of the requirement for the visibility of their cargo..
With the exponential increase in the movement of container volumes around the world, it would be impossible to meet all the requirements of the customer using manual processes..
These requirements brought about a sea change in the acceleration of digitalisation of the industry especially in the last decade and this digital evolution is set to shape the future of the industry..
While the rewards of a digital transformation can be significant, it is easier said than done, especially if the industry doesn’t understand the pitfalls of digitalisation and the opportunities and advantages digitalisation offers..
As much as the industry needs to embrace the digital evolution and the competitive advantage it can provide, there are several challenges as well because it is not just about putting together the required hardware and software and saying you have converted a paper based model to a systems based model..
It requires innovation.. Innovation is not a product but rather a culture that needs the right people following the right methodology using the right tools with the right thinking..
One company that presents innovation as being at the heart of its service offering is “Ocean Insights” – Innovators in Container Tracking..
I dug into their system to better understand how it works and how it provides/adds value to customers..
Off the bat, I could see that true to word, Ocean Insights has kept VISIBILITY as the key ingredient in their product offering..
This is evident all through their platform and especially with their product offerings
- The Container Track & Trace module; and
- The Container Sailing Schedules
Logically, container track & trace should be the one area that all customers should have access to, but it is not always easy or that simple..
Consider some of the global freight forwarders who have thousands of containers with various carriers covering various trade routes..
Searching and tracking each and every container on various carriers’ websites could be a nightmare in terms of the manual labour involved..
Through their integration with over 45+ shipping lines, geo-tracking of over 700 seaports, and 5,000+ vessels, Ocean Insights’ Container Track & Trace solution provides comprehensive information on the status of each of your containers irrespective of the carrier..
All you need is the MBL (Master Bill of Lading) number.. The Add Subscription (not sure why they call it “subscription”) option allows you to add a new shipment as and when you make it with the carrier..
This is the trigger for the system to start tracking and monitoring your shipments..
The system provides the status of the containers at each of the various stages of its natural shipment cycle..
What is not considered as part of the natural shipment cycle is considered as an Exception or Event for which a notification is automatically generated by the system and sent to the customers alerting them of unexpected and unforeseeable events such as delays, accidents..
The module also provides a total snapshot of the various exceptions and the percentage of shipments affected by these exceptions or events..
One such exception would be container rollover.. Rollovers can happen anywhere, whether at the Port of Load or at Transhipment port(s)..
In a study of more than two million data points done by Ocean Insights, it was found that container rollovers is a serious issue affecting on average between 5 and 17% of all containers shipped..
This module compares and connects the information from the carrier’s database with that of the actual whereabouts of the vessel via AIS.. The information is served in real-time to the customers with neutrality..
This real-time information allows the user to anticipate delays and make alternate arrangements on the exceptions reported..
The most innovative part of the whole Container Track & Trace Service that really impressed me is the Real-time dashboard which provides different options
- Port of Loading – Turnaround Times
- Port of Loading – ETD changes
- Transhipment Port
- Port of Discharge – ETA changes
- Port of Discharge – Upcoming Arrivals new
- Port of Discharge – Approach
- Port of Discharge – Demurrage/Detention
- Last Inland Facility
- Lead Times
These are all extremely important data points for BCOs and Forwarders to monitor container waiting times at POL, at T/S ports..
The dashboard allows the customer to compare the planned date of arrival/discharge/delivery against the initially advertised dates of the vessels which assist customers in planning their cargo flow better..
Data points like above, are also available per carrier.. This is of great use to the customers when it comes to contract negotiations as it allows them to choose which carrier to work with based on service reliability and track record..
It also gives the user the information relating to upcoming arrivals and which containers are approaching the POD so it allows them to prioritise the shipments and carry out customs clearance, which can help them in regulating the cash flow to use the funds for shipments that are approaching than the shipments still en route..
For me, the hero of the Container Track & Trace Dashboard would have to be the Demurrage and Detention option.. It provides historical averages of
- the turnaround time in the POD terminal for the calculation of demurrage and
- turnaround time from the POD to empty return for the calculation of detention
The key benefit of this dashboard is that the customer can use this information to monitor and minimise Demurrage and Detention through the Ocean Insights’ customized, “Free-time Optimization Service”..
This service is one of the most useful tools for customers because it provides a much needed full free-time optimization analysis which is based on an overall analysis of the free times you have been allotted for your shipments against the actual usage of this free time..
This allows the customer to negotiate for free days at the ports where they really need it and also allows the carrier to better plan their equipment movement..
Remember that when negotiating rates, free time is never actually free and could come with additional freight..
While not as heavily weighed and robust like the Container Track & Trace module, the Container Sailing Schedules Tool of Ocean Insights has its own strengths..
This tool has been designed to provide information on Sailing Schedules of all major shipping lines also through the connections with the carriers’ APIs..
This also has an intuitive web app complete with smart filter options powered by an API data service that can integrate with various ERP and TMS systems..
The benefit for customers is that because this data includes all information about slot partners and global alliances, they can quickly identify alternate carriers on the same service in case they have issues with one of the carriers..
This module is said to incorporate over 96% of the world’s sailing routes and schedules covering 8,400 services and more than 124,000 voyages from the 45+ carriers integrated with Ocean Insights..
The search module allows you to search port-to-port schedules or based on vessels..
The search functionality is quick and easy and provides all required details such as vessel/voyage information, dates and transit times.. It also allows the user to filter the results based on carriers, alliances and also transit times..
One problem I found was that, while there is an option to view the Service Network of the various carriers, the system expects you to know the “name” of the service offered by a carrier..
This which may not be known to all users as carriers use all sorts of non-standard abbreviations to confuse the heck out of people and the system should rather show the list of available service names per carrier, which it doesn’t do currently..
Blank sailings have been the bane of many customers, especially when they have no idea when or where a blank sailing will happen and with which carrier..
If you are a customer shipping multiple containers across multiple trade lanes using multiple carriers, the only choice you have would be for you to go to each carrier’s site and sift through the schedules to find out the blank sailings..
Ocean Insights’ Container Sailing Schedule module takes out this pain and gives you all this information via a Blank Sailings link that identifies the blank sailings planned by the various carriers and alliances per week..
It provides this information in a snapshot version and also in a detailed version..
Both BCOs and forwarders can benefit from the real-time information aggregated by the system..
For BCOs, the benefit would be that they get business intelligence to plan their cargo movement and shipment schedules more effectively, and avoiding unforeseen events in a cost-effective manner..
For Freight Forwarders, the real-time information helps them in alerting their clients of any changes to the shipments..
The system is quite easy to use with a simple and clear user interface and graphics that don’t overpower you.. This makes for a great UX..
As per Ocean Insights, more than 6% of all global containerized ocean shipments are processed with their smart algorithms and that 4 out of 5 of the world’s largest forwarders rely on Ocean Insights services..
While I have not been able to verify these numbers, having had a look at the products and solutions of Ocean Insights, I don’t see why not, as the technology and systems used are quite robust and almost failsafe..