As in many areas of logistics, visibility during the ocean shipping process continues to be a challenge for both shippers and carriers alike. Shippers are constantly seeking new ways to gain more visibility into their supply chain to ensure on-time deliveries and meet cost guidelines. Meanwhile, ocean carriers are trying to engineer the best routes from origin to destination. With country-to-country transport and recent changing of hands in international logistics with carriers merging and alliances being made, visibility has grown as an area that needs improvement. Understanding how these challenges arise and partnering with a 3PL can help manage changes and increase opportunities for supply chain visibility.
Ocean Carrier Challenges
One challenge regarding visibility with ocean carriers are changing sailing schedules. CargoSmart released data that suggests changing sailing schedules are a major source of difficulty when managing supply chains due to most changes reflecting a time difference of 24 hours or more.1 Changing schedules affect planning procedures and can often include delays both at origin and at delivery. A logistics director for a European importer explained the issue by saying “even when we have visibility, we don’t have control over our shipments”1. To help overcome these challenges, shippers can work with global logistics experts to become more resilient to change in scheduling and better strategize possible solutions.
Ocean carriers have a sense of control on shippers’ visibility into their shipments by the accuracy and availability of real-time data. If ship lines have outdated track and trace tools or do not express schedule changes or delays in a timely manner, shippers may not have visibility into where their shipments are at in real time. Shippers can combat this by partnering with their freight forwarder and shopping the market for ship lines with the best track and trace features. Freight forwarders can provide expertise on carriers, elaborate on which one best fits the shippers’ criteria, and possibly provide additional capabilities to track and trace goods.
Technology & Visibility
There are numerous technology tools in the industry that aim to generate a better understanding of visibility issues and work to gain full transparency. Some are critical of the benefits of these new technologies, as they believe them to not fully take shippers’ interests completely in mind; however, due to this argument, creators of these tools are constantly adapting them to best fit each customer’s criteria. Overall, these technologies are meant to seamlessly connect ocean carriers’ data into customers’ systems.3 This can help shippers better understand where their product is at origin, where exactly on the water it is, and when they can expect their freight to unload at the port.
Additional technology is being developed to automate visibility, meaning less emails and phone calls between shippers, carriers, and final delivery. The goal for shippers is to be able to place orders and check inventory in the same place they track and trace their freight. These digital advances stand to eliminate steps, thus saving time and automating processes to reduce errors.
Changing Industry Structure
Shippers, forwarders, and ocean carriers have all made significant investments into supply chain visibility and transparency. Capturing data and creating connections between carriers and shippers stand to revolutionize the industry. Examples of this include a network of “talking” ships – a way to understand exactly where ships are in real time, apps for customs brokerage and clearance, and visibility into suppliers and carriers, among other advances.2
These investments have the opportunity to automate shippers’ international supply chains by allowing for deeper and more meaningful planning. By understanding ocean carriers and prioritizing criteria, shippers are able to import and export their product swiftly and timely. To help with this understanding, shippers can partner with a 3PL to gain additional insight and service to enhance their operations.