As the supply chain and logistics industry continues to evolve and digitize, companies are increasingly on the lookout for solutions that can help them improve their operations. Consequently, an increasing number of companies are looking to fill in the blind spots of ocean container shipping.
Over the last several years, the number of companies in the supply chain and logistics industry providing ocean freight visibility has grown substantially. In some cases, the visibility providers are well-established players in the logistics industry, such as freight forwarders or ERP/TMS providers offering new visibility solutions. In other cases, they are technology startups offering visibility solutions.
Either way, it seems like there’s a new player in the market every month, touting their ability to provide real-time container tracking data and improved ocean freight visibility. With an abundance of information circulating, it can be difficult to understand where to start when trying to determine which solution is the ideal fit for your organization.
We thought it would be beneficial to put together a list of questions to consider when trying to identify the best ocean freight visibility solution for your company.
11 Questions to Consider When Looking at Ocean Freight Visibility Solutions
- What are your goals for increasing ocean freight visibility?
The first and most important question is one you must ask yourself and your team: What problems are you looking to solve? If you can't answer this question, it will be hard to evaluate the different solutions available to you.
Many ocean freight visibility companies simply provide basic container tracking data via API, while more advanced providers offer more robust solutions on top of the data to help companies improve processes, reduce costs, and enable better internal and external collaboration. Depending on your specific needs and goals, certain solutions may be more appropriate.
- What milestones can the solution consistently provide?
You rely on container milestones to make critical business decisions, and unfortunately, different data sources are more accurate than others in certain situations, while less accurate in others. It's important to know if an ocean freight visibility solution can provide the precise milestones you need, when you need them. This is not simply coverage of specific geographical trade lanes but also the complexity of how and what data points are provided.
Many ocean freight visibility providers rely almost exclusively on ocean carrier data, even for milestones that carriers are not responsible for or positioned properly to provide. This data is the exact same information you can find on the ocean carrier's website. And, as you've likely experienced, ocean carrier data is often insufficient, thus requiring you to seek out other sources for certain data points.
Make sure to evaluate data accuracy and completeness for all data points important to your business, not simply ETA comparisons to what ocean carriers are currently displaying on their websites.
- Can you test the data first?
You don't want to get locked into a long-term contract and then find out afterward that the data isn't what you expected. If the providers won't let you test the data first, that's probably not a good sign.
When testing a provider's data, we recommend following a few guidelines:
- Test the data with at least 50 containers.
- Have the containers come from a variety of ocean carriers and trade lanes.
- Limit the time providers have to provide a response to eliminate any possibility of 'manual scrubbing' that may distort the actual reliability of the solution at scale.
- Where will the data reside?
This will depend on how sophisticated your company's internal technology is and what you want to do with the data.
Does the provider have a platform of their own that you will use, or do you have an ERP or TMS that you want to have the data in? How will it get there? Does your internal system have the flexibility to ingest and display this new information properly? Will that require help from your IT team?
All these questions are critically important to the success of your implementation and must be validated before selecting a provider to work with.
- What is required from your team and your logistics network?
Different solutions require varying levels of involvement from you and your partners. What will the requirements be from your team? What will be required from your logistics service providers for the platform or data to be fully utilized? If partner compliance is required, are they capable of executing their responsibilities?
Make sure you have clearly identified these requirements and understand the implications for onboarding timelines, if the requests may be challenging.
- Can you collaborate with internal and external partners?
If you can't easily work with your internal and external partners within an ocean freight visibility software solution, you will still be relying on emails and spreadsheets to share information. Those manual processes increase the risk of human error and containers slipping through the cracks.
If you are using an API-only solution to get data into your ERP, will your partners need to access this data? If so, is the reporting capability adequate to provide this information to your partners efficiently? If you are using the provider's interface, are you able to grant access to your external partners?
It's important to understand not only if this will improve your team's specific daily responsibilities but also if it can improve the adjacent internal workflows and processes managed by your logistics service providers. Make sure the system you are evaluating has the capability to fulfill all potential use cases.
- Will it scale with your business?
Business can change rapidly, and as the last few years have shown, it can change drastically in unexpected ways that are outside of our control. A software solution that can't easily scale up or down as your business changes can result in a higher cost than the value you're getting out of it.
If your requirements change, what variety of products does the provider offer for different use cases? If interaction with your IT team is required, how will the provider interact with your IT and logistics teams to ensure success?
- Is it flexible enough to work with your supply chain and logistics processes?
Businesses face different problems in different macro and micro-environments, and with them, changes in processes and priorities.
Will you have to change your supply chain and logistics processes to fit how a new software system works? If so, how time-consuming and expensive will that be? What if you make changes to your processes in the future?
- What kind of onboarding and support is provided?
We've all been excited about a new software service only to go through a poor or non-existent onboarding process and not know who to reach out to for help.
Make sure any ocean freight visibility software provider you consider offers a clear onboarding plan and ongoing support. You want to understand the process, timeline, and who/what is required to get set up to ensure there are no extended delays. Also, who will be your key contacts after initial implementation if any issues arise? What does ongoing maintenance for your services look like?
You can buy the best software in the world, but if it takes too long to set up or it's too hard to use, your team and partners are going to get frustrated and not want to use it. Without proper onboarding and support, chances are you won't get the most out of the solution.
- What do other customers have to say?
In an environment where many new providers have emerged, it is important to validate that active customers have experienced the quality of service that the provider touts on their website or marketing material. Ensure that customers with similar needs have received the value they were hoping for from using the respective solution.
Reach out to your network to see if anyone you know is currently using or has used in the past any of the providers you're interested in. While website logos and customer references from the provider are helpful, they shouldn't be solely relied on.
- Do they require a long-term initial contract?
Initial long-term contracts of two, three, or more years are often appealing as they typically offer a favorable price discount. However, a long-term contract can potentially leave you locked into a relationship with a vendor that fails to meet your expectations. This is particularly concerning if you cannot test the vendor's software or data beforehand.
Unless you have a very high level of confidence in the vendor's ability to perform, we recommend opting for an initial one-year contract term. This should provide sufficient time to assess the value of the software or data and its impact on your business processes while protecting you from the burden of a prolonged commitment if the software or data doesn't meet your expectations.
There may be good reasons that a vendor only offers multi-year terms, but when trying something new, it's often best to maintain as much flexibility for your business as possible.
While we believe Gnosis Freight is the best and most comprehensive ocean freight visibility software experience in the market, every company is unique and may have specific needs that other providers are a better fit for. We encourage you to explore many options. We're always happy to help, but make sure to do your own research and keep these 11 questions in mind as you evaluate ocean freight visibility options to determine what's right for you.
Visit GnosisFreight.com if you'd like to learn more about our premium container tracking data or how the Container Lifecycle Management™ Platform can help you overcome your biggest supply chain and logistics challenges.