How to Find the Best Container Tracking Data

Published on
Apr 23, 2024
Written by
Adam Baker
Read time
3 Minutes

Adam Baker

VP of Customer Experience

How to Find the Best Container Tracking Data

When it comes to shipping container tracking data, there’s no shortage of options available, with more popping up every week it seems.  

Just search Google for “Container Tracking” and you’ll have an endless supply of links to click on ranging from ocean carriers, supply chain and logistics software companies, free websites that track containers, and more.

But not all container tracking data is created equal. So how do you determine the best?

The Container Lifecycle Puzzle

Most companies offering container tracking services rely almost exclusively on ocean carrier milestones, even for milestones that the ocean carriers are not responsible for or positioned properly to provide. This data is the same information you can find on the ocean carrier websites. And while ocean carrier data is an important part of tracking, it's insufficient for what shippers and their partners need. 

Key milestones across a container's journey are dependent on each other and work together as pieces of the larger container lifecycle puzzle. Without one, the puzzle is incomplete, which leads to the black holes or blind spots that have plagued the container shipping industry for years.

The difficult part is that different data sources are more accurate than others in certain situations, while less accurate in other situations. So, to get complete and accurate container tracking data, it’s important to observe and contextualize data from all available data sources across the full lifecycle of the container. That includes observing data from sources such as ocean carriers, ports, terminals, rail carriers, AIS, Customs, drayage carriers, and potentially more.

Companies rely on these milestones to help make critical business decisions such as accurately scheduling container pickups and drop offs at the terminal to help avoid costly demurrage and detention charges, to schedule labor at warehouses efficiently, to manage inventory more effectively, and a variety of other reasons.

To make these business decisions though, they need the best container tracking data.

What is the Best Container Tracking Data?

At Gnosis Freight, we think about container tracking data quality in three dimensions:

  1. Completeness – How many of the relevant milestones are provided.
  1. Accuracy – How accurately all the milestones are provided.
  1. Latency – How quickly the data is updated.

Each of these is an important element of container tracking data, but completeness and latency are often overlooked when evaluating data.

For example, Last Free Day milestones can have a huge impact on logistics costs. If that milestone isn’t provided, is inaccurate, or is provided a day or two late, it can result in unnecessary demurrage and detention charges.

Simple enough, but how do BCOs or LSPs know they’re getting the best data?  

THEY TEST IT. And they test it against multiple sources. Against their current container tracking data sources, and against data from other data providers they’re considering.

How to Test Different Container Tracking Data Sources

So how do you test container tracking data?  

First, you want to identify the milestones and criteria that are the most important to you and your logistics processes. Based on our experience, here are the primary import ocean container milestones that are the most important for a logistics team to focus on, and we recommend focusing your testing on these.

  1. In-Gate Full: The date the container dropped off at the Port of Load (“POL”).
  1. Loaded on Vessel: The date the container is loaded on the original vessel at the POL.
  1. Vessel ETD: The estimated time of departure for the vessel at the POL.
  1. Vessel ATD: The actual time of departure for the vessel at the POL.
  1. Vessel ETA: The estimated date the vessel will arrive at the Port of Discharge (“POD”).
  1. Vessel ATA: The actual date a vessel arrives at the POD. Not just when the ocean carrier says it has arrived even though the vessel is idling in the harbor.
  1. Container Discharged: When a container is unloaded from the vessel.  
  1. Available for Pickup: When a container is ready and available to be picked up from the terminal.
  1. Last Free Day (Demurrage): This is the last day a container can be stored at the terminal without incurring additional storage charges.  
  1. Container Out-Gate: When a container leaves the port or terminal.
  1. Last Free Day (Detention): The day a container must be returned to the terminal by, to avoid incurring detention charges.
  1. Container Empty Returned: When an empty container is returned to the port or terminal after the goods have been unloaded.

If you’re moving containers inland on rail there are additional milestones or data points that we recommend including in your testing.

  1. Rail Firms Code: A four-digit alpha-numeric code that represents the location of imported cargo in the United States.
  1. Rail Terminal: The specific rail terminal the container can be picked up at.
  1. Rail Departed: When the train leaves the ocean terminal.
  1. Rail ETA: The estimated time of arrival for the train at the rail terminal.
  1. Rail ATA: When a train arrives at the rail terminal.
  1. Rail Notify: The date the rail carrier indicates a container is available for pickup.
  1. Available for Pickup: When a container is ready and available to be picked up from the rail terminal.
  1. Last Free Day: This is the last day a container can be stored at the rail terminal without incurring additional storage charges.
  1. Out-Gate: When a container leaves the rail terminal.

The second step is to execute your container tracking data testing. We recommend tracking at least 50 containers and tracking the same containers with each data provider.  

As the containers move through their lifecycles from origin to destination, you’ll want to record the milestones for each container as they are provided, and indicate when the milestone is first updated. This helps track both completeness and latency.  

Accuracy is often defined differently by different companies based on their requirements, but one way to measure accuracy is to flag any milestones that you have to update after the initial milestone is provided to help indicate the initial accuracy of each provider.

Third, carefully analyze and interpret the results to understand the performance of each data provider.

Finally, based on your analysis, determine which data provider performed best and meets your needs based on completeness, accuracy, latency of the data, and any other criteria you set at the beginning of the process.

At the end of the day, if the data you use isn’t complete, and 98% accurate or better, your logistics team will quickly lose trust in the data and revert to their old habits of checking carrier and terminal websites. Thus, resulting in wasted time and money on the implementation of the software or data.

At Gnosis Freight, we believe our container tracking data is the most complete, accurate, and lowest latency container tracking data available.  

We think the best way to use our data is with the Container Lifecycle Management® platform, and we’re happy to put our money where our mouth is.

We also suggest you check out our Find the Best Supply Chain Visibility Software for Your Business article for a set of questions to consider with any potential providers you’re considering.

Whether you consider Gnosis Freight or another provider, we’re here to help push the industry forward and make supply chains run more efficiently.

If you want to learn more about Gnosis Freight’s container tracking data or Container Lifecycle Management platform, click here to schedule a call or a demo to learn more.