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  June 13th, 2024 | Written by

Navigating the Waves: How Technology Revolutionizes Ocean Shipment Tracking

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In today’s globalized economy, efficient transportation of goods across oceans is vital for businesses worldwide. 

However, the industry faces challenges like lost containers, port congestion, shipping container shortages, rising freight rates, lack of carrier capacity, and crew shortages. Many ocean carriers that ship through the Red Sea are still struggling with attacks from Houthi rebels, causing carriers to increase delivery times by ten days or more as they are diverted to travel around the Cape of Good Hope in Africa. On the other side of the globe, a severe drought at the Panama Canal is slowing maritime trade due to increased restrictions on ships that travel through the canal. Tracking ocean shipments has traditionally been a complex task using manual methods.

Read also: 10 Ocean Carrier Experts For Project Cargo And Heavy Lift

With globalization and the rise of containerization, the need for more sophisticated tracking systems has become evident. Thanks to technological advancements, ocean shipping and the tracking of shipments are more streamlined and transparent. Following is a list of technologies that can revolutionize ocean shipment tracking: 

  • GPS and Satellite Tracking: Global Positioning System (GPS) and satellite tracking have become indispensable tools in ocean shipment tracking. GPS-enabled devices installed on vessels provide accurate location data, allowing stakeholders to monitor the progress of shipments in real time. Satellite communication ensures seamless connectivity even in remote maritime regions, enabling continuous monitoring and communication with vessels regardless of location. This level of connectivity enhances operational efficiency and reduces the risk of lost or delayed shipments.
  • Artificial Intelligence and Predictive Analytics: Artificial Intelligence (AI) and predictive analytics are reshaping ocean shipment tracking by leveraging vast data to forecast trends and anticipate disruptions. Machine learning algorithms analyze historical shipping data, weather patterns, port congestion, and other factors to predict potential delays or inefficiencies in the supply chain. This foresight enables stakeholders to take proactive measures, such as rerouting shipments or adjusting inventory levels, to mitigate risks and optimize operations. AI-powered solutions also enhance decision-making by providing actionable insights and recommendations based on real-time data.
  • Mobile Applications: Mobile applications have democratized access to shipment tracking information, empowering stakeholders to monitor their cargo from anywhere, at any time. These apps provide intuitive interfaces for tracking shipments, receiving notifications on status updates, and communicating with logistics partners. Mobile applications improve transparency and responsiveness by putting real-time information at users’ fingertips, enabling faster decision-making and problem-solving.
  • Cloud-based Platforms: Cloud-based platforms have revolutionized how stakeholders access and analyze shipment data. These platforms provide a holistic view of the supply chain by centralizing information from various sources, including GPS trackers, IoT devices, and customs documentation. Real-time updates and analytics empower decision-makers to identify bottlenecks, optimize routes, and mitigate risks proactively. Moreover, cloud-based platforms facilitate stakeholder collaboration, fostering transparency and accountability across the supply chain ecosystem. 

What is Needed in Cloud-Based TMSs

A cloud-based TMS is the top platform of choice for ocean shippers, especially if the TMS can integrate different data sources from tracking devices, along with tracking, booking, and execution, to become the integrated command center for a shipper’s transportation logistics needs. This all-in-one platform should provide visibility for more modes besides just ocean, as some shippers use a combination of modes—truck, barge, and rail. 

Features needed within a TMS for ocean tracking: 

  • Connections to hundreds of ocean carriers, NVOCCs, and freight forwarders, eliminating the need for shippers to reach out to each carrier by email, phone, or carrier website. Knowing the schedules of these carriers allows shippers to pick the exact time needed to cover the load.
  • The ability to submit booking requests and receive booking confirmations electronically would make bookings faster, easier to track, and more automated. Orders should be able to be shipped via a full container or less than full container load, with the tracking data and shipment execution exchanged between carriers and shippers all in the same portal.
  • Electronic bill of lading (BOL) and online shipment instructions comply with industry-standard data points. Shippers can view historical shipping instructions and compare them to current ones to generate insightful dashboards with KPIs.
  • Booking and shipping instruction templates with pre-populated forms make it quicker and easier to execute a shipment, enabling staff to focus on more value-added tasks.
  • Seamless in-transit shipment tracking for ocean vessels and inland moves ensures shippers always know where their shipments are. Shipments should be viewed on maps, regardless of mode, so ocean, rail, and truck appear on the same map for a holistic view of transport operations. Maps may be used internally or securely shared with customers for a better experience by a shipper’s customers.
  • The platform should provide a dynamic ETA calculated using multiple data points, providing shippers with a more accurate estimated time of arrival for improved operational planning.
  • Offers industry-standard value codes, UN location codes, and HS codes for approximately 38,000 products, avoiding transmission failures to ocean carriers. The benefit of this would be that when a user enters a transaction into the system, the location and product fields have pre-established values, which avoids bad data entry.
  • This includes ocean schedules that enable planners to determine the best route option, with available transit dates, estimated arrival times, voyage information, and terminal information so that planners can confidently pick the best lane.
  • Container tracking captures future critical events when importing containers, allowing shippers to tender a truck quickly and pick up the shipment on time.
  • Should be able to virtually connect with any TMS, ERP, and third-party providers’ systems, enabling shippers to have visibility from a purchase order number and other essential reference numbers or information. 

Technology integration has transformed ocean shipment tracking from a cumbersome process into a streamlined and transparent operation. From RFID and IoT to AI, innovative solutions are revolutionizing how businesses manage their supply chains. By leveraging these technologies, stakeholders can gain unprecedented visibility and control over their shipments, enhancing efficiency, reducing costs, and mitigating risks. As the pace of technological innovation accelerates, the future of ocean shipment tracking promises even greater connectivity, efficiency, and resilience in global trade.

Author: Bernard Cohen, Group Product Manager, IntelliTrans