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  October 10th, 2018 | Written by

Why we love these ocean carriers

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  • Shippers expect that ocean carriers provide them with electronic shipment management tools.
  • Ocean carriers have introduced web-based, mobile, and other electronic interfaces with customers.
  • How shippers receive shipment information is important to carriers helping them manage supply chains.
  • The right carrier technology can be an important customer service differentiator for shippers.

As mobile technology and applications become more sophisticated, and ubiquitous in commercial, professional, and everyday settings, shippers have come to expect that ocean carriers provide them with electronic shipment management tools that are sophisticated and easy to use. Ocean carriers have responded with web-based, mobile, and other electronic interfaces with customers and a growing number are providing platforms for shippers to plan, process, and monitor their shipments anywhere, anytime.

These solutions are available through online and mobile platforms as well as through direct system integration to enable cargo owners and freight forwarders to manage shipments and collaborate with business partners. As carriers explore developments in technology, and consider online offerings to benefit their customers, understanding when and how shippers want to receive their shipment information has become important in helping them better manage their supply chains. From the shipper’s perspective, especially in this day and age of alliance domination of ocean container shipping, the the right technology can be an important customer service differentiator.

Why do we love these ocean carriers? Because they are some of the global leaders in implementing digital technologies for the benefit of shippers.

Sealand. “In the old days it was impossible for a small or midsized company to manage their supply-chain needs by themselves,” said Ariel Frias, director of marketing at Sealand, an operating unit of Maersk that handles north-south trade in the Americas. “They required a freight forwarder to do that for them. Technology allows business owners to transfer goods anywhere in the world by booking cargo, looking up rates, and getting quotes online. These technologies empower customers and increase the number of companies that can do business internationally.”

Much of the connectivity between ocean carriers and their customers is now moving from the desktop to mobile devices. Sealand recently introduced a mobile app that allows users to track shipments, share information, and access a user guide to shipping. An update to that app was introduced earlier this year.

Sealand also offers satellite communications on refrigerated containers. Besides monitoring the status of the cargo, this allows cargo owners to obtain the location of a container every 15 minutes.

Sealand is also working with IBM to apply blockchain to its processes. Blockchain technology can be used to connect supply chains together and process the millions of transactions processed each day in the shipping industry among numerous stakeholders.

“We are using blockchain to allow different parties access to data pertaining to a specific shipment with the idea of providing more visibility to the transfer and release of goods,” said Frias.

OOCL. The carrier, which was recently taken over by COSCO but operates independently, offers a suite of services through its website for shippers through the My OOCL Center and through the mobile app OOCL Lite. OOCL also makes use of big data and machine learning techniques to build predictive models and algorithms on vessel movements, including speed changes, route deviations, idling, abnormal stoppages, potential delays, and predictive ETAs.

“By having earlier notice of potential delays,” said Steve Siu, the company’s chief information officer, “we are able to notify our customers more quickly of changes in schedules so that they have timely information to better manage their supply chains.”

OOCL shippers also have access to multiple-carrier tools from CargoSmart, a sister company of OOCL, such as Big Schedules that leverages big data and Internet of Things (IoT) technologies to track vessels’ actual locations, adverse weather conditions, and other indicators that may potentially affect vessels’ schedules.

Yang Ming. Last year, the carrier implemented a new function via LINE bot, a communications app, which allows customers to trace container and vessel status on their mobile devices. That’s in addition to the functionality available on the Yang Ming website, which also includes track and trace.

Yang Ming is working on a blockchain initiative, as well as on internet of things (IoT) and big data analyses. “The important thing behind IoT and big data is the innovation on operational excellence and customer service,” said a company spokesperson. “Consequently, it creates a differentiation for those players who are moving faster.”

TOTE Maritime Puerto Rico. Moving perishable goods such as food and pharmaceuticals has become increasingly important to ocean carriers, including TOTE Maritime Puerto Rico, which serves the mainland United States to Puerto Rico trade. Carriers have implemented new technologies to manage these cargoes more efficiently and to monitor their status to prevent major problems.

TOTE Maritime Puerto Rico purchased 350 new high-tech smart refrigerated containers last year, according to Tim Nolan, of the company’s president. The carrier’s “entire reefer fleet,” he said, “is equipped with machine-to-machine telematics technology that maximizes safety and efficiency of supply chain operations and provides clients crucial real-time, end-to-end visibility of their shipments.”

Zim. The Israeli ocean carrier launched its ZIMonitor product, which allows shippers to track, monitor and remotely control sensitive, high-value cargo stowed in refrigerated containers, in 2015. “One innovative aspect of this program is that we integrated the monitoring device directly into the reefer equipment,” said Rafi Ben-Ari vice president for shipping at Zim. “Another is that we established a 24/7 control tower to take care of problems identified by the monitoring.”

ZIMonitor alerts—which may indicate that a container is unplugged or that its temperature if out of range or that it’s off-route—are available over mobile devices. Customers can receive whatever kinds messages they want at the frequency they request.

Zim’s communications technology is based on cellular service, which means that it can monitor containers while on the road or in the port but not when they are on the high seas. That would require satellite communications which would increase the cost of the service beyond what Zim’s customers are willing to pay, according to Ben-Ari.

For Ben-Ari, the technologies being implemented by ocean carriers will have the effect of “bringing the shipping industry a high level of service.” “The entire industry should invest together in these platforms,” he said. “Everyone will benefit from the effort.”