Real-time visibility in sea transportation planning & monitoring

We break down the pros and the cons of the data solutions available in the market for real-time in-transit visibility

By Fotini Tseroni

May 19, 2021

In transit blog_MarineTraffic_SupplyChain_Visibility_Solutions

Is in-transit ocean visibility a nice to have or a must-have priority for supply chain leaders?

Amid a period of serious resource constraints and great uncertainty, combined with a constant pressure to stay competitive and continuously move at the speed of the customer, investing in supply chain visibility is the only safe route for you to take.


The growing market complexities make the need for full visibility in the supply chain more challenging and more critical than ever.

Any business that relies on just-in-time inventory management, is competing with time, while unexpected delays of goods can have a negative impact on schedules, costs, and overall performance.

Especially now, when COVID-19 introduced new levels of complexity, with disruptions to the suppliers’ of your suppliers and impacts to your customers’ customers. 

In this data-rich world, access to end-to-end visibility translates into making more informed decisions for your business, responding to unexpected events with confidence, and reducing costs. 

Data can help you see the bigger picture of global cargo movements, allowing you to predict trends and disruptions that may affect your entire supply chain.

“Where’s my cargo?”
“When will my cargo arrive?”
“Do I need to alter my plans because something is not going according to schedule?”

These questions have afflicted the supply chain industry since forever and keep the industry’s pros frustrated.

Today, more and more companies across industries feel the impact of delayed or missing cargo. From increased shipping costs to penalties, product shortages, lost revenue and unhappy customers.

If you are responsible for the movements of goods and you still cannot answer with confidence where your cargo is or when it will arrive, you most likely have blind spots over your operations that keep slowing down every stage of your supply chain.

Next question is: How can your business simplify the complex environment around sea transportation planning and monitoring, and build more transparent, agile supply chain operations?

Short answer to this question is to invest in technology and data that can plug the visibility gap. 

Related: Using data to build a resilient supply chain

According to Gartner, by 2023, 50% of global product-centric enterprises will have invested in real-time transportation visibility platforms.

Such platforms allow us to have instant access to the inventory location at any moment with the ultimate goal to improve operations, and help find where future risks and opportunities lie in the modern supply chains. 

When it comes to monitoring all seabourne shipments, real-time in-transit visibility can help monitor the status or whereabouts of your cargo, build a more effective planning and more agile reactions to possible disruptions.

Related: 10 questions to ask when selecting a provider for ocean predictive ETAs

More specifically, among others, a real-time transportation visibility solution acts as a single source of truth and helps:

  • Optimise delivery performance

  • Reduce unplanned costs

  • Detect signals for potential vulnerabilities

  • Respond faster to crises

  • Increase information flow and team’s communication

  • Improve efficiency of operations based on confidence & transparency

  • Increase customer experience and satisfaction

The lack of end-to-end visibility into vessel whereabouts leaves cargo owners and shippers at a disadvantage. Without ocean freight visibility, it’s hard for logistics professionals to effectively manage their complex operations. 

The only way to provide bigger insight and have better visibility over your shipments is to invest in a solution that is designed to support these growing business needs while ensuring data is reliable and accessible at any time. 


In-transit ocean freight visibility solutions: Infrastructure investment VS off-the-shelf data solutions

Depending on the size, complexity, and the specific needs of your organisation, you can either invest in a data solution provided as an online subscription service or create a personalised application fueled with custom data sets. 

Off-the-shelf in transit visibility solutions

Like most of the “one-size-fits-all” solutions, these software systems are usually supported by established vendors who have many years of expertise in the market. They are usually online subscription services that one can purchase either monthly or annually.

In general, these data solutions offer a single or a multi-feature system with a smaller upfront cost. Moreover, they have already been used and trusted by a huge user base, which makes the service and information provided trustworthy.

These data solutions usually come with user guides available online, and they are designed to be compatible with any operating system.

On the other hand, such ready-made solutions may lack custom-made features that your business may be looking for.

While there might be extra add-on features available to keep up with any changes or new business demands, these solutions can only provide a certain level of customisation. This may also mean that their initially lower cost, can get higher over time if more single services (add-ons) might be needed.

Most vendors provide bundles and plans that include a combination of features, often at a lower cost than when purchasing each single product feature.

For example, a logistics professional that wants to access ship positions, predicted Estimated Time of Arrival (ETA), voyage information, or port calls, can easily do so by registering to the vendor’s cloud platform or application. 

No software is required to be in place to track the movements of the ships carrying their cargoes. They will just need to create an account and purchase the features/plans that best suit their business and ocean freight visibility requirements.


API services for ocean freight in transit visibility

The application programming interface (API) is a set of programming instructions and data sets that allow different applications and services to exchange information.

For example, if you already have a system but you want to enhance it by adding specific data sets, you can use APIs to integrate data and have it all in a single place.

When it comes to ocean freight monitoring, infrastructure investment is designed and developed based on the unique requirements of each logistics professional, offering a more directly applicable functionality.

APIs offer powerful functionalities that directly apply to every company’s asset management and operations, bringing business-critical features to the table.

Tailored solutions are provided by software providers who have extensive experience and understanding of these specific challenges, processes, and requirements. 

What are some examples of APIs for ocean freight in-transit visibility?

API services for supply chain and logistics professionals can include: 

Ship Positions

You can retrieve from historical to near real-time positional information of any vessel, while at sea or within a port.


Predicted ETA’s and Voyage Information

You can retrieve forecasted voyage information (e.g. Estimated Time of Arrival) and waiting times at ports, anchorages and defined commercial markets. 


Vessels Details, Events, Port Calls and Berth Calls

Vessel information including general or technical details about any vessel (i.e vessel type, dimensions, ownership, photos etc.) along with vessel events, port calls and navigational status changes, can also be provided through the APIs directly to your business systems.

So, APIs allow companies to build custom applications and scale up their offerings. There might be a potential higher initial cost while, in most cases, extensive training may be required to make sure you get the support needed.

Related: Menu of APIs for supply chain and logistics professionals


Focus on the business need first

For most organisations, data sharing siloes across partner and customer networks and the greater lack of visibility continue to be a key challenge. The ongoing COVID-19 crisis introduced even more disruptions to the global supply chain adding up to the growing need for more simplified and transparent business operations. 

Investing in powerful technologies and deciding on what data your organisation needs are one of the most difficult decisions organisations have to make.

Before choosing the data solution, think about the business goals you are trying to address. 

How is in transit visibility translated for your business? 

What is your business goal? 

Can the solution help you identify potential cargo delays? 

Can you access real-time tracking information?

Can you get real-time disruption alerts and accurate ETA information? 

Can your potential vendor support your growing business needs? 

Related: 5 things to consider when selecting an ocean predictive ETAs vendor

As an industry professional, you will have to choose your In Transit Visibility solution, that is easier for you to understand and use, ensuring the more reliable, secure and faster transfer of data, and eventually helping you future-proof your business and bring in more advantages.

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Fotini Tseroni

Fotini Tseroni

Content Writer at MarineTraffic

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