What if I told you many of today’s ocean shipping problems occur before containers are even loaded on a vessel? While the global pandemic is responsible for many of today’s logistics nightmares (from toilet paper shortages to the record number of box ships sitting outside LA), it’s also exposed longstanding weaknesses that have been ignored since the dawn of containerized freight. You see, it’s all about the paperwork.

Of course, when we talk about paperwork these days it means not just physical paper printouts, but digital documents such as PDFs that are sent over email. These documents—such as a booking confirmation—exist outside of most logistics planning and execution systems, yet they carry vital information about each ocean shipment. Miss an email and your customer’s shipment might not make the vessel.  

Booking confirmations are a critical piece of communication between ocean carriers and shippers and logistics service providers (LSPs). They send a signal that the carrier has accepted an upcoming shipment and hold pertinent information related to equipment and itinerary. Without accurate information about the status of a booking, the entire process of moving freight across the ocean can break down.

Miss an email and your customer’s shipment might not make the vessel.

The good news? You can tackle these issues in relatively short order. Here are three practices any LSP can implement to navigate ocean freight chaos:

Get your processes in order

Booking execution is driven by individual operators who communicate directly with vendors and carriers via emails and PDFs. The typical operator for a busy ocean LSP receives anywhere from 400 to 700 emails a day. As a result, operators spend a significant amount of time simply sorting through messages to ensure that all relevant information is captured and up to date. It’s an outdated process that lends itself to communication breakdowns and lagging information. Speed things up and eliminate errors by applying data extraction and automation tools.  

Intentionally match supply and demand

Operators are swimming in messy, unstructured data and working on tight schedules. As a result, they manage booking processes on a transaction-by-transaction basis, simply placing containers wherever they can get the space. While the process is good enough to ensure the freight leaves the point of origin, it’s a haphazard approach that leads to issues like overbooking and missed sailings. Bringing booking data together into a single system makes it possible to apply better logic to container allocation strategies. It allows for “guided” allocation recommendations so operators can make more informed decisions based on shipper requirements, minimum quantity commitments, and optimal sailing schedules.  

Put your data to good use

The more complicated a process becomes, the harder it is to measure and improve upon the results. Logistics booking processes depend upon manual intervention and unstructured documents and communications across multiple stakeholders, including shippers, vendors, and carriers. Standing in the middle of these notoriously complex processes are the LSPs. This vantage point gives logistics service providers a unique opportunity to drive freight processes forward. By digitalizing key logistics processes and data, LSPs also unlock the ability to measure their results and the performance of all other parties involved. By deploying analytics tools on top of their process management platform, LSPs can improve accountability and truly move the freight industry forward.  

Ocean shipping is locked in peak season, and it could be years before everything returns to normal. While there are many ways to track freight in transit or count the number of ships waiting outside a destination port, it doesn’t address the fundamental challenges that arise before a container is even loaded onto a vessel. Until the ocean logistics industry starts looking at underlying processes as an opportunity to get ahead of the chaos, shippers and logistics service providers will continue to struggle through the massive amount of unstructured data and disconnected systems tied to each shipment.  

Learn how Booking & Allocation Management by Slync.io is designed to take the guesswork out of ocean booking processes.



Matt Gunn
is Vice President of Product and Solution Marketing at Slync.io.

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