The economic ebbs and flows that accompanied the COVID-19 pandemic put a giant spotlight on the complexities of global supply chains and produced a “supply chainaissance.” From massive financial investments in the private sector to newly minted federal regulations, everyone now seems interested in solving the problems that have plagued our household buying patterns over the past two years. 

Here’s the thing, though—which is not surprising to those of us in the supply chain industry—the underlying causes of skyrocketing ocean shipping rates, port congestion and product shortages have existed for quite some time. At the core of every challenge faced by freight forwarders, BCOs and NVOCCs is a lack of collaboration, data sharing, and technology adoption.

Since understanding is the best first step to charting a course of action, we’ll aim to break down the challenges facing the international shipping industry in this article and explain how logistics orchestration technology can help freight forwarders, BCOs, and NVOCCs advance their digital transformation journeys.

The current state of ocean freight shipping

Unlike some of the other major modes of transportation, the ocean freight market is dominated by just a handful of large carriers (think Maersk, MSC, CMA-CGM and COSCO). As a result of this market concentration, seasons of high demand like the one we’re currently experiencing are marked by high shipping rates and low tender acceptance. FreightWaves reported that long-term contract rates are averaging between $7,000 to $8,000 per FEU which is a near 150% increase over 2021. Our data from working with several leading LSPs also shows that carriers are accepting just 30% of booking requests. That means that 70% of all tenders are being rejected and freight forwarders and NVOCCs have to work three times as hard to secure a slot for a single shipment.

At the core of every challenge faced by freight forwarders, BCOs and NVOCCs is a lack of collaboration, data sharing, and technology adoption.

Today's top ocean freight shipping challenges

The challenges facing freight forwarders and LSPs are varied and many, spanning the spectrum from basic economics to collaborating with partners. Here’s a summary of some of the top challenges and why they still exist in today’s digital world:

Limited container capacity

Supply is currently outpaced by demand, making it difficult for freight forwarders, BCOs, and NVOCCs to find container space for their cargo. While some shippers and BCOs have resorted to chartering entire vessels as a way to guarantee delivery, others have turned to LCL shipping as a solution. It allows them to share container space with third parties and secure container space that becomes available at the last minute. Despite many creative efforts, limited container capacity is expected to remain one of the top challenges facing the freight forwarding industry for the next several quarters, if not longer, since it just takes time to sort out the positioning of large physical assets.

Rising shipping rates

Increasing transport costs and their tendency to cause inflationary pressure have received their fair share of mainstream media coverage, so we won’t spend a great deal of time discussing this challenge faced by freight forwarders here. However, it’s important to remember that freight forwarders and LSPs operate based on margins, so ensuring all parties remain profitable is imperative for global supply chains to run smoothly.

Labor shortages

Staffing shortages have affected just about every industry, including freight forwarding and international shipping. High turnover rates have left many key operator roles empty or overworked. And for a logistics operator that receives on average between 400 and 700 emails a day, this means that delays and data errors are even more pronounced.

Lack of shipment visibility

Even in a world where almost everyone keeps a satellite-based GPS in their pocket, tracking the location and status of a single order remains one of the top challenges facing the freight forwarding industry. For the lucky few that can “see” the location of the shipment, it’s still challenging to “do” anything about a shipment once it has been delayed. This is a vital capability since BCOs and shippers need to know when their cargo will arrive to keep their operations running smoothly, and freight forwarders need this information to keep their customers up to date. 

Managing carrier performance

A robust and reliable supply chain starts with a robust and reliable network of carriers. Unfortunately, carrier management is difficult unless you can measure and manage carrier performance with some level of accuracy and regularity. This data is often self-reported by carriers during procurement cycles and is hard to verify once the contracts are awarded. 

Manually gathering the data needed to evaluate carrier performance is a tedious and error-prone process, especially as it relates to carrier booking and schedule reliability.

Collaborating with partners and suppliers

Almost every company in existence is reliant on its partners and suppliers. When it comes to ocean freight shipping, though, communicating and collaborating with partners and suppliers is especially challenging since everyone operates in their own systems and there is a lack of data sharing standards nor a desire for interoperability. This hurdle might lessen if initiatives like FLOW are successful, but it remains another of the top challenges facing the freight forwarding industry in the current environment. 

Weather-related events

Meteorological events have always been among the challenges facing the freight forwarding and maritime industries. However, as global climate changes become more severe, hurricane and tsunami seasons are growing longer and more dangerous. This is a growing operational concern for all parties involved.

The key to mitigating ocean freight shipping challenges

Shipping processes that are optimized and automated via innovative technological solutions are the single biggest key to solving the shipping challenges faced by freight forwarders BCOs and NVOCCs. For example, a logistics orchestration platform like Slync.io can transform your booking and container allocation process by automatically ingesting those 400 to 700 emails as well as unstructured data like PDFs and WhatsApp messages to allow operators to manage by exception and focus on value-add activities. Logistics orchestration solutions like this also go a long way in filling the talent gaps left by high turnover and COVID-induced restrictions.  

With the right technology, organizations can achieve supply chain visibility to proactively identify shipping delays, anticipate disruptions, automate manual processes for improved efficiency, manage carrier performance, enhance collaboration and communication between partners, and much more.

How Slync.io helps solve the top challenges facing freight forwarders and BCOs

If you would like to implement the cutting-edge technological solutions your organization needs to solve its most difficult shipping challenges, we at Slync.io can help. Slync's industry-leading Logistics Orchestration® platform empowers organizations with both the ability to automate shipping processes as well as bring together the relevant data needed to effectively manage global supply chains.

From overcoming labor shortages via automation to evaluating carrier performance to ensuring that you can secure container space for your cargo through an optimized booking and container allocation process, Slync.io is able to help you overcome today's top challenges facing the ocean freight forwarding industry in a variety of powerful ways.

To learn more about the many benefits and uses of the Logistics Orchestration® platform by Slync.io, be sure to contact us today.

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