Posting and searching the vast number of sailing schedules that ocean carriers publish around the world seems an obvious and natural fit for internet technology. Until OceanSchedules.com was launched early this year, however, no organization had managed to bring all the pieces together and overcome proprietary interests that limited comprehensive data access.
The key innovation that broke this barrier was application of a Google-style model to the problem. Using Google's targeted advertising concept in conjunction with schedule searches was an idea that came out of a brainstorming session at INTTRA, owner of OceanSchedules.com. INTTRA, Parsippany, N.J., offers an e-commerce platform to ocean carriers and their customers along with a range of tools for tendering, booking, tracking and other tasks. INTTRA says that more than 200,000 container orders are initiated on its platform each week, representing 10 percent of global ocean container trade.
"INTRAA already had the connectivity to form a platform for OceanSchedules.com," says senior vice president Henry Sangree. That was a big leg up in development of the web-based service. Another boost was the decision to use AJAX (Asynchronous JAVA and XML) technology on the site to enhance the user experience. "We knew that the solution had to be not only global and comprehensive, but also interactive and fast," Sangree says. AJAX delivers the ability to interact with data in ways that were not possible with prior processes, he says. "The speed of the intuitive interface encourages a user to consider options and possibilities that they would not have previously explored."
After a pilot with a small group of users, the OceanSchedules.com site was officially launched in January 2007. Today it maintains schedule information representing more than 83 percent of slot capacity among the top 25 global carriers. It has nearly 4,000 active users and more than 25 active advertisers, which will generate approximately $250,000 of new revenue this year for INNTRA.
Applying Google ideas to the service means that it is free to both carriers and users, with revenue coming from advertising that is targeted to the user's interest. Advertisers can select a target audience of active buyers of ocean transportation anywhere in the world and deliver a relevant message to them through one platform. This opportunity did not exist in the ocean transportation industry before OceanSchedules.com., nor did the ability to search a single, comprehensive list of sailing schedules.
Before this innovation, options for shippers and forwarders to select carriers and voyages were limited. They could consult lists published in regional, weekly magazines or online, but these lists were not up to date and often had inaccuracies. In addition, they are available only to subscribers. Individual ocean carriers also post their own schedules on their Web sites or send them via email. But it is a tedious task to select carriers of interest, examine their service offerings, consolidate choices and then make a decision. "Many shippers simply use the same carrier they used for their previous shipment or the carrier that they already know," says Sangree. "Each participant in the field has a reason to limit data scope or site access, thereby creating a partial solution."
OceanSchedules.com obtains its schedule information directly from carriers electronically, ensuring accuracy and timeliness. Carriers update the data frequently, many on a daily basis. When data is received it is time-stamped, so users can easily see if it appears to be out of date. Carriers provide data for both their own voyages and those of space-sharing partners. The global nature of the information enables users to avoid the expense of regional or country level subscriptions.
Another big advantage for users is that they can customize and brand the service for their own web sites, using OceanSchedules.com on a software-as-a-service basis. Kuehne & Nagel was one of the first to implement this capability. "Customers can go to our web site and do a search with instant results," says Juerg Bandle, senior vice president of K&N. "It looks like Kuehne & Nagel is running it."
The process of customizing OceanSchedules.com so that the content is filtered to a user's customized needs only takes a few weeks, says Sangree. There are no upfront IT costs and no hardware or software to buy, though there are fees for various levels of customization, along with an annual maintenance charge. All are dependent on the level of customization a company chooses, from providing schedules to creating a marketing platform suited to their brand, or building applications that integrate OceanSchedules.com into the user's back-end system. "With the integration option, OceanSchedules.com enables a user to search the site's 9 million voyage records and instantly pass the relevant voyage data into its own internal system for easy use without re-keying," says Sangree.
Carriers also are given opportunities to build their brands, with every voyage having a direct click through to the carrier's website. A carrier can track the level of interest in its sailing on a country and city level to gauge the effectiveness of its marketing and sales efforts. It also can generate sales leads for specific sailings through the contract carrier feature. This delivers the capability to do one-to-one marketing and to collaborate with prospective shippers.
The biggest opportunity for carriers, however, is the ability to advertise to targeted users. When a user searches from point A to point B, the system can select an advertiser that offers services that are likely to be of interest to the user, either on the export side, the voyage itself or the import side. Delivery of ads only to users that need their services is a way to create new relationships of value to both partners.
Thanks from OceanSchedules.com
As OceanSchedules.com developed, many people in many organizations have inspired, informed, advised and supported its launch and subsequent growth. In particular, it would like to recognize, in alphabetical order, the leadership of Dubai Ports World, Kuehne + Nagel, Maersk and MSC.
Timely, incisive articles delivered directly to your inbox.