The ocean freight industry is greatly in need of a way to automate and digitize the contracting process — and so is every other stage of the supply chain, says Matt Marshall, senior vice president with NYSHEX.
The last couple of years have seen players in the ocean freight industry move toward digitizing the contracting process. The goal is to replace manual systems that required the use of e-mail, faxes, spreadsheets and phone calls for the placement and management of bookings. On the carrier side, there have also been efforts to automate bills of lading, Marshall says.
Shippers, meanwhile, are keen to digitize systems for tracking goods in transit; customs brokers are automating their own processes, and similar efforts are taking place within warehouse operations.
The challenge, Marshall says, lies in the question of how all these elements link together. Disparate systems, individually digitized, need to be work in concert.
Tracking technology is far from new in the ocean freight sector, but the proliferation of proprietary systems operated by each carrier presents a question about the future of this capability. Will it result in everyone deciding to share data under one set of standards? Or will one player emerge with a system that dominates all others? Given the fragmented nature of the marketplace, the latter scenario is difficult to envision, Marshall says.
The strongest opportunity for future digitization efforts could lie in the warehouse, he notes. Operators will be driven by the need to address the nationwide labor shortage, and replace humans with automated systems. A second area of promise is further investment in digitization of ocean contracting, which will allow carriers to do a better job of managing capacity. “If your contract has to perform in an international component of the supply chain,” Marshall says, “you need technology to support that process and take you out of Excel.”
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