Imagine what it must have been like to experience the revolution in the shipping world that occurred when sailing vessels gave way to steam-driven ships. By dramatically reducing ocean shipping time, steamer technology completely changed the expectations that importers and exporters had about delivering fresh goods and maintaining tighter shipping schedules.
Today, the industry is facing another sea change with an impact that may be even more dramatic: the use of Web services as a competitive advantage for shippers, carriers and logistics service providers. Web services technology can enable the delivery of "fresh" shipping data so you can work in real time, rather than making business decisions based on outdated information.
The benefits of Web services for importers and carriers include:
Â· Tracking changes in sailing schedule data as they happen
Â· Consolidating shipping information and other intelligence from multiple sources
Â· Working more productively and profitably with shipping data
Â· Making it easier to comply with global shipping regulations (like "10 + 2")
Â· Providing faster and more dependable service to your customers
Perhaps most importantly, the global economic downturn and higher energy costs demand that every company needs to work harder and smarter to turn a profit. Web services can help you leverage your technology investment to reduce your cost of doing business, raise efficiencies and provide your company with a competitive advantage.
Crossing Over from the Consumer World
Up until a few years ago, the business world led the way in technologies that would eventually find their way into the consumer world when they could be produced and distributed more cost-effectively for home use. Now, it seems to be the other way around. It's time for the shipping world to adapt to the way Web services are being used in the business-to-consumer world.
Let's take a closer look at how Web services technology may already be affecting your life. Have you ever checked the status of an order on amazon.com? Ever bid on an item auction on ebay.com? Perhaps you've visited continental.com to make sure a flight was going to arrive on schedule before driving to the airport to pick up someone. And if you factory-ordered a BMW Mini automobile, you could view its progress step by step at the factory-up to the date of delivery-right from your kitchen table. In each of these examples, you use the internet to get the latest information instantly-and you've come to expect to get it all with just a few mouse clicks, whenever and wherever you want.
These are just a few examples of how the immediacy and ease of using Web services enhance and enrich the user experience. Bear in mind that, while consumers aren't your direct market, all your customers are consumers when they go home after work each day. Plus, as the next generation of "Gen Xers" enters the workforce, they're going to be demanding this level of Web services technology at work because it's how they grew up at home and school.
Besides just delivering information faster and easier, Web services enable multiple data sources to be combined into one convenient resource. For example, when you check on the status of a Continental Airlines flight, the arrival or departure time you see may be determined by combining information about the weather conditions, airport security, and the condition of that particular plane and flight crew into a single data view.
Why can't we accomplish this in the shipping world? The answer is: we can-and we must-with Web services.
Shaking up the Shipping World
If the world happens in real time, why should the shipping world move in slow motion? Delivering just-in-time data via Web services can have a dramatic impact on global shipping and the way you do business. Shipping information can flow as quickly as the pace of trade flows and events occur that can affect sailing schedules.
With up-to-the-minute fresh data, your employees won't have to wait for cargo movement information or manually update changes about shipments in their ocean supply chain. So your people can spend less time gathering and organizing information-and more time managing it to your advantage.
Now you can receive the latest sailing schedules on demand from a single consolidated source, so you know when your goods leave and arrive. Instead of waiting for this data via electronic data interchange and batch file transfers to be processed, you can "mash" this information together and view it simultaneously to complete the necessary documentation to comply with new global shipping regulations.
For example, consider the recently enacted Importer Security Filing (ISF) Rule-better known as "10 + 2"-as part of the SAFE Port Act. To increase supply chain security, 10 + 2 requires importers and carriers to submit additional data to U.S. Customs at least 24 hours prior to a container being loaded on a ship destined for the U.S. With Web services, you can more easily meet this regulation by receiving this information faster from multiple sources and combining it at your company for easier entry in the necessary fields. This means you can ensure that shipping containers are moving at optimum speed, while avoiding costly penalties for non-compliance with 10 + 2 and preventing customer complaints.
Due to terrorism concerns in global shipping, many other countries are following the lead of the U.S. in enacting more stringent regulations like 10 + 2. Web services can help make it faster and easier for you to access the data you need to comply with these regulations-and react to other new regulations and requirements that may arise around the world.
Leveraging Your E-Commerce Investment
Web services technology enables you to leverage your existing investment in internal e-commerce systems. For example, with Web services, you can automate more aspects of the booking and tracking process to close up information gaps to speed up processing and open up workflow. And Web services make it easier to combine sailing schedule data with other external data sources to create powerful online productivity tools.
In addition, by providing a richer user experience and more effective automated processes, Web services can give your company the ability to react to changes in shipping schedules with velocity and agility. This is especially valuable in today's volatile global marketplace, where prices and market demand can change overnight.
Web services also create the opportunity for "white labeling," which enables you to designate a carrier or shipper as a portal for specialized types of information. This can help save you the time, cost and resources of developing and maintaining this data stream on your own system.
Of course, your company will have unique needs for Web services technology. To customize a system that will meet your data needs and complement your existing e-commerce investment, you can add "plug & play" Web services modules to create an integrated solution.
Meeting Challenges of Adopting Web Technology
Like any change in business process, there's more to adopting Web services for ocean shipping than how you use this technology in consumer applications. While gaining real-time access to shipping data is important, it's critical that the data has been "cleansed" so it's ready to be viewed and used by shippers and other information consumers in the supply chain. Otherwise, your applications may not be able to filter and process the data to your advantage.
This means your internal systems have to be prepared to receive (and send out) data that can be consumable by your company, as well as others in your supply chain. Web services also requires that data conform to Web-enabled standards so it can be universally viewed and used by a variety of applications.
If your company is just starting to embrace Web services, you're not alone. Many importers and carriers are still in the process of incorporating these technologies into the way they do business. However, the sooner your company can adopt Web services, the earlier you can start to improve the accuracy of your shipping schedules, increase the productivity of your shipping personnel, and more easily comply with global shipping regulations.
A good place to start using Web services is sharing information across disparate systems in internal company operations. This gives you the opportunity to develop a comfort level with the nuances of Web services before distributing or receiving information to or from external sources.
It all adds up to bringing ocean shipping up to Web speed-something that all consumers have come to expect in virtually every aspect of their lives, both at home and at work.
Jeff Pattison is chief information officer of INTTRA Inc., a multi-carrier e-commerce platform for the ocean shipping industry. INTTRA (www.inttra.com) is designed to enable shippers, freight forwarders, third-party logistics providers, brokers and importers to electronically plan, process and manage their shipments.
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