A New Day for Data: Overcoming Ocean Freight Data Challenges  

Without quality data, logistics and supply chain organizations cannot effectively manage container tracking or customer interactions, or make strategic decisions…but unfortunately, the maritime and ocean freight industries have data issues. The phrase, “Garbage in, garbage out” comes to mind. AIS data comes with a great deal of “noise” and effective container tracking is not just about data, it involves quick mining to produce actionable insights. 

Some freight forwarders, importers, and exporters are overly reliant on a single source for data, while others draw from multiple sources, but are still struggling with data quality and integrity issues, such as: 

  • Location verification – is my container loaded or discharged where I expect it to be?
  • Vessel identification – is the reported vessel the actual vessel that transports my cargo?
  • Inaccurate reporting of milestones – did the reported event actually occur? For instance, if the container was reported as “loaded,” is it really aboard the vessel?

These data obstacles can lead to inadvertently tracking the wrong shipment or vessel. 

Windward conducted a data comparison and found that with an industry-standard transportation management system (TMS), logistics and supply chain organizations are tracking the wrong vessel 17% of the time!* The current state of data makes it difficult for organizations to achieve visibility, let alone actionable visibility. This situation impacts strategic decision-making, cost-savings initiatives, and the customer experience. 

This white paper will analyze the challenges around data that freight forwarders, importers, and exporters, as well as solution vendors, are facing. It also highlights the must-have features and functionality that purchasers should consider when evaluating data solutions, such as multiple sources, clean data, and iterative improvement of current and historical data, for greater accuracy, latency, and flexibility.  

If you are depending upon or evaluating a data solution, it’s important to peer behind the curtain to carefully check the data strategy and architecture.

This white paper gives you just such a peek and explains how and why Windward rebuilt our Ocean Freight Visibility (see below for a solution description) data layer architecture to offer better accuracy and versatility to customers; highlights the importance of the Digital Container Shipping Association (DCSA) standard; and outlines the benefits that ocean freight personnel can gain from an optimized data layer. 

*One or more of the shipment legs was misaligned with Windward’s data, which was validated by vessel activity/port calls.

Small Data Differences Create BIG Trouble

How is it possible that logistics and supply chain organizations are tracking the wrong vessel so often? A lack of industry standardization and the difficulties in fully overcoming the complexities inherent in ocean freight tracking technologies results in mismatches between vessels declared by the carrier and vessels actually involved in the shipment. 

For example, San Diego has more than one port. So if a port is listed only as “San Diego,” it could lead to a freight forwarder, importer, or exporter looking at the wrong destination for a vessel that will never actually arrive. 

Seemingly small differences such as that can make a HUGE difference in your organization’s accuracy and efficiency. 

Attempting to sync with carriers and their frequent changes can create inefficiencies and data variance. One of the more pressing issues is translating carrier events into a shipment point of view. 

For instance, after the carrier posts a list of events on its website, freight forwarder personnel must synthesize it and create a “shipment details plan.” This includes collecting information and more importantly, understanding shipments’ origins and destinations – will there be transshipments? What’s the demurrage and detention plan? 

These types of unpredictable issues make creating a shipment details plan time-consuming. 

Further complicating the picture is the need to quickly adjust to changes in carriers’ events data. Carriers alter images on their website and update shipment details. This often changes the associated data. It’s challenging to effectively address frequent changes with minimal system latency. 

Substandard Standardization

One problem fueling the data doldrums is something Windward likes to call “substandard standardization.” Milestone tracking is critical for importers, exporters, and freight forwarders, but which milestones should be tracked? How should they be tracked? 

There is no unifying standard method for milestone validation. Additionally, a lack of standard data formats causes inconsistencies: for example, should searches be performed using the vessel name, or the IMO? 

A second hurdle that is huge for vendors such as Windward: creating an architecture that can hold hundreds of thousands of records of containers, and eventually millions. This obviously involves a significant amount of quality assurance and testing. 

Meanwhile, an even larger standardization issue exists…

DCSA – the Future Standard

The Digital Container Shipping Association (DCSA) has a goal to make shipping services easy to use, flexible, efficient, reliable, and environmentally-friendly. It has established standards for a common technology foundation that enables global collaboration.

One of these standards is track & trace: “DCSA and its member carriers have published track and trace (T&T) standards for the global container shipping industry. These standards comprise a common set of processes as well as data and interface standards that can be implemented by carriers, shippers and third parties to enable cross-carrier shipment tracking. Once implemented, the standards will enable customers and supply chain participants to digitally communicate with all carriers in a unified way.” 

With major industry players involved, this will be the future standard. The documentation and definitions are defined by industry specialists and software developers, ensuring they are designed for industry needs. It will be difficult to accurately track containers without adopting this standard. 

Vendor Data Challenges

From the perspective of an ocean freight solution vendor, one of the biggest challenges is designing a system that is flexible enough to incorporate multiple data sources from different types into one stream of data. 

One example: synchronizing carrier events and vessel activity. Incorporating them is difficult and includes matching vessels and locations to carrier data, sorting the timeline accordingly, adding any vessel activity to the relevant shipment; and then standardizing the data into a single format.

A Quick Overview of the Ocean Freight Visibility Solution

Windward Ocean Freight Visibility is a revolutionary Maritime AI™-powered decision-support solution that helps organizations obtain full visibility and predictability on their maritime shipments and make better decisions, faster.

Multiple data sources are combined and cleaned-up to provide over 99% coverage of shipping events.

As a decision-support platform for logistic operations experts – such as importers, exporters, and transportation service providers – Windward Ocean Freight Visibility offers:

  1. Actionable visibility: real-time insights on the full maritime voyage of any container,
    including container events, vessel events and port efficiency. These insights are fully
    automated and delivered by the solution, serving as a single source of truth and
    saving valuable time to the entire organization.
  2. ETA updates & predictions: leveraging AI, and machine learning algorithms
    developed and perfected over 12 years, Windward’s Maritime AI™ delivers the most
    accurate ETA predictions. Also, Ocean Freight Visibility automatically fetches the most updated ETAs as they are published by the carriers, and calculates the gap, highlighting those that are most critically delayed and providing insights on the accuracy of carriers.
  3. Decision support: exclusive insights on the reasons a container arrival is being
    delayed, notifications about containers that have arrived at their POD and are at
    risk of going past the last free days, and more. These insights are automatically
    generated using Maritime AI™ and are therefore unbiased, not prone to human errors, and communicated in real-time.

Windward Ocean Freight Visibility allows businesses to reduce their operational costs, save
many hours invested in manual checks, become more efficient, and enhance
internal and external customer satisfaction.

Windward’s New Standard of Data Accuracy

Windward has implemented a new standard of accuracy in our Ocean Freight Visibility solution. To help customers overcome the data challenges described above, including the lack of standardization, we rebuilt our entire OFV data layer architecture. Windward has incorporated the DCSA’s API events, main principles, and concepts into our architecture.  

Our new data draws upon multi-source data, synthesizing raw data, container data, vessel activity, and human input. This multitude of sources reduces the chances of errors and facilitates greater accuracy. 

Flexible and reliable data means changes are triggered by events and don’t affect all data. Integrating multiple sources (shipping lines, but also terminals, port calls, etc.) enables avoidance of duplication, selection of the correct sources for milestone tracking, and the ability to send configurable updates for each shipment – not just when there are changes. 

Incremental data validation in our rebuilt platform prevents bottlenecks and having to cope with a full load of statuses, speeding processes and removing an unnecessary anchor.   

The rebuilt architecture features business intelligence (BI) and analysis capabilities – complicated analytics capabilities will be available via an event-based data structure. 

Importance of Testing

Testing was an important part of rebuilding the OFV data layer architecture. A key principle at Windward – incorporate tests within the code. This automates quality assurance. For example: because we incorporated the logic that a port call is relevant if the vessel called the port within the expected timeframe, there is a test in the code to ensure this is consistently applied. 

Customer Benefits from Windward’s New Data Layer

Customer benefits include: 

  • Greater accuracy: breaking problems into different phases via flexible architecture enables the creation of accurate data sets, independent from data providers’ errors 
  • Latency: streaming architecture transforms each event individually, ensuring minimal latency, especially for port calls
  • Flexibility: a step-by-step concept allows local changes to logic options, for quick fixes (broken into microservices. Services aren’t packaged, so you can change data)
  • Data versatility: standard event structure allows transformation of different data sources and types to a single stream of data (terminal, or rail)
  • Enhanced editing: architecture will empower users to manually edit events

Windward’s Data Differentiators

Our data differentiators include: 

  • Multiple sources: by utilizing multiple sources for data, Windward ensures our technology is not over-reliant on any one source. 
  • Clean data: some maritime technology vendors show data as-is, while others do basic clean-up. Windward heavily invests in cleaning the data, because if data is not clean, everything built on top of that flawed foundation will be wobbly. Maritime domain expertise is key for understanding and constantly evaluating data points.
  • Iterative improvement of current and historical data: part of what sets Windward apart is our platform’s ability to take new insights and apply them to our historical data. This transforms the existing data into a treasure trove that continues to yield new analytical gems.

You can’t make good decisions if you are relying on faulty data. Windward’s new data layer can help!

Want to Geek Out Further?

If you are considering a data solution for ocean freight, it’s important to examine the data strategy and architecture.

Evaluating artificial intelligence for the supply chain/logistics domain? 

Windward’s real-time analytics database means everything is searchable and offers fast response times. 

Streaming can greatly reduce latency, which is important because customers upset about a delayed freight do not want to wait for buffering. GraphQL and advanced MLOps are able to furnish you with the agility and flexibility to cope with a complex landscape and disruptive global events.  

We are obsessed with artificial intelligence and would be pleased to talk about it further. Contact us for more details and information about Maritime AI™, which has the potential to transform your organization.

Learn about the must-have features and functionality that purchasers should consider when evaluating ocean freight solutions.

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