Digital transactions for the ocean shipping industry
have arrived. Are you part of it yet?
It may well be true that INTTRA is today the largest neutral
electronic transaction platform, software and information
provider for the ocean shipping industry. At the same time,
however, it is also a fact that fully one-half of all shippers
still book container orders in a manual fashion. Technology,
often a trailing development for the global waterfront, has fully
arrived for the international container shipping industry.
Convincing everyone that this is the way to go hasn't been easy,
and it is very much a work in progress. Nevertheless, those who
do not get on board the 'e-train' risk being left behind forever,
once it leaves the station.
According to INTTRA, leveraging innovative products and the vast
scale of its network empowers customers to trade with multiple
parties and leverage ocean industry information to improve their
business. Connecting over 225,000 shipping professionals with
more than 50 carriers and 120 plus software alliance partners,
INTTRA aims to streamlines the ocean trade process. According to
the firm's President and COO, Inna Kuznetsova, more than 700,000
container orders are initiated on the INTTRA platform each week,
representing more than one quarter of global ocean container
trade. And, she says, those shippers who do not leverage one
booking e-system or another are quickly ceding a competitive
advantage to their industry rivals.
Before joining INTTRA in early 2015, Kuznetsova was the Chief
Commercial Officer at CEVA Logistics, and prior to that she spent
19 years at IBM. As the first Vice President of Russian origin in
IBM headquarters, Kuznetsova is a frequent speaker at industry
events and has two best-selling career books in the Russian
market. In October, she shared her insights with MLPro on the
future of digital transactions in the intermodal equation.
Robust, Flexible IT Solutions
INTTRA's solutions are designed as Software as a Service (SaaS)
and provide the flexibility of either using INTTRA's interface or
being integrated with a customer's existing internal
infrastructure. That's because greater network connectivity,
insists INTTRA, is needed to drive the industry forward. But,
that can also create problems. "In the physical world of
logistics, the bigger your network, the more value you can create
for your customers. Now, each of the connections with customers,
partners and agents needs to be digitized," explains Kuznetsova,
adding quickly, "That not only creates inconsistencies, but can
be costly to maintain hundreds of EDI connections or train the
staff to fill forms on multiple sites. Therefore digitization
elevates the importance of networks and platforms, allowing
stakeholders to connect once and reach many trading partners. An
average shipper connects to 25 carriers on INTTRA's platform.
That's a real-world example of how booking and shipping
instructions through INTTRA's digital platform reduces costs
compared to doing it one-on-one, or going to multiple web sites."
There will be, according to INTTRA, interconnections across
operational, informational and financial data in the future. In
other words, the end of so-called 'siloed business practices.'
From INTTRA's perspective, it is this digitalized, unified
approach that is the panacea that industry craves today,
especially in an era of massive over-capacity, wildly fluctuating
(but often too low) freight rates. Hence, in a time when
overcapacity causes high fluctuation of prices, maintaining high
controls on operational efficiencies becomes an important way to
grow profitability without impacting the quality of service.
Kuznetsova explains it this way: "Improving operational
excellence starts with standardization as well as visibility and
the ability to compare units in the same chain with how they
perform against each other. You have to standardize everything,
and then you can compare various segments in the chain, so you
can then identify actions that will improve your weakest links.
It starts with digitization, which reduces silos by bringing
operational and financial data together to allow you to optimize
by different aspects and parameters."
INTTRA, like everyone else, addresses the cyber threat daily. To
that end, there were, says Kusnetsova, lessons to be learned from
the most recent cyberattack on shipping. For example, those
looking to find another layer of protection in these uncertain
times might consider leveraging INTTRA as a booking channel may
create an alternative in situations where the primary system goes
down. Like many stakeholders, INTTRA also sees promise in
so-called 'blockchain' technology as another way safeguard
critical and proprietary data.
"The neutral digital network means that we are not owned by a
single Carrier or Freight Forwarder, so that allows us to create
value for all customers. Blockchain potentially has great value
across a neutral network since it provides secure transactions
with information only going to the parties that need to be
involved. However, scaling from pilots to full implementation
will require a use of a platform with strong identity management.
It is needed to avoid the anonymity, typical for bitcoin
implementation, as well as a disproportional impact on IT
resources by requiring every supplier or vendor to become a part
of hundreds of different blockchain networks," said Kuznetsova.
INTTRA, she said, is currently involved in a pilot right now to
test this approach.
Big Data Defined - & Delivered
Predictive analytics is a term often bandied about, but seldom
fully understood. In context of what it means to ocean container
shipping, data analytics, for all stakeholders from every part of
the supply chain, provides a way to build and maintain high
standards of operational excellence. In the carrier business, as
one example, it may facilitate a better pricing planning based on
the uptake in bookings. Freight Forwarders can use analytics to
develop more accurate plans by comparing past shipment
reliability with the initial ETA of a container against the
actual travel and arrival time. But transitioning from 'big data'
accessibility to a more user-friendly business analytics tool is
another thing altogether.
The INTTRA approach involves the packaging of data products to
quickly deliver a return on investment for customers. But,
logistics, and especially for the shipping industry, operates
with low margins and thus has a low appetite for huge, massive IT
projects, which typically can take three to five years to show a
return on investment. That's where INTTRA comes in.
Kuznetsova told MLPro in October, "In our experience, packaging
access to data with an easy-to-use interface with targeted tasks
to address, such as reducing dwell time, has great success. We
develop our Decision Support Dashboard products with that in
mind. For example, we offer a Dashboard that enables customers to
analyze shipment reliability, comparing container ETA versus
actual arrival time, which allows them to identify the most
reliable shipping plan. Another helps to analyze detention and
demurrage in various ports. All these solutions are packaged as
separate products allowing our customers to select which features
match their strategy, needs and operational priorities, and most
importantly deliver the best return on investment within the same
A Look Ahead
Digitization is rapidly transforming the ocean container shipping
industry. The intermodal supply chain has come a long way, to be
sure, but there is more work to be done. In fact, as many as 51%
of all shippers still book manually - meaning either by
telephone, email or fax - far from realizing the full benefit of
digitization. The adoption rate is, nevertheless, accelerating.
For example, says Kuznetsova, the filing of VGM, done
predominantly electronically today, following INTTRA's eVGM
initiative last year calling for a preference for digital has
been a particularly bright spot in that way.
Digitization can benefit the industry in many ways. Looking at
operational and financial data on the same cloud will potentially
enable shippers to analyze and reduce dwell time charges.
Kuznetsova points to another advantage, saying "Another area
where we expect to see convergence driven by digitization is with
the ocean and land movement of containers. Traditionally, these
two areas have been handled separately, but we're now seeing
companies look for ways to reduce those inefficiencies, such as
managing empty containers to avoid excessive charges. It's one of
the reasons behind INTTRA's acquisition of Avantida, which
enables a more efficient utilization of containers by enabling a
driver to pick up one locally when possible rather than drive to
All parties in the transaction win, while improving the in-land
movement of containers. The driver spends less time on the road,
the customer receives the container faster and the carrier is
compensated while avoiding unnecessary delays. Even the
environment can win, since CO2 emissions are reduced as delivery
trucks spend less time on the road as they drive more efficient
routes. And in ports like LA / Long Beach, the so-called Clean
Air "CAAP" program that mandates zero port emissions by 2030, and
small advantage that can be leveraged will be important,
especially since all the low hanging 'environmental improvement
fruit' has already been picked.
Don't Miss the Boat
In the end, industry looks at targeted solutions, ones that offer
quick analysis of specific problems with the ability to solve
them cost effectively. Digitalization of the supply chain is one
vehicle that will allow just that. And, without a doubt, the
digital divide between companies embracing full digitalization
and those lagging will widen. Tomorrow, advanced technology will
be an absolute business requirement. For those who do not jump on
board, it could create a two-tier marketplace where laggards will
not be able to charge top rates for their services.
Kuznetsova agrees. "We do see a lot of former 'nice to have'
services becoming a standard of good customer service today, such
as the full and timely information on container tracking or the
booking response time. So, yes, the digital divide will continue
to grow further and it will reflect on the ability of some
customers to compete."
Today, says INTTRA, it is not uncommon for alliance partners to
provide booking instructions through INTTRA, offering a standard
interface, access to ocean schedules and container tracing
events. Reducing the errors and time associated with accessing
multiple sites to book containers is a good example of the value
that can be provided when that happens.
Ultimately the ocean industry will use technology to drive out
costs and increase efficiency. Using electronic booking and
shipping instructions through a common platform reduces the time
spent by shipping professionals on performing those operations as
well as reduces the potential errors and improves data quality.
INTTRA's COO sums it all up nicely, saying, "Performing those
operations through one platform such as INTTRA as opposed to
multiple connections reduces IT costs. Managing and checking on
sourcing a container at a loading facility rather than bringing
it all the way to port improves the utilization of the container
for the carriers." Isn't that what we're all looking for?