The Container Tracking System and a 3rd Party Logistics Provider

The Container Tracking System and a 3rd Party Logistics Provider

Back in 1998 I was hired as a Customer Integration Manager for a NVOCC freight Forwarder. My first project was to develop a web based shipping container track and trace system. Although I had never before done such a project, I quickly learned that web based shipping container tracking was relatively unheard of, so having experience was not needed.

The project was to customize a web site that would deliver track and trace information and design it to the customers’ needs. Essentially, the technology did not yet exist to write this kind of track and trace code at a cost that was in our budget. So we simply uploaded the daily customer Excel Spreadsheets to an FTP site and linked all of the documents to each container number. That was the 20th century’s answer to a customized web based track and trace system. My how things have since changed!

Presently, most of the freight forwarders or 3rd Party Logistics companies I work with have far superior web based tracking systems than was available back in the day, and as such, I hear over and over again the same thing; that it’s a great system, but only about half of the functions are being used. So how can a container tracking system become the web based workstation that enables the free flow of freight information?

When I ask which functions are not being used, returning shipping containers to container yard or port is always at the top of the list. Most simply say they don’t have the time and have never had any problems, but the majority is unaware that as a freight forwarder/NVOCC, it is a legal responsibility. Since the profit margin in shipping container freight is typically slim to begin with, a web based track and trace system provides an accurate means to follow up on the return of empty containers, by container number.

One 3rd Party Logistics company recently called me to help consult with their IT staff on this very issue. Apparently, their accounting department had received an invoice from one of the major ocean carriers for demurrage. Unbeknownst to the operations agent handling this customer ocean carriers allow a limited number of free days from the time containers are delivered to the customer door.

After the last day, a per diem charge is assessed upwards of $250 per day, plus weekend days In this case. However, the invoice amount for demurrage, spread over 1000 shipping containers was almost $30,000.00. The fee was later negotiated down to something much more reasonable, but the point was made. It was clear what was needed as soon as possible: an executable SOP, which was part of their real time web based tracking system.

After some time with their IT department, we were able to restructure their web based container tracking system so as to alert multiple parties when a shipping container needed to be returned. As such, the system now executes an SOP alert for this event and insures that the responsibility is being implemented so that the shipping container is returned timely.