After Federal Maritime Commissioner Carl Bentzel launched the agency's data initiative last year in an effort to enhance data definitions and standards, open sessions became a monthly occurrence from November to June.
During these sessions, stakeholders including shippers, logistics providers and ocean carriers answered a variety of questions about where they find data gaps when it comes to ocean shipping, and what data they currently lack access to that could improve their company's performance.
The goal of the discussions, led by Bentzel, was to determine what data-related constraints could be addressed to help improve the flow of cargo through the global supply chain.
In June, the agency wrapped up the initiative with its Maritime Data Summit, bringing together industry stakeholders as well as members of the National Shipper Advisory Committee.
Bentzel told Supply Chain Dive he will share his preliminary recommendations as a result of the initiative with his fellow commissioners later this year. The proposals are meant to address a variety of concerns, including what industry executives have highlighted as four key data issues facing the ocean shipping industry.
1. Ocean shipping data is inaccurate and limited
Many shippers have access to container status data, but “a lot of the times you get an update in the morning and by noon or by you know, late afternoon, it's kind of old and what you're working off of isn't valid anymore,” Patricia Ritz, international logistics director for Target, said during a January 18 open session for beneficial cargo owners.
Shipping data access can be limited when it comes to certain information, such as details on all terminals in the U.S.
“There is not a single place where I can get about 40% of those terminals in the U.S.,” Adnan Qadri, director of global imports-network planning and Infrastructure at Amazon, said during a February 22 open session for Amazon, FedEx and UPS.
This problem becomes exacerbated when looking across ports and even individual terminals, which lack a uniform communication system and data oversight.
“We do recognize that there is also a data governance problem that is a part of the commercial relationships between stakeholders, which leads to accuracy gaps and information flow as well,” Qadri said.
2. Providing data to clients becomes "constant detective work"
For forwarders, accessing data remains a challenge when it comes to locating containers, tracking vessel arrivals and getting notification of driver delays.
Unlike carriers like FedEx that notify customers when packages are delayed, forwarders are often left guessing about the status of their cargo, Michelle Fajardo, president of Cargo International Consolidators, said during a February 15 open session for ocean transportation intermediaries.
“Steamships lines do not offer that information and many a time we have to be doing constant detective work looking for that,” she said, adding that she's often forced to hunt through multiple websites and calling destination agents in an attempt to find needed shipping updates.
3. The pandemic exacerbated known data standards issues
The onset of the pandemic compounded issues at ports, including congestion and elevated shipping rates. As disruptions mounted, so did concerns around shipping data standards, such as data that is filed late or with incomplete information.
“They were known issues, they were known problems. We were able to ... throw resources or ‘Band-Aids’ at the situations that kind of got us through but, we’re now at the point where it’s all Band-Aids, gum and string and trying to get this thing together. And it’s falling apart,” Cindy Allen, VP of regulatory affairs & compliance at FedEx Logistics, said at the February 22 session.
4. Implementation is not a one-way street
Shippers and forwarders are now waiting for recommendations from Bentzel, but remain wary that improvements in the industry will come down to implementation, Dominique Willems, head of public affairs and government relations at the Digital Container Shipping Association said during a March 22 open session focused on international standards. Without agreement on new standards, carriers and customers are left waiting for the next steps.
“There is already quite an abundance of standards out there. It’s a matter of picking, combining the right ones and making them operate,” Willems said.