Tracking a truck across the country is easy for a shipper. Easier, at least, than tracking an intermodal container.
Making it easier to determine when an intermodal shipment will arrive will require carriers — ocean and rail — to get better at data sharing, industry experts said during a Thursday webinar hoasted by the Intermodal Association of North America.
It shouldn't be a surprise that intermodal shippers want more visibility, Scott Friesen, senior vice president of strategic analytics at Echo Global Logistics, said during the event. They can order a pizza and see it every step of the way, but they can't find out where their $30,000 container is located.
This is a sign that the expectations of B2C business are "drifting over and translating in the B2B space," Friesen said. The demands for visibility have also evolved over the years. It's no longer good enough to know a container is in a particular city.
Changing visibility demands
"Today we want to know the precise location within a marine terminal," Eric Klein, the CEO and co-founder of Crux Systems, said during the event. "We don't want to just know that it's at Long Beach Container Terminals in LA. It's that fidelity that has evolved over time."
The spread of predictive analytics tools in supply chains has added another layer of expectation to the concept of visibility. It's not just about where — it's also about using data to provide estimates on a potential arrival time, according to Al Tama, vice president and general manager of container and port solutions at Orbcomm.
But the current state of the intermodal data-sharing environment has not yet matured to the point where carriers or other logistics partners are providing the necessary information to make this kind of visibility a reality, the panelists said. And recent research suggests there's still work to do in digitally connecting the intermodal supply chain.