The Weakest Link In Maritime Supply Chains Goes Beyond Delay: It's Data

Amir Taichman
Founder & CEO
January 13, 2022

Until recently, most people were likely unfamiliar with the term "supply chain." That was until the carpet, chair, or laptop they ordered wouldn't arrive for weeks. 

From memory chips to fabric, everyday products depend on materials shipped from overseas. According to The Maritime Executive, "With 90 percent of trade traveling via maritime conveyance, the supply chain heavily relies upon the maritime transportation system." 

The maritime supply chain crisis went from a business term to a significant, mainstream headline. The blockage of the Suez Canal caused delays to the tune of $9 billion a day and increased the price of crude oil by 4%. In the summer of 2021, container ships in the port of Los Angeles and Long Beach waited days to dock and unload, causing crowding shipping lanes and increasing costs every day. 

What happens when the ships don't come in

Running a supply chain that heavily relies on maritime shipping is challenging in any year, but almost every weak link in the supply chain broke over the past two years. So many things can go wrong, resulting in a ripple effect that impacts every aspect of maritime conveyance:

  • Miscommunication between suppliers and shippers 
  • Broken commitments and unclear PO statuses
  • Port and customs delays
  • Drayage and ground transportation delays
  • Warehouse labor shortages 
  • Consolidation/de-consolidation of inbound shipments for further distribution
  • Increasing rates from carriers and freight forwarders

Most experts believe that the risk of supply chain disruptions of this magnitude will continue unless the industry takes action to fix its data problem. 

Data inaccessibility is a constant problem 

Sharing data about day-to-day operations is a broken process. Like an information "Tower of Babel," each party in the maritime supply chain uses its own systems to run operations, which means every organization has only a partial view of the information needed to track shipments and supplies. 

What's more, critical information about the status of shipments and deliveries is locked inside files, emails, PDFs, spreadsheets, phone calls, or even WhatsApp or siloed inside legacy ERP, WMS, TMS, and planning systems—all mostly unavailable in any realistic timeframe to partners. Beyond data sharing inefficiencies, information is often inaccurate, inconsistent, and out of date. In other words, there is no one source of truth for tracking and monitoring the state of the supply chain.

These data constraints have become so marked that the US Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) has recently launched research and an industry initiative focused on "pinpointing how data can contribute to the long-term reliability of the domestic cargo delivery system." Increased transparency, information sharing, and creating common data standards should prevent maritime shipping crises of this magnitude. 

According to Commissioner Benzel, the person responsible for leading the research: "The FMC will work with the industry to develop greater systems of transparency for services surrounding the international intermodal transportation of goods. Our port gateway corridors are limited by physical constraints, and the best options for efficiencies lie with the greater utilization of information technologies and coordination between the different modes in the supply chain." 

What we’re doing to fix it

At UnitySCM, we're already on it! Our supply chain data lake offers a centralized repository of structured and unstructured data from all points in the supply chain. We organize the data, clean it, and produce a high-quality, real-time view of our customers’ entire supply chain network. Essentially, we provide what the industry, and our customers, have always wanted but didn't know they needed. 

Furthermore, we make data and information accessible and visible to non-technical business users, allowing them to access our built-in analytics and disruption-detection tools. Finally, we effectively translate data from external sources and convert it to speak your "data jargon" (e.g., from supplier status codes or SKUs to yours) and distribute the information to other systems and partners. 

With better information and data sharing, companies benefit from exponential levels of real-time transparency, resulting in improved communications with partners, suppliers, and team members. For example, consider a typical shipment of chairs built, assembled, and destined for e-commerce customers across the U.S. With Unity SCM, companies can: 

  • Ensure suppliers deliver on time by collaborating on plans and providing live updates on purchase order statuses.
  • Know when inventory is going to be available by tracking shipments across modes with real-time data from carriers, ports, drayage, and ground transport
  • Provide organizations with clarity and predictability (sales, warehouse planning) by pushing updated statuses into the ERP and a forward-looking view of inventory that consistently updates
  • Prevent production downtime by identifying raw material shortages at the supplier and carrier level

As a result, companies can reduce lost sales due to shortages, improve inventory and shipment visibility, and detect supply changes in advance. They also save money by lowering buffer inventory and increasing people and resource efficiency, as their teams spend minutes, not weeks, capturing real-time data. Improved planning and accurate data are available within minutes after connecting the data sources.

Everyone wants to get the right products, to the right places, at the right time. That's why we're committed to making it easier for companies to get goods to market, reducing supply chain bottlenecks, and lowering costs to guarantee that supply chains are more resilient and efficient in the future. 

For more information about the UnitySCM supply chain data cloud, request a demo.