API and You: How APIs Augment Your Shipping Operation

From AQL to XML, the shipping world is filled with both abbreviations and acronyms. As we’re bombarded on a daily basis with these shorthand terms, it can be easy to feel a little lost. However, there are many acronyms that are vital shippers, not because they save time when speaking or typing, but because they can change the level on which a company operates. 

Application programming interface or API, is a very important term for shippers. An API is a set of codes that allow different platforms to interact with one another. APIs enable developers to transfer information from one piece of software to another and then display that data to an individual via a single user interface.  

Facebook and YouTube, household names at this point, offer developers APIs so that smaller companies can take advantage of their existing functionality instead of having to build integrations and features from scratch. This saves companies a considerable amount of time and money and lets them build using a platform that is already familiar to their clients. 

An API is a powerful tool, and it has a wide array of uses and functions. Let’s take a closer look at how they can be used for shipping.

What is an API?

Simply put, an application programming interface is an intermediary program between the user and the source. For example, if you are shopping on Amazon via your computer, you would type in Amazon’s website, which would take you to the source. If you used the Amazon web app on your phone, you’re using an API. Another example would be the automation of a specific function, such as address verification or CAPTCHA security tests.

APIs are generally cloud-based intermediaries that allow applications with different designs and code to exchange data and information with each other. 

While there are standard industry integrations that make it easier to share data and information, there are still many transportation management systems (TMS) that are built in-house by various organizations. 

This, however, can create an issue as proprietary and in-house systems aren’t typically built with data sharing in mind. In the world of global logistics, where data is king, this can end up hindering a shipper more than helping, as it means that data sharing functions are done manually. 

The solution to that problem is an API, which bridges the two completely different systems and allows them to communicate between other businesses and their customers. 

APIs operate in the background, augmenting and assisting your daily-use software. In shipping, one of their biggest functions is data validation. Here, an API communicates with a database, access the relevant information, and compare that to what was entered to ensure that it’s valid, making it a completely automated task that is performed instantly. Removing the need for data entry saves a considerable amount of time, especially in the shipping world.  

Common shipping APIs

The advantage to shipping APIs is that they, by design, are made to work with other systems and are usually designed to solve particular problems, which covers a fairly wide range of issues in the logistics and shipping industry. In general, there are three common APIs that are used on both the B2B and the B2C levels by just about every company. 

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Address validation

The most common API is address validation, and is seen in just about every industry, from e-commerce to healthcare. When a customer inputs their address or the recipient’s address into the field, the website submits a request via the API to ensure that the address is complete and valid. If there is an issue with the address, the website will throw up an error message, alerting the user about the issue. 

As data entry errors are fairly common, this prevents delayed or failed deliveries as well as address correction surcharges. It also eliminates the hassle and subsequent cost of voiding and reprinting shipping labels and other delivery documentation. 

Multi-carrier support

Every carrier comes with their own advantages and disadvantages. Some carriers offer a better rate while others have a better rating for on-time deliveries. Choosing the right carrier for your freight is the key to being successful.

Shipping APIs offer customers options from multiple carriers with real-time rates and delivery estimates, based on the freight volume and port of origin. Shippers can choose which carrier best suits their budget as well as their delivery schedule. 

Freight Tracking

It’s the most common question in shipping, and it’s one shippers need to be able to answer: “Where’s my Box?” Being able to provide or access real-time tracking information on containers is a hallmark of good service and keeps customers coming back. 

Ocean Freight Tracking Systems (OFTS) are a vital shipping API that enables a shipper to access their shipping information quickly and easily and track where their freight is at any point during transit. More advanced APIs allow customers to see when and where their freight is being held up, which helps to avoid costly detention and demurrage fees. 

How are shipping APIs different from EDI?

EDI or “electronic data interchange” is the process of electronically transferring documents in a standardized format (such as ANSI, EDIFACT, TRADACOMS, VDA, XML, or UBL) from one company to another. EDI standards give companies the ability to share and exchange data across different platforms and technologies, without the need for human intervention. However, EDIs have some issues that APIs don’t.

  1. EDI takes Longer to Implement than APIs
    An API can be integrated in as little as 2-3 days. Implementing an EDI system, however, can take upwards of several months. Additionally, managing EDI files is a fairly obscure skill set which is possessed by a small handful of developers as opposed to those who can implement and maintain an API. 

  2. EDI is less efficient than an API in regards to cost and time
    API data transfers are near instantaneous, in other words real-time. With an EDI, the data transfer is also instantaneous. However, the data processing is typically done in batches, usually at a fixed interval, which means that the data isn’t real time.
    EDI files also have the disadvantage of not being translatable by humans, which means companies that use EDI will have to invest in additional software or third-party specialists to be able to use the data.
    Lastly, EDI communications are a one-way street, which further adds to the processing time. APIs are able to incorporate two way communication, meaning the user can confirm proper receipt of information and request and receive updates if necessary.

  3. EDI may be a viable option now, but it won’t be forever.
    EDIs have had their time to shine, and have certainly advanced the speed of logistics. However, the cost and rigidity of the system is making them fall out of vogue in favor of APIs. In addition to being markedly less expensive, APIs are easier to scale and much more flexible than EDIs, making APIs the preferred choice for companies looking to the future. 

Ocean Insights Simplifies the Process

At the end of the day, every decision you make about your shipping operations should meet the same goal: to maintain profitability while providing an exceptional customer experience. As far as shipping goes, using APIs achieves both of these objectives. But finding the right one can be difficult, especially given how many are available on the market today. Ocean Insights makes it easy for you. We’ve created a platform that is both easy to use and easy to implement into your current operations. Not only can you quickly create your own notifications and alerts when your shipments are held up in port, but you can quickly see where your freight is and when it should arrive at its destination. To learn more about Ocean Insights, visit us today!