Why Shipping Software Is Crucial in Modern Maritime Industry

Liner vessels carry more than 60 percent of cargoes transported by sea each year. Transporting these cargoes involves a network of ships, trucks, and trains moving through several transfer points known as intermodal connectors. Any problem or disruption anywhere in the network can result in shipment delays and increased costs – issues that hurt many shipping companies even until now. Eliminating such problems is the reason why more and more liner ship operators invest in liner shipping software.

Liner vessels such as Roll-on / Roll-off (RoRo), container ships, and break bulk vessels are capable of moving thousands of truckloads of cargo on a single voyage at full capacity. However, managing cargo transport operations can be complicated and may require hundreds of workers to manually perform routines from packing, to warehousing, inventory, loading, transshipping, and discharging of consignments. Integrated shipping software automates time-consuming and labor-intensive processes involved in tracking and managing cargo transport process resulting in increased efficiency, profitability, and reduced overhead.

Marine software solutions can be purchased off-the-shelf and at affordable price from many software houses in the market. These are easy to install, can be customized to fit different business requirements, and can be easily integrated into existing business platforms. Additionally, modern shipping line software have built-in “switching” feature which ensures that operators and their customer are not forced to use on-size-fits-all system.

One example of maritime software application which can be found is container tracking software. Operators use this software application to provide their clients visibility on the actual progress of the cargo transport process, giving them peace of mind knowing that their shipments are in good hands and are delivered on time. It captures real-time reports on container movements including departure, transshipment, and discharging.

To maximize profitability, shipping companies use voyage calculation software to forecast operational costs and income they will generate from each voyage or port call. Also known as voyage accounting software, this application enables operators to calculate all possible expenses including port costs, cargo costs including voyage and bunker costs. Operators can use this information to identify desirable and undesirable freights, manage their cargo mix, increase or decrease volume when necessary, and choose the most cost-effective deployment and rotation of a vessel to ensure profitability. Additionally, operators can use this application to run multiple calculations simultaneously and compare rates in order to determine options with best commercial value.

Shipping software companies continue to develop solutions in order to provide operators with tools they need to automate critical processes and develop strategies to effectively streamline and simplify their operations, reduce overhead, and improve their services. Operators must evaluate their business carefully and decide on the right type of shipping software solution to use.

Benefits of Using Packaged Shipping Software

It’s hard to imagine a shipping business without an IT department nowadays. As technology becomes more and more advanced, carriers keep up by taking advantage of the latest innovations and best practices in the industry in order to remain competitive. Forward thinking operators have taken advantage of the rapidly changing technology by using advanced shipping software solutions to enhance their competitive advantage. However, when it comes to choosing the right software solution, the shipping industry is divided between in-house and packaged solutions. Shipping companies need to analyze their unique requirements to determine the type of business solution that will bring more advantage to their daily operations.

Global operators seem to have conflicting views with regard to the cost-effectiveness of building in-house IT systems compared with buying ready-made, customizable platforms. Both have their own advantage when it comes to streamlining operations that have direct effect on the cost-efficiency of a shipping business. Understanding the specific differences between these two systems can help operators make more informed decisions in using their resources.

Bespoke System

Many operators prefer hiring programmers and software developers, and build customized software to fit their specific business requirements. Doing this gives them full control of software development. However, bespoke or in-house systems will require time until they are working live, which will delay the positive impact of automation sometimes up to 3-4 years as seen for bigger implementations. It will also consume resources on the carrier side not only from the IT but also from the involved departments.

In addition, the fact that technology evolves rapidly, software solutions that have been custom-tailored to support a specific function may date quickly and not work on newer platforms, necessitating a painful upgrade that may include an expensive migration process. For the same reason, in-house systems require skilled IT staff which results in increased operational expenses – something that does not sound interesting in a slumping economy.

Packaged System

Generally, ready-made shipping software are a lot cheaper and easier to implement when compared with in-house systems. In fact, buying off-the-shelf solution can be 10 to 50 times cheaper than developing a bespoke system. In addition, modern packaged software incorporates a switching capability, which allows the user to customize each application to handle specific requirements without any expensive re-programming. Once customized, packaged software have the capability to automate time-consuming and resource-intrusive business processes.

Modern packages solutions are flexible enough to work for almost any carrier, regardless of size, specialization, or local requirements. This capability makes it even more appealing for vessel operators to buy off-the-shelf instead of commissioning expensive in-house solutions.

Packaged software solutions are widely available in the software market and can be purchased at very reasonable prices. In addition, many software companies offer excellent guarantee periods for their products during which any software issues are fixed without extra cost.

Change can be Painful

Despite the impressive features of packaged shipping software solutions, many carriers are still stuck with bespoke systems because of perceived difficulties that accompany a change in IT infrastructure. In most cases, these difficulties have something to do with legacy systems which often control key areas of a shipping business. Change in this case must be managed properly using correct methodologies avoid common problems that usually come with the process of implementing a new business system.

Shipping goods involves too many complicated processes that require focus and expertise in all aspects. To be more productive, operators must focus on their core business which is operating ships. They should not divert large amounts of resources to other activities outside their expertise to avoid uncontrolled expenses that can hurt their business in the long run.

Why Choose Outsourced Over In-House Shipping Software Solution

Over the past two decades, automation of business processes has significantly increased in many industries including aviation, telecommunications, and banking. In shipping, automation has improved business efficiency by simplifying critical operations that require time and expertise. Nowadays, with increasing access to modern technology, it’s not unusual to find a small carrier using cheap off-the-shelf shipping software solutions to streamline and manage its core operations more efficiently. However, there are still quite a number of carriers who prefer bespoke IT systems despite the availability of much cheaper packaged solutions.

There are certain factors that motivate shipping business operators to develop their own IT systems in-house instead of buying cheaper off-the-shelf solutions. One of these is the advantage of having full control of the development processes which allows users to make specific improvements to the original platform as necessary. In addition, In-house platforms have been tailored to exact specifications, which is believed to deliver competitive advantage.

However, while bespoke systems offer full control of operation-specific features, they also require skilled IT staff and programmers to implement necessary upgrades. The fact that technology is rapidly changing means that IT platforms date and become unsupportable after a while. If a shipping business cannot keep up with the pace of change, it will find itself stuck with an obsolete technology which cannot support newer IT platforms. In addition, investing in a customized platform to automate only a single segment of shipping operation (e.g. a single segment of a terminal), is not worth the cost of the investment, which is significantly higher than buying off-the-shelf shipping software which can be customized to carry out various functions.

The following are some of the most prominent benefits of using off-the-shelf or packaged shipping software:

1. Price. Buying packaged software is calculated to be 10 to 50 times cheaper compared to developing an in-house IT system.

2. Flexibility. Modern packaged shipping software incorporate built-in switching options which allows operators to customize application to perform various tasks without doing any expensive reprogramming.

3. Upgrade options – Packaged software provides upgrade solutions to keep pace with fast changes in technology to make sure that users are always working from tried and tested, up-to-date, and well-supported platforms.

4. Guarantee. Customized or in-house systems do not offer test-runs prior to installation, and the end-product is not revealed until it has been delivered. Off-the-shelf solution allows you to use a system for a certain period to see if it delivers what you expect before you actually buy and install it into your existing IT infrastructure.

5. Efficiency. Packaged solutions are more cost-effective, require less resources, and deliver long-term solutions that can be customized to handle specific requirements of a shipping business.

While off-the-shelf shipping software offer a lot more benefits both in cost of investment and scope of features, accessibility to technology has significantly increased the number of software developers in the marketplace, many of which are not reputable. Carriers should be careful in choosing a supplier by checking their capability, reliability, and financial stability. After all, it’s not wise to buy from a company who’s not going to be around after two or three years, leaving you without support in a case of system failure.