project44 redefines visibility and moves a step closer to IPO

An important event took place in the supply chain visibility sector a week ago. Supply chain visibility provider project44 acquired competitor Ocean Insights, filling the gap in its capabilities to provide customers with multi-modal cargo visibility and moving it one step closer to IPO.

Chicago-based project44 is a visibility platform for shippers and third-party logistics firms, connecting all modes of transport across 48+ countries. It first tackled trucking visibility and over time has complemented its FTL and LTL solutions with air and ocean freight transport modes, making its platform global in scope for shippers and LSPs.

Ocean Insights on the other hand has always specialised in one niche – ocean freight visibility. The Rostock-based company provides real-time container visibility, allowing customers to know where their container is when it arrives in ports, avoiding demurrage and detention fees. Through its integration with over 45+ shipping lines, geo-tracking of over 700 seaports, and 5,000+ vessels, Ocean Insights’ visibility solution provides comprehensive data on container status irrespective of the carrier.

So, why is the acquisition so important in the supply chain visibility sector? Firstly, it provides an unparalleled multi-modal visibility. Many companies target parts of the visibility market; however, the real value lies in end-to-end supply chain integration and transparency. With project44’s already strong network in other modes of transport, the addition of Ocean Insights capabilities will enable project44 to stitch together all transportation modes and increase significantly the depth and accuracy of its ocean visibility offering.

Achieving real-time visibility in ocean freight has been a notoriously difficult task. Firstly, because the industry has long been hampered by outdated technology and manual processes. Secondly, because it typically involves a large number of parties, including forwarders, shipping lines, dray providers, customs brokers, etc., all of which generate information and documents that must be synchronized across multiple organizations. Thirdly, true ocean visibility is multi-modal, including port operations on either end that include truck and rail.

Even though most delays to ocean shipments happen in ports or directly after, most visibility solutions only focus on satellite data on a vessel’s location while in transit. project44 and Ocean Insights are different in that they collect a wider range of real-time and historical vessel, container, port, weather and other ocean shipment data, allowing them to deliver more accurate predictive insights. In addition, project44 offers ocean to rail visibility by providing real-time tracking of containers as they are moved through a port and onto rail. This service is of great value to shippers and LSPs because a great deal of the difficulty of providing container visibility lies in the number of transfer points between parties within the port once a container is offloaded and moved from port to intermodal rail ramp or nearby warehouse. It is where shipments enter an informational blackhole because when multiple containers under the same bill of lading are split up and moved to rail on different schedules, shippers lose sight of their containers. project44’s ocean to rail visibility successfully tackles this issue.

Another reason why the acquisition is so significant is because it expands project44’s already great scale. Across Europe, the company already offers the most expansive global network, including connections to more than 780 telematics providers, which represents 94% of the European market. The Ocean Insights business unit will continue to be based in Germany, in an effort to expand project44’s presence in the critical German market and to signal that it takes Europe seriously. The company makes dedicated efforts to meet unprecedented demand for visibility solutions as Europe faces unique supply chains challenges driven by COVID-19, Brexit and rapidly increasing e-commerce. In February 2021, project44 appointed several industry experts to new leadership positions in Europe, in addition to growing the team in Europe by nearly 45%.

Last but not least, the acquisition of Ocean Insights will enable project44 to provide more accurate vessel ETA. Basic ETA prediction is widespread in logistics, but the estimates are not precise and typically provide a fairly wide range for fear of over-promising to customers. To illustrate the gravity of the problem, Yamato Transport USA claims that ETAs on its North American bound container shipments were only correct approximately 60% of the time. To reduce the range and increase the level of confidence of its ETAs, Ocean Insights relies on historical routing data, current schedules, real-time vessel status information as well as external factors including port strikes, major weather events, port congestion and vessel damage. This should further upgrade the accuracy and timeliness of the track-and-trace data on the project44 platform, and consequently the accuracy of its vessel ETAs.

The addition of Ocean Insights’ container visibility within ports to the existing project44 platform is all the more important due to the significant port congestions and high rollover percentages caused by COVID-19. Merging their capabilities onto a single platform is likely to attract many BCOs and freight forwarders, who can benefit from the real-time information aggregated on the platform. Some of the major forwarders already leverage both Ocean Insights and project44, including DB Schenker, Hellmann Worldwide Logistics, Kuehne + Nagel and FedEx. It won’t come as a surprise if the latest move encourages more organisations to join the project44 platform, and ultimately brings the company one step closer to a possible public offering.

Source: Transport Intelligence, March 16, 2021

Author: Violeta Keckarovska