Boxship tech group DCSA promotes first open data standards

A group representing the world’s major container shipping lines released its first set of open standards that should make it easier to track and trace shipping boxes. Now it’s hoping that beneficial cargo owners, forwarders, terminals and other stakeholders will adopt the new standards.

The Digital Container Shipping Association (DCSA), whose nine members comprise about 70% of global box ship capacity, said it published guidelines on processes, data and interface standards for tracking and tracing marine containers.

Amsterdam-based DCSA, which was launched last year, said the guidelines are the “first of many initiatives” the group hopes to put forth to “transform inefficient practices and accelerate digitalization” in the liner shipping industry.

The group is promoting the standards as a way to “simplify shipment visibility across multiple carriers, enabling them to better plan and optimize shipment handling activities.”

The new standards and guidelines are part of the transportation industry’s ongoing move away from the legacy electronic data interchange (EDI) standard used to communicate events in a supply chain. In its stead, a growing number of logistics companies want to bring application programming interfaces (APIs), the modern standard for digital communications, to the industry.

Marseille, France-based Traxens published its standards for data transmissions from containers to monitor the state of the goods inside.

DCSA CEO Thomas Bagge said an ocean carrier such as Maersk, his former employer, could have 10,000 or more EDI connections to all the parties it does business with daily. Each EDI connection has to be customized to the particular computer and back-office systems used at each counterparty. But an API will allow standardized communications between each party.

DCSA’s Thomas Bagge

“Every time they want to make a change, they don’t have to ensure each of these thousands of connections get updated,” Bagge said.

Bagge cited the example of Amazon and that “if you want to be a seller on Amazon, they have one API and you could get your items on their platform by tomorrow.”

DCSA’s blueprint for APIs outlines a common vocabulary, such as using American and European date references and imperial or metric measurements.

Even something apparently as simple as vessel arrival can be defined differently by each carrier, Bagge said. One says a vessel has arrived when it is being boarded by local pilots; another might define it as when a ship enters a port area or actually arrives at berth.

“When I’m at the airport, I am never in doubt when my plane has arrived,” Bagge said. “If you really want to go to where other industries have gone, you need a common vocabulary.”

“One of the big issues that the carriers have is that there are no standards for their infrastructure,” he added. “What that means is the level of innovation that happens in this space is very low.”