How to Connect to Transport Providers: Key Carriers, EDI, APIs, e-AWB

If you know anything about the shipping business, you are certainly familiar with A.P. Møller – Mærsk A/S, one of the top cargo carriers, indeed the world’s largest, simply known as Maersk. Striving to join and digitalize the entire supply chain, they collaborated with IBM to introduce the blockchain-based platform for secure submission, validation, and approval of documents across organizations, with the implementation of paperless trade.

Major players followed the trend of transportation industry digitization, investing in cargo booking platforms that connect with the maximum number of carriers possible. Currently, there’s a wide range of services and providers that offer various connectivity options across different means of transport.

In this article, we’ll outline the major players of the cargo transportation industry and give some recommendations on how to connect with them using APIs and other communication systems.

Key connectivity options in transportation: APIs, EDI, e-AWB

Currently, the technological means of connection with carriers can be divided into three major groups: EDI, e-AWB, and APIs. Let’s discuss them.

EDI: Electronic Data Interchange

Electronic data interchange or EDI is a concept that unites a whole family of standards for document exchange between different entities. Being the oldest way to transfer data, EDI is just one step ahead of emails and two steps ahead of physical document exchange. In a nutshell, EDI is aimed at replacing emails and fax documentation, specifically, orders and invoices. If that’s reminiscent of technologies from the ‘90s, it pretty much is but it’s even older.

EDI vs e-mailsEmails and fax compared to EDI. Source: Edibasics.com

In transportation, EDI transmits info on the contents of the shipment, its movement, and other details. In simple terms, it substitutes a ship’s log that includes all essential documentation on the cargo. Used since the 1960s, EDI in its present form was introduced in 1980. As technology improved, new methods of data tracking and transferring emerged. Nowadays, EDI is widely used in maritime and trucking systems. We have a separate article dedicated to EDI technology, so make sure to check it out.

API: Application Programming Interface

Put simply, API is a set of precisely clarified methods of communication between different system elements from the web era. Connecting different systems, API simplifies all processes in general. Obtaining APIs from large transportation companies takes some effort. Not all of them are ready to provide their APIs on request and besides that, only a fraction of carriers support APIs, as the industry is slow to change. Check our articles on shipping APIs and APIs in the travel industry to learn how they handle connectivity.

e-AWB: electronic Air Waybill

The e-Air Waybill is a separate method of data exchange for airlines introduced by IATA in 2010 to replace paper documents. E-AWB is an essential air cargo document establishing the contract of carriage between the shipper and the carrier, containing documents on customs, cargo, commercial, and other specifics. Currently, all standards and features are elaborated on by IATA, which strives to connect the largest possible number of air carriers in a single network. The document uses XML as a language.

IATA suggests implementing e-AWB in 6 steps:

e-AWB implementation

In December 2018, as IATA reports, 68 percent of businesses involved in air transportation have adopted e-AWB, including carriers, airports, and forwarders

Keeping these three main approaches to data exchange in mind, let’s have a brief look at the main players in air, maritime, and ground shipment.

Connectivity options by different players in transportation

Connecting to air cargo carriers with e-AWB and APIs

Generally, air cargo carriers can be divided into three major groups: the ones that have adopted the IATA standard, those supporting their own APIs on top of e-AWB, and large logistics companies like FedEx and DHL that operate across all means of transportation and offer APIs. We’ll discuss the third group a bit later. Here, let’s talk about the representatives of the first two groups of carriers.

e-AWB airlines. Most of the top air cargo carriers, such as Emirates, Cargolux, Qatar Airways Cargo, Singapore Airlines Cargo, and others, have already implemented e-AWB standards. If you plan to directly connect with most air carriers without additional intermediaries, consider embarking on this IATA program.

However, there are still air cargo carriers remaining that suggest both e-AWB and separate APIs.

Lufthansa Open API and e-AWB. Striving to stay in line with digitalization, Lufthansa Cargo, one of the top air transport providers, works with e-AWB and supports API connection for routing info and shipment tracking. Additionally, you can receive rates and capacity APIs per request. An interesting fact is that Lufthansa has partnered with Freightos, a logistics company creating an online international freight marketplace through a SaaS-Enabled Marketplace model. The tool provides access to a large amount of cargo-related functions such as booking, tracking, and value-added services. We’ll cover it below.

Air France-KLM Cargo API. Another large air transportation incumbent, Air France-KLM Cargo is one of the few offering their own API. However, you still need to contact the carrier directly to get access. Keeping in line with their digitalization strategy, they suggest Cargo API to instantly get quotes, book, and track shipments.

Maritime cargo shipments APIs and EDI

In ocean shipments, carriers tend to cooperate with technology partners that cover connectivity for them, rather than building APIs and EDI themselves. So some of the platforms we describe offer entire supply chain integrations besides ocean cargo itself. But they made it to this list in light of their partnerships with the main ocean carriers on the market.

TradeLens blockchain API. In 2018, Maersk together with IBM presented TradeLens blockchain venture to improve global trade and digitize supply chains. Its goal is to provide secure and seamless real-time information exchange about shipment events (see the video below).

TradeLens suggest digitizing supply chain with their distributed system that uses smart contracts

It contributes to the time and cost reduction for clearance and cargo movement. At the moment, TradeLens APIs that will include UN/CEFACT standards are still under development.

INTTRA XML EDI. Mediterranean Shipping Company, or MSC, is among the top shipping companies in ocean freight. It is a founding member of INTTRA, the ocean shipping industry’s largest network. At the moment, they use EDI for straight information connectivity between MSC along with other member carriers and customers booking shipments through various trade lanes. Since MSC is connected to INTTRA, it provides EDI after registration at INTTRA.

GT Nexus by INFOR AppXpress API. INFOR is a technology company that delivers corporate systems across different industries. Their supply chain solution GT Nexus connects various carriers, including ocean shipment companies. To connect, you may use their AppXpress API to do booking, process documents, and track shipments.

CargoSmart EDI and API. CargoSmart is another tech provider for supply chain management that specifically focuses on ocean shipments. They offer multiple connection capabilities that include old-fashioned EDI and newer XML and API integrations for booking, document info, and document exchange.

The company has become the technology vendor for Global Shipping Business Network or GSBN for short. GSBN, similar to TradeLens provides blockchain-based information exchange. Currently, the network unites such shipping giants as CMA CGM, Evergreen Marine, OOCL, Yang Ming, DP World, Hutchison Ports, PSA International, and Shanghai International Port. The software is based on Oracle’s blockchain. As the press release states, it’s intended to enhance efficiency and transparency applying distributed ledger technology. The product is still in development.

Trucking and rail shipments APIs and EDI

Similar to maritime shipments, you may connect directly to trucking carriers or look at the aggregators that make available connectivity across different means of shipment. So, they may offer a wider spectrum of connections than trucking and rail only.

Project44 API. Many large trucking carriers, like J.B.Hunt and Old Dominion Freight Line, partnered with project44, a freight forwarding hub for shippers and third-party logistics firms. Project44 unites about 175 thousand carriers and offers API connection for businesses.

Also, check the other three leaders in trucking cargo carriers as they present their own means of data-sharing.

XPO Logistics EDI and API. The company is listed among the top ten global providers of transportation and logistics services. They apply high-value digital integrations and solutions, such as automation, intelligent machines, the digital freight marketplace, data analytics, and others. API and EDI tools help with data interchange and connectivity.

YRC Freight API and EDI. YRC Freight, which is a subsidiary of YRC Worldwide, is one of the North American trucking leaders, serving the US, Canada, and Mexico. It specializes in solutions for businesses. YRC Freight provides access to their shipping solutions both via API and EDI. Additionally, they offer a wide range of different API tools.

Estes Express EDI and SOAP API. The company doesn’t have broad coverage of its services like those listed above. At the moment it serves only in the US, Canada, the Caribbean, and Mexico. Estes Express provides access to EDI on request and SOAP APIs.

Convoy EDI. This is a high-tech-empowered trucking network currently uniting over 10,000 companies. It obtained substantial funding support from leading investors in series A and B. Convoy uses EDI-integration for data-sharing, communication, and workflow automation. You can connect to Convoy EDI system by becoming their partner.

Logistics and parcel APIs

Logistics and parcel companies have outgrown their name with giants such as FedEx, DHL, and UPS becoming market leaders in shipments beyond the last-mile delivery market. FedEx, for instance, is already the largest air freight shipping provider. And yet we didn’t list them in the dedicated air freight section as they furnish a much broader set of services. These companies are also the most advanced in terms of technology.

UPS API. UPS API tools offer a wide variety of technology integrations. UPS uses barcode reading for shipment tracing and ORION, their proprietary routing system, for reducing distances on delivery routes. Along with that, UPS offers a large variety of tracking services for customers, such as signature tracking with integrated Proof of Delivery, or Quantum View, with detailed visibility of the shipping process, affording explicit views and precise reporting.

DHL EDI and API. Another world’s top logistics and transportation company offers Integrated Shipping Solutions to customers. Beside DHL service availability, transit times, rates, shipment, and courier pickup booking, these online web services provide freight tracking, executed with integrated APIs and EDI. It allows customers to add DHL shipping functionality into their websites, customer service applications, or order processing systems.

FedEx API. Now that FedEx merged with TNT, another leading delivery company, its network vastly expands. And so do the opportunities and solutions for freight forwarders. Access to all API tools is provided via FedEx Web Services.

USPS API. The United States Postal Service is one of the major parcel delivery companies in the country. Currently, they suggest a new set of APIs that allow for email and package delivery tracking, calculating prices, adding shipping labels, package pickup info, and retrieving standards.

Amazon API. The eCommerce giant is now offering transportation and logistics as an additional set of services. As a mean of data interchange, Amazon uses APIs, which preview shipping services, create shipments, automate payments, receiving, and printing shipping labels. Amazon Prime API-integration is available via Amazon Marketplace Web Services.

DB Schenker API. DB Schenker is also one of the key logistics providers, being a division of Deutsche Bahn AG, a rail operator. It provides its services over land, ocean, and air. Using their API, interested parties can track an object along its shipment, consignment number, or other relevant identifiers. Along with that, pricing and timetable information is accessible. The DB Schenker API documentation is available online.

Freight forwarders and marketplaces APIs and EDI

Freight forwarders are businesses that cover delivery chain management entirely and connect with carriers, taking charge of all arrangements and documents on a shipper’s behalf. Some of the freight forwarding companies have embarked on digitalization and also offer different connectivity options.

A similar group within this category is shipment marketplaces that also cooperate with carriers across markets and provide both web interfaces and APIs/EDI connections.

Damco International API. Part of A. P. Maersk, freight forwarding old-timer Damco International is broadening its parent company’s digitalization. As this is a subsidiary enterprise, all digital integrations are provided via the main A. P. Maersk Developer Portal. That means you can request their APIs upon registering in the system.

Kuehne + Nagel EDI. One of the top freight forwarders, Kuehne + Nagel allows access to their supply chain sources with EDI integration.

Freightos API. This is an online digital freight forwarding marketplace that connects carriers and those needing to ship their cargo. Above that, it supplies instant booking. Freightos APIs provide shipping as a service, rate estimation, and other relevant data.

uShip API. It’s a shipping marketplace for both shippers and carriers. Like most digital freight forwarding platforms, they use API-connection for data sharing and service integration, which also can be provided via the affiliate program.

Easyship API. This is a freight forwarding platform with connection to diverse shipping solutions. Its API integrations allow access to up-to-date rate, shipment options, labelling, tracking, and pick-up date. These solutions can be also integrated via the Easyship Affiliate Program.

How to choose the best connectivity option

There’s no single answer as your choice depends on the goals you pursue and the resources you have.

Direct connections to carriers. If you want to connect to the top carriers and logistics providers, you have to obtain access to their APIs, EDIs, and adopt e-AWB. In this case, you have much work and communication ahead of you. This option would be more viable for freight forwarding businesses and those who plan to create freight marketplaces or shipment builder platforms. Check our case on delivering such a shipment builder platform.

Using marketplaces and other intermediaries. On the other hand, you might want to connect with a couple of intermediaries with APIs at the ready. In this case, you can apply to marketplaces and delivery services like FedEx, DHL, or Amazon that have already done the carrier connection work for you. A major disadvantage of this is that you deal with middlemen rather than the carriers themselves. This option is viable for smaller businesses and eCommerce shippers.

At the end of the day, it all depends on your business needs and it’s up to you to choose.


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