4 Benefits of Freight API Integration (& 3 Tips for Getting the Most Out of It)
Tired of building loads or shipments? Getting quote after quote? Picking up the phone or starting a new email every time you want to know where your freight is?
Your provider is just as tired as you are, and chances are they offer you a great opportunity to save you both some headaches.
Application programming interface, or API, is a popular method for integrating directly to your freight provider that can minimize or eliminate altogether those frustrating back-and-forths that drain your team’s time and cut into your productivity.
And it lets you do it without adding a complex and costly new platform to your existing technology stack.
Learn how a freight API works, when and why you should integrate with your providers and how to get the most out of your new connectivity.
- Freight API defined
- Why you should integrate
- The integration process
- Getting the most out of API
What Is a Freight API?
API is a commonly used technology that allows systems at multiple businesses to communicate directly. It’s used across industries to share data in real time ¬— when an e-tail platform charges your credit card, for instance, their payment platform verifies your information instantly with your bank via API.
In freight transportation, shippers will connect their existing in-house technology — typically a transportation management system (TMS) but also sometimes a warehouse management system (WMS), enterprise resource planning (ERP) software or accounting software — to a carrier or freight provider’s API.
Why Should You Share Freight Data via API Integration?
Shippers pursue API integration with their freight providers to address some common transportation pain points.
You might be ready to integrate with a carrier or provider if you’re experiencing the following issues:
- You regularly spend too much time getting quotes.
- You settle billing discrepancies with providers via email.
- You find yourself entering data manually into multiple platforms.
- You frequently call or email your rep to get tracking updates.
- You need to get rates at hours when reps are not available.
The flip side of the problems you can solve with freight API integration is the benefits you can enjoy. API integration can lead to:
- A reduction in errors. The fewer times you need to enter data by hand, the fewer opportunities you have for human mistakes.
- Increased speed from quote to shipment. You can eliminate the lag time spent waiting for a response from carriers if that response is automatically generated through shared data.
- Fewer platforms to juggle. Consolidating your freight management to a single platform saves you time and eliminates the need to onboard new software for your team.
- Tracking updates in real time. As soon as your provider hears from the driver hauling your freight and tracks that update in their system, it will be instantly shared with you.
What About EDI?
Within the transportation space, API is the spiritual successor to electronic data interchange (EDI). EDI is a communication technology that actually predates the internet and is most useful for rapidly sharing documentation between two parties.
Many larger shippers who have been integrated via EDI with providers for years still use it today; their logic, for the most part, is “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
However, some have also adopted API to access more dynamic features like real-time pricing that EDI is not equipped to handle.
Getting Set Up With API Integration
Many times, the conversation about freight API integration will start with your provider. They want to take every opportunity they can to get shippers integrated to strengthen your working relationship and make tendering freight to them as simple as possible.
That said, if you find a carrier is doing a great job meeting your needs from a transportation perspective, you might want to take the initiative and ask about integrating to make the process of working with them even smoother. Providers love it when you are proactive about this.
In general, the lift for setting up an API integration can vary according to several factors. There are some steps you can take, however, to make it as light as possible.
First and foremost, you should ask your provider if their API offers a native integration with your current software. Many providers have build out-of-the-box integrations with major TMS platforms and other systems that can make integration as simple as adding a single code string.
If you’re deciding on a new TMS for your organization, keep ease of integration in mind as an important factor to consider.
If your software does not have native integration with your provider’s API, it is still quite possible to get connected, but it will take a bit more work.
Plan for a day or so of development work to get set up with a non-native API integration. If you have an in-house dev team, they should be able to complete this with a relatively light lift. If not, you might need to outsource this labor to a third party.
3 Tips for Getting the Most Out of Your API Integration
Once you’re integrated, your user experience with your provider’s API will vary from your shipping peers.
But this is precisely the point — when done correctly, you will simply be able to continue using your existing TMS or other internal software to manage your freight.
As you start to reap the benefits of your newfound connectivity, there are some important things you should keep in mind to ensure it continues to function optimally.
1. Stay up to date on the freight market.
One of the biggest mistakes shippers can make after setting up API integration with a provider is to assume that it’s a “set it and forget it” solution. Treating it this way could lead you to spending more than necessary on your total freight portfolio.
For truckload freight, keep an eye on the spot market’s regular cycles to understand whether rates are trending up or down in the short and long term. This will help you avoid falling into the trap of procuring spot freight without much thought when you really should be putting a bit more effort into considering contract capacity as an alternative.
2. Monitor which carriers are winning freight.
Businesses change over time — your freight needs will expand and evolve, and your regular carriers’ operations may similarly shift.
If you’re integrated with a 3PL, their API should help you track which carriers are regularly winning your freight based on your input parameters. If carriers who you expect to do so aren’t, it might be a sign you should either contact them about their capacity in your lanes or examine the current market conditions to determine what has changed.
3. Keep your inputs accurate.
API integration reduces opportunities for human errors — it doesn’t eliminate them completely.
You still need to be careful when entering your freight information in order to generate accurate quotes from your provider. This can be especially important if you’re integrated with an LTL provider, as those shipments notoriously have so many more moving points in terms of accessorials and freight class/NMFC codes.