API Logistics: How APIs Improve Transportation Management

Written by Theodore Higgins

API LogisticsYou don’t realize how many of your everyday tasks are connected to the internet via APIs. An API in layman’s terms allows any internet-connected system to communicate with another system. Mobile phones call an API to retrieve email. Instagram calls its own server to retrieve all the photos that get swiped through every day. A smart fridge, vehicles with OnStar enabled, smart thermostats with Wi-Fi connections; all these devices talk to other systems via APIs. The image below is a sample of systems you may have in your arsenal that could interact with ReTrans Freight’s APIs to support the shipping side of your business.

I’ve thrown around the acronym API a few times so far, but I haven’t explicitly said what it means. API stands for Application Program Interface. The definition is stated as “a set of routines, protocols and tools for building software applications.” There are only two types of Web APIs; SOAP and REST. SOAP is defined as a Simple Object Access Protocol and REST is defined as Representational State Transfer.


You may ask, which one is better? One shouldn’t think in terms of better or worse, as each has different use cases and differ structurally. SOAP is standardized, structured and fully defined. REST, on the other hand, is a bit more flexible. When a company hosting a SOAP API wants to make a change to their API that changes the request/response structure of the envelope, any client using that service must recompile to take advantage of the new structure. REST immediately starts returning the new structure without the client recompiling.

ReTrans Freight’s APIs are SOAP-based. The structure of a SOAP call is termed an envelope. Take a look at the graphic below illustrating carrier pigeons delivering envelopes. The pigeon’s envelope is being sent from one system through the internet to get to us at ReTrans Freight. Websites, TMS, CRM, ERP, etc., will send a message through the internet and ReTrans Freight will receive it, read it and reply to it with a similar structure response. The transportation APIs currently available at the time of writing this blog are shown on the right side of the image below.

ReTrans Freight APIsAPI Benefits

One of the biggest advantages of using API is having instant access to everything your 3PL provides. Instant, accurate rates for eCommerce shopping carts play a crucial role in eCommerce sites. eCommerce is extremely competitive these days. An average online shopper can easily price compare, and typically they go with the cheapest rate. If your shipping charges are outdated or overestimated, that online shopper may overlook your product and choose it from another retailer.

Now, let’s talk about transportation APIs.

Are you using an older Transportation Management Software (TMS) or Enterprise Resource Planning software (ERP) in your business? The current system you are using may be old, but it still may be able to communicate with other systems. One of the advantages of using APIs is that they are extremely flexible in terms of which systems can call on them. Most systems have some way to modify or add custom code which will allow the system to reach out to an API to retrieve information.

ReTrans Freight offers sample code in several different languages that you could use to integrate into your existing system. If you don’t have any developers on staff, we work with several outsourcing firms that can provide a solution for you.

How ReTrans Freight’s APIs Improve Your Existing Process

Adding in a transportation API for rating may be the piece you are missing to streamline your operation for quoting. Building one connection to your 3PL for rating can give you not one, but multiple carrier options. For example, ReTrans Freight’s API will return a list of carriers with options based on the information provided. The response includes carrier, transit time, accessorial charges and net charge.

Need inside delivery? Just tack it on to the API call and the response of the call will reflect it. Our Rating API takes minimal input to produce a quote. Additionally, this technology can be applied in an eCommerce environment. Our eCommerce APIs connect directly to your shopping cart, allowing your customers to have instant access to LTL rates at the time of purchase.

The need for having the backup documentation for a shipment has been on the rise. The Bill of Lading you provide to the driver when your freight is picked up will ultimately make its way to ReTrans Freight so that we can provide that image back in case you need it. The delivery receipt after the shipment has been delivered is important for any instance where you may wish to dispute an accessorial charge, such as a liftgate that was never required.  Our imaging API makes it very easy to retrieve those images right into your system.

It’s quite possible that all the required information for a Bill of Lading is sitting right inside your ERP. Think about your current process; A customer either calls in an order or submits an order on your website. Your ERP, containing the order information, sends out a message to your warehouse letting them know an order needs to be picked. The warehouse agents then pick the items, place them onto a pallet and then typically the warehouse agents are responsible for manually filling out the Bill of Lading.

There is a lot of room for error in this scenario. The agent could misclassify the shipment, wrongly enter the information on the Bill of Lading or possibly forget that your customer needs a liftgate. Imagine simply clicking a button after creating an order and the completed Bill of Lading is sent to the printer? With ReTrans Freight’s Bill of Lading API, we make that possible.  

The last piece to the puzzle after creating the Bill of Lading would be to let the carrier know it’s ready for pickup. Our load tendering API will alert the carrier and dispatch them to the pickup location. This API allows you to set the time you’d like the carrier to show up, the time your facility closes, and you’ll get an email confirmation when you initiate the pickup containing the carrier’s confirmation number and phone number.

Although all our APIs are modular, meaning you can use one or two to fulfill your business needs, it’s not required that you use them all. Find the API that helps you the most in improving your process and start there.

Thinking of making a switch to ReTrans Freight for the need of our APIs or are you currently using us and want to talk about which APIs are right for you? Send me a quick email at thiggins@retransfreight.comNew Call-to-action