What Is an API and How Do They Streamline Freight and Logistics?

Written by Anthony Charland

api freight logisticsThere is a resurgence in the transportation industry to develop and consume APIs for various supply chain functions. So, what is an API? The acronym API stands for Application Programming Interface. Put simply, it is a technology used to expose functionality to an external system. Although there are various types of APIs, they share a common purpose, to enhance an application with functionality that is not inherent in the system. For example, there are numerous ways to estimate freight charges and over the years many software products have attempted to implement core functionality that assist with this task. Although some methods are somewhat accurate, it’s challenging to factor all variables that can affect freight cost. Utilizing a freight API from a software vendor or carrier directly might make sense, improving accuracy of the freight calculation.

Most of the development efforts in the transportation industry are centered around transactional API’s. Functions like rate quoting, shipment tracking and pick-up requests are commonly available. Transportation software vendors often offer comprehensive supply chain APIs as part of their product offerings. In addition, some carriers offer these API logistics services directly. The primary benefit of using products developed by a software vendor is the ability to access one API that services multiple carriers. However, this comes at a cost. Software vendor fee structures vary from flat service fees to transactional fees. Costs can add up quickly depending on how many different APIs you’re using and the number of transactions. Typically, carriers provide APIs as a value-added service. Working directly with a carrier might save you service fees but managing APIs for a significant number of carriers might cost you more overall.

As an alternative to software vendors and carrier direct integrations, you might consider exploring what your 3PL can offer. 3PLs strive to provide value and cost savings for their customers and providing a suite of supply chain API’s might be part of their strategy. ReTrans Freight has experience in this area, releasing its first Rate Quoting API back in 2005. We now support several logistics APIs, including Rate Quoting, Shipment Tracking, Document Imaging and more. In 2017, we decided to focus on growing this segment of our business, promoting our shipping APIs for eCommerce customers to support our customers with their online sales.

Looking at enhancing your ERP, accounting system or improving your eCommerce shopping cart experience? We can help.