An upshot of ongoing systems integration work at UPS, the new Web capability is based on a software application known internally as Flex Global View, said Steve Holmes, a UPS spokesperson.
UPS initially deployed Flex Global View in its supply chain services to give corporate supply chain managers insights into the whereabouts of large freight shipments.
But the new feature for Trade Direct customers brings the ability to locate shipments of all sizes, directly from the UPS Web site.
For example, a large retailer might find out that the shipment of shirts ordered from a factory in China are now aboard a ship and slated to arrive in the United States in about five days, Holmes said.
With that sort of information readily accessible, retail chains can tell brick-and-mortar stores when to expect products, helping the stores keep on top of lead times, said Salish Jindel, an analyst at SJ Consulting Group.
"But without something like this, customers cant see inside the [shipping] containers. Its all about visibility, really," Jindel said.
The new feature for Trade Direct customers might also reduce the need for distribution warehousing, the transportation analyst said.
"What do you need a warehouse for, to begin with? Mainly, to know what [shipments] you have on hand," Jindel said.
Holmes said the new feature for Trade Direct customers might even make it possible for online e-commerce sites to sell products while the goods are still in transit.
Customers can also share the online shipping information with customers, according to the spokesperson.
Trade Direct is designed to give customers a single point of contact and a single shipping invoice for three modes of shipping transport: trucking between the United States, Canada and Mexico; ocean; and air.
Jim Rice, director of the Integrated Supply Chain Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said that a service such as Trade Direct is essential for shipping across borders in the world today.
"With all of the complexities and delays, companies need someone who knows what theyre doing. Trade Direct is likely to streamline business processes and improve security, too," Rice told Ziff Davis Internet.
UPS first obtained the Flex Global View software through an acquisition, and then customized the system in-house with some new capabilities, according to Holmes.
Since going public in 1999, UPS has acquired more than 30 other companies. "We havent made [these acquisitions] to gain market share. Instead, weve made them for very strategic reasons," the spokesperson said.
For example, the acquisitions have included a health care logistics specialist and several companies focused on freight forwarding.
"When we acquire a company, we look at the [IT] systems they have in place. Sometimes, we just put them onto our system. Other times, we say, Hey! This technology is better than what were using now. So theres been a lot of systems integration over the years," Holmes said.
UPS will also continue to offer WorldShip as a separate Web-based tracking system, although at some point these two tracking systems might be brought together, he said.
UPS announcement on Tuesday of the new Trade Direct capabilities came just one day after rival shipping giant DHL launched a set of supply chain services for North America and Latin America.
In other recent news, OPSI, an authorized UPS service contractor in Israel, announced last week that it will use CoSign technology from Algorithmic Research to provide electronic signature capabilities for UPS Israel.