Archive | TI Vendors RSS feed for this section

Suppliers of Global Trade Flow Statistics: United Nations, GTIS & WISER

The most accessible and inexpensive source for global trade flow statistics is the United Nations.  Through their COMTRADE database, users are free to search for and download data on the imports and exports of products classified in over 6,000 categories (in the Harmonized System) between almost 200 reporting countries.  The same data is also available in other product classification systems (like the ISIC and SITC) for some countries.

The statistics are gathered and disseminated, as they are received, on an annual basis.  With some countries the time lag is only several months following year-end, while others take a year or two to report.  The dataset depicts trade value, number of units bought or sold and trading partner (corresponding country) for each given year.  The U.N. maintains (and makes available to the public) historic records of each country’s trade activity up to several decades back.

Users are limited to the number of records they are able to download at one time without cost.  However, the U.N. offers an inexpensive paid subscription option that provides unlimited search and download capability of all their trade databases.  The corresponding interface allows users to save their search queries for later use as well as set up alerts with automatic download of updated data.

U.N. ComTrade Database is usually the first place to go for Global Trade Statistics.

The only negatives are the lack of specificity and recency. The U.N. data only reflects aggregated annualized figures. Updates are sometimes spotty and infrequent. The data contains only the basest attributes of value, flow (import or export) partner (country) and unit of measure as well as other derivative statistical information therein contained (category sums, cost-per-unit, etc).

If you want greater specificity and frequency, you will need to turn to other sources.  GTIS (Global Trade Information Services) and WISER Trade (World Institute for Strategic Economic Research)  (They used to be called MISER.) These sources have gone through the sometimes complicated processes of obtaining trade data directly from the individual countries as soon as it is made available – sometimes monthly.  The countries where they don’t get “special” data, they fill in with U.N. /ComTrade data, FYI.

Of course, individuals and organizations have the option of apprehending the same information (that GTIS or WISER sells) fairly easily, at least on 50% -60% of the countries.  U.S. Census sells import/export merchandise trade flow statistics for a couple hundred dollars.  EuroStat, releases similar information at no or low cost.  Obtaining Japan trade data is a simple matter as well.  Therefore, 80% of the worldwide merchandise trade, conducted by the countries referenced above, can be obtained and analyzed on a monthly basis at minimal cost.

What one abandons by such efforts are the technologies and convenient user search and reporting tools that have been developed by GTIS, WISER and several other Trade Intelligence providers, many of which are finally integrating aspects of Global Trade Flow Statistics into their particular product interfaces.  On the other hand, for maximum flexibility, versatility and veracity in utilizing data for specific analyses, reporting and applications, one may be best served by going directly to the sources.

Special Report: Video Library of Trade Information Providers maintains a large collection of videos produced by various Trade Intelligence and data suppliers.  These provide a good reference tool to help evaluate each respective information source. Videos from what I call the “Top Tier” Trade Intelligence providers can be found here.

Up until now, we had been utilizing the VODPOD widget for the interface, but found that it significantly increased the loading and thus wait time for our readers.  On the other hand, it displayed a lovely graphic representation of six of the 150+ videos we currently maintain.   Alas, the ongoing conflict between the artist and the engineer part of me resulted in the elimination of the widget in favor of less graphic oriented navigational links located on the header bar at the top of the site. Therefore, I am writing both to notify readers of the change as well as to draw special attention to this resource.

Our current collection is divided between 12 categories or channels.  This repository is still maintained at VodPod.  The links below will take you to the respective channel.  As mentioned, the links are also located within the header bar under Video Library.

  1. Umbrella VodPod category of all videos and all channels: WorldTradeDailycom
  2. PIERS (UBM Global Trade).  6 videos: 3 each of hi-res and standard resolution versions: …/PIERS
  3. Datamyne.  10 videos but many are produced by some customer or data geek. …/Datamyne
  4. Zepol. A dozen fairly well produced videos featuring various aspects of their product.  …/Zepolvideos
  5. Panjiva. Great blogger but could only find one video which is in a one minute promo spot.  …/Panjiva
  6. Import Genius.  8 videos including several “case” studies from actual customers as well as “how to apply the data to do “X”.  Good approach. Not just “promotion” or “how our product works” type of videos.  …/ImportGenius
  7. Market Access Map (offered by the International Trade Centre- ITC) is an interactive utility for “making import tariffs and market access barriers transparent”.  Their collection of 13 videos are intended to train users.  …/maketaccessmap
  8. Trade Map (also by the ITC). “Trade statistics for international business development.” 8 videos. …/itcvideos
  9. Investment Map (also by the ITC). Interactive utility “for better foreign investment attraction and targeting.” There are 8 training videos. There are also other resources available at the ITC website that are worth checking out.  …/investmentmap
  10. U.S. Commercial Service.  5 “testimonial” videos, several “how to make international sales” ones.  …/commercial service
  11. Misc. TI Videos.  Currently 3 videos: one about the WTCA and 2 about HS Classification.  …/miscTIvideos
  12. Personal Views: Last, and perhaps least, is one solitary satirical video which reflects my personal view of the typical approach taken by TI providers, analysts and users toward the U.S Customs Waterborne Import BOL data.  Originally it was a Powerpoint I used in a presentation made at the now defunct ITDU (International Trade Data Users) conference in D.C. to a mixed reception.  …/worldtradedaily

Please let us know if you know of any videos that you would recommend for our library.

Survey of Trade Intelligence Providers: Review, Recap & Regards – Part 4

Ahead of the pack, both of newcomers and established top-tier Trade Intelligence providers (excluding PIERS), when it comes to the value added aspects of enhancing U.S. Customs data is Panjiva.  Other TI providers may be faster, have other country transactional databases, been around longer, have cool features with broader appeal and application, but the company that has done the most with the underlying raw data (again, with the exception of PIERS) is most definitely Panjiva.  Let me explain.

First, some really smart people (Harvard & MIT trained folk) founded Panjiva.  Really not a big deal in and of itself, I know some really smart people who work with the other TI providers as well.  They just don’t have the same credentials.  As the Wizard of OZ aptly reminded the Scarecrow:  

Secondly though, they had money. A venture capital firm backed Panjiva with sufficient resources to enable them to design & build something of significance. (Funny, there was no Wizard of Oz bequest of that commodity.)

Third, their User Interface was built to serve one primary purpose for one particular target market.  Help U.S. Importers source products and components overseas.  Period.  End of Story.  Simple ideas usually work best.

Most importantly, they truly have gone to great lengths to “connect the dots” integrating other pertinent databases (over two dozens various sources) to the U.S. Customs data toward the end of enabling their product to perform its singular objective more efficiently.

Their strength is also their corresponding weakness.  The singular design and function of their product makes it perform less adequately than tools created by other TI providers.  The best hammer for hammering ain’t going to work great as a saw or an axe.  Try to chop down a tree with a hammer, even a really good hammer… and you are likely to get frustrated.

I will refrain, in conclusion, from bringing PIERS and PIERS products into the equation for contrast and comparison.  Since half (3 of 6) of all their current products were developed by myself and my team, it becomes a rather narcissistic and self-aggrandizing exercise.  Furthermore, there are plenty of other articles on this blog that highlight the relative strengths and features of their home-grown and evolved products as well as those acquired from my company, CenTradeX.

I have learned through this recent investigation that there is no such thing as “The Best TI Tool”.  It all depends upon what you’re trying to do with the tool, your budget, your time, and what features you value most.

Survey of Trade Intelligence Providers: Review, Recap & Regards – Part 3

As far as the “top tier” TI Providers are concerned, I was impressed on many levels.   Ryan P. of Import Genius spoke with the zeal and fire of a true believer.  I resonated very much with him – his passion and vision.  I really “dig” his visual mapping tool that lets you dynamically interact with the international supply chain – foreign suppliers and their corresponding U.S. importers.  I also like the pragmatic approach they avow having come from being importers themselves. However, no degree of enthusiasm, cool tools and professional background can make up for the lack of rigorous normalization and data enhancements that are required in this marketplace to differentiate you as a Trade Intelligence Provider.   I believe if they had an ample infusion of capital, they would account for that shortcoming post-haste as well as zip past many of their competitors.

Zepol (Paul R.) as I have reported, has a kick ass search engine that can wheedle your desired data out of 100,000,000 million manifest records and deliver it to you with lightning speed.  It is truly amazing.  Their User Interface is elegant and well-engineered.  I love and appreciate the simple, straightforward logic inherent within its design and function.  Kudos to them for expanding beyond simply offering U.S. Customs data and weighing in on the statistical side by offering Census data (tracking U.S. imports and exports on a monthly basis). Sound business folks to be sure.  They’ve been around a good while now, coming on the scene over 6 years ago and being the first competitor to PIERS.  However, akin to Import Genius, speed, a well-engineered U.I. and sound business thinking ultimately won’t be enough to stand-up against the onslaught of bottom fishing competitors that are rampantly propagating across the planet.  It’ll take more.

Datamyne, with roots in Latin America, along with their handfuls of other transactional databases certainly has a competitive advantage in that regard.  Their new U.I. is definitively the most robust – analytically speaking.  Their management and customer service is purported to be superior. Lisa W. continues to make data/technological advancements moving in the right direction to connecting the dots (U.S. Customs data with other databases).  Referential Company Data obtained from reputable venders such as D&B /Hoovers is essential to normalize /standardize the many iterations found within the U.S. Importer & Foreign Supplier Name /Address fields.  Attribution of product codes is also an essential value added. Datamyne has begun applying both essential processes and, in those regards, is way ahead of most of their competitors, but at this point still has a considerable distance to travel to perfect and maximize the underlying U.S. Customs data.

Survey of Trade Intelligence Providers: Review, Recap & Regards- Part 2

To start with I was surprised to find so many new companies out there that are offering products based upon U.S. Customs data.  It seems of late that I hear about a new venture almost monthly. Another surprise is that among those that I refer to as “Second Tier” TI providers (and even have dismissively at times called “bottom feeders”) there are notable, commendable qualities beyond price. Although I didn’t go through the same in-depth investigation and product demos as I did with the five top-tier providers, I was usually able to glean enough information from their website to get a snapshot and form a cursory opinion.

For instance, several not only offer various utilities by which to search, retrieve and manipulate U.S. Customs data, but also provide Customs (transactional) data from other countries and regions.  Consequently, a competitive position taken by both PIERS & Datamyne of offering transactional data for other markets (primarily Latin American) is diluted by the addition of a handful of others (second tier) who do likewise.

Screenshots, when provided, from some of the TIP’s (Trade Intelligence Providers) U.I.s (user interfaces) looked interesting.  Although I would need an extensive firsthand demonstration to form a concrete perspective, there seemed to be a number of products with robust search utilities, including graphic displays and trending capabilities.

Most astonishing though was /is the price.  $99 per month is typical and even on the high side.  As I have reported, one China based company sells entry-level subscriptions at $30 per year (8 cents per day).  With another India based organization –  a “pay-per-record” model – you can download 100 complete records for $1.60.   And, as I have said, new companies are cropping up monthly.

Honestly, it made me grateful that I’m not competing as a TI Provider in the field anymore.  It was always a challenge to enlighten prospects about the value of data in the first place.  Most people either don’t get it or undervalue it.  It was frustrating.  International Trade involves trillions of dollars yet some billion-dollar international companies don’t spend squat on data (or people who understand how to use it intelligently).

So now with new companies offering U.S. Custom data for almost nothing, the challenges for TI Providers get that much more difficult.  The obvious answer is to develop value added solutions that empower users to make better business decisions, easier, and faster as well as document tangible, quantitative, profitable results.

Soon gone are the days (IF they are not gone already) wherein TI Providers will be able to survive in this competitive marketplace without bringing something very significant and distinctive to the table beyond an off-the-shelf search and reporting utility atop minimally standardized bare-naked U.S. Customs data.  The market will demand more… and/or pay less.

Survey of Trade Intelligence Providers: Review, Recap & Regards- Part 1

For six sequential weeks, notwithstanding last week’s respite to introduce two new contributing authors and some fresh topics, we have focused upon Trade Intelligence Providers – both “top tier” and secondary players, taking an in-depth look at their products / interfaces along with their respective strengths and weaknesses.*

And to qualify, the type and kind of TI providers I chose to highlight and contrast were those who offered U.S. Customs data: Waterborne Transport, U.S. Import, Shipping Manifest (Bill of Lading) records collected and disseminated daily.  Why single out that ONE specific database as the qualifier for “Trade Intelligence” providers?

After all, there are many types and kinds of trade data – transactional, statistical, company and referential.   Trade Intelligence is about using information, connecting dots and making informed business decisions within the international trade arena.  It isn’t about one kind of data.

The reasons I focused upon those companies and applications that utilize this type of data are manifold:

  • Customs data is inherently the most powerful data source.
  • Customs data is the most obtuse, complex type of data.
  • Customs data is still the most underutilized resource.
  • Customs data offers abundant opportunities for innovation.

Another personal aspect of my preoccupation comes from the sizeable investment – in time, money, energy and resources – that I have made to understand, innovate and commercialize U.S. Customs Data.   And, as regular readers of this blog will recount, I maintain considerable unique technological assets that I consider to be superior and extremely valuable for which I desire to attract future sales and/or license fees for the utilization of such as well as potential consulting /development contracts (within the context of the “non-compete” clauses of my PIERS acquisition agreement).  So, those are my gratuitous commercial objectives.

Bottom-line, there are a plethora of data types and sources that are important.  The Holy Grail of Trade Intelligence is about “connecting the dots” to uncover not only the trends but also the trend makers… seeing the “big picture” and being able to drill down to the pixels if required… breaking down the supply chain to understandable and consumable pieces… applying knowledge to empower and enable more intelligent business decisions.

Conducting this recent in-depth investigation has challenged several preconceived notions that I maintained about the Trade Intelligence players and their products.  There have been many noteworthy developments in the field over the last several years.  That being said, there remain HUGE opportunities within the TI field and an ongoing need for vision and innovation.

*This post is republished.

2nd Tier TI Providers, Part 4: China Based Goodwill (CTI), Trade Info 365 & IE Intelligence

Goodwill China Business Information Limited (aka CTI /CSS) offers Transactional, Statistical and Credit Reporting for and about China and Chinese importers and exporters. They are also an authorized PIERS reseller within the Greater China Region.  I suspect they, in turn, are the third party provider for PIER’s China Trade Intelligence.

CTI (China Customs Import & Export Trade Data Base) is considered the most exhaustive source of information on Chinese trade.  The company running CTI (Goodwill) has been appointed ‘world-wide agent and distributor for issuance and distribution of China Trade Information as collected and edited by the Statistics Department of Chinese Customs’.

Trade Info 365, one of the best China TI Providers

One of the best second tier providers I have run across because the founder contacted me directly and asked for coverage is China based TradeInfo365.  As we noted in our previously published article, TI Provider TradeInfo 365 Provides Transactional Trade Data for 10 Countries, they not only provide what seems to be a fairly sophisticated online search and reporting utility atop U.S. Customs Data, but they also offer similar transactional detail on trade from the UK, China, Korea, Russia and several Central or South American countries.

Several TI providers including Datamyne and PIERS as well as several foreign suppliers offer transactional data for the same Latin American countries, leading me to believe that these databases are relatively easy and inexpensive to apprehend.

China based World Integrated Import Export Intelligence Solutions (IE Intelligence) touts North American and China Import –  Export transactional databases as their primary product/solution.  All available U.S. Customs data fields are listed as accessible.  However, they also list over 20 other countries wherein they offer data as well.

Their pricing plans are cheap.  A limited 1-year subscription to U.S. Customs data is only $30.  IE’s “premium” subscription plan that provides for monthly CD distribution with DBS export and unlimited users sells for $149 annually!  Annual China Import OR Export data subscriptions start at $599.  IE indicates that they’ve been in business for 5 years and have over 500 customers.

Race to the Bottom Winner, IE Intelligence, with subscriptions priced @ 8 cents per day

The current leader in the “race to the bottom” regarding the commoditization, commercialization and distribution of U.S. Customs data, at this juncture, can certainly be awarded to IE.  At 8 cents (USD) per day, U.S. based Trade Intelligence providers will have to bring a tremendous amount of “value added” to the Customs data in order to compete.

There are more TI Providers out there and there are more TI Providers coming.  I’ve heard about two new ones from China alone in the last month. The newest ( is rumored to be an Import Genius look alike. At the present the URL meta tag indicates “Actionable Competitive Intelligence” but the website fails to resolve.

Perhaps in the near future, I’ll have to create a new category, Third Tier Trade Intelligence Providers, to accommodate all the newcomers. I’m not sure how much more room there is at the bottom though.

I once entertained the notion of providing U.S. Customs data free of charge as a method of garnering website traffic and “up-selling” value added Trade Reports and Services.  At this juncture though, data has become commoditized to the point of losing most of its perceived if not intrinsic value.

IE Intelligence Simple Search Screen

IE Intelligence Reports Screen

2nd Tier TI Providers, Part 3: India Based InfoDrive, Cybex, IBIS, Tips & Others

Next up on second tier Trade Intelligence Providers is InfoDrive India, the apparent Godfather of India based providers.  Their website declares, “Find actual Buyers and Suppliers from 12 Countries Export Import Data From Customs.”

InfoDrive India, the Godfather of India based TI Providers

Info Drive India boasts of a database containing almost 200,000,000 records.  Through an affiliate,, they also offer an online, Searchable Encyclopedia of India Foreign Trade Rules, Regulations and Policies.  Their website is translatable into 9 languages (besides English).  Notwithstanding most of their listed clients seem to be based in India. Per their website, they apprehend their data from:

  • Global Export Import Trade Data from Customs of US, UK, India and China
  • Bill of Lading Invoices, Bills of Entry, Invoices, Shipping Bills, EDI Systems
  • Shipping Manifests and Ports

As the name implies, they specialize in India import/export data.  Their database is updated on a monthly basis.  India data post 2005 does not reveal company names. Records are searchable by Harmonized code at an 8 digit level.  Cost per Record is only 16 cents, thus to download 100 shipment records, the cost would be US $ 1.60.

They also offer transactional data from the UK, India, China and Russia as well as U.S. Customs (waterborne import) Data – available either online or CD – as well as a handful of Latin American Countries.   Particulars of access and pricing are not directly revealed.  For example, in order to order U.S. Customs data, prospects are required to fill and submit a form.

Cybex ExIm Solutions: Similar to their cousin, InfoDrive India, Cybex specializes in transactional, statistical and regulatory trade information for the greater India region. They offer some India port and air data too.  In addition, Cybex also offers Customs type import data for the U.S. & UK as well as transactional import and export data for China and Russia. China import sample reportIndia export sample reports arranged by industry/product.  They list 5 record based subscription plans ranging from $10 to $300 for 400 to 20,000 records (India Data base).

IBIS. International Business Information Services.  India Transactional Import and Export data.  They publish 24 reports per year on each of four industries: Steel, Metals, Chemicals & Polymers and Plastics & Rubber. Each report lists the trading volumes, values and approximate CIF/FOB prices, detailed consignment by consignee, source/destination details and product description. The same data is presented country-wise also, separately for imports and exports.

TIPS.  Indian import and export customs data.  India’s version of the U.S. Customs data except that records post 2004 mask company names.

Uruguay based Urunet report screen

Neighboring TI provider, STATISTIKA VED – is a Russian service providing transactional data on import and export from Russia, Ukraine, China, Kazakhstan, Belorussia and Moldova. Records available only in Russian.

Uruguay based Urunet offers trade statistics, transactional (manifest data) and custom reports/consultancy for Latin American countries: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Honduras, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, Panama, Uruguay, Venezuela as well as China and Spain.  Their website is available in English, Spanish and Portuguese.  Click to see Samples of their interface and reports.  YouTube video demo (Spanish)

2nd Tier TI Providers, Part 2: U.S. Based Trade Intelligency, Manifest Journals & Import Intel

On the home front, several new T.I. competitors have recently emerged from rather inauspicious roots, such as  L.A. based Trade Intelligency, founded by Tor-Leif Walker.   Last year about this time, did a company mention on him & it.

Tor: Stone mason or TI mason?

Trade Intelligency offers a $99 plan into the world of (U.S. Customs data based) Trade Intelligence, which is available via your Android smart phone. Now that sounds like a smart way to serve up trade intelligence.  They do offer more expensive plans based upon how far back you want to peek into their database.  30 days?  1 year?  5 years or more?  If you’d like to try it out, there’s even a free search utility.

They’ve got an official page on Facebook.  Or  you can Follow him on twitter. You’d become his 8th follower, if you did.  If you join-in LinkedIN however, you’d be only one of his hundreds of connections.  How he has gone from stone cutter and supplier (the vocation he references as his current employ) to Trade Intelligence Provider would be an interesting story indeed.

Michael Heffernan of Manifest Journals

DC based Manifest Journals provides somewhat technical but insightful information about U.S. Customs data.  Although their website is bland and graphic-less, it does address key problems as well as outline important value added features they provide.  Noteworthy are:

How We Fix the Four Big Problems in the Raw Data from US Customs:

If you have successfully and happily made it through the above explanations, then stagger forward (heavy doses of caffeine may be helpful at this juncture) to these two interesting (for us data geeks) descriptions:

Nowhere is price mentioned.  In fact it is difficult to find much information about them at all. Michael Heffernan (Seattle) US Customs Data Expert and Divyesh Shah (India), Director of Technology were “added” to the company last year.  I did dig up their blog /Facebook presence and twitter account.

North Carolina based Import Intel serves up the same U.S. Customs Waterborne Import Manifest (BOL) Data but marketed from a slightly different angle.  They offer “custom” world wide or specified country EXPORT reports.  Really it’s just looking at the shipper side of the U.S. import transaction.  Of course they also regurgitate the typical list of other applications: locate industry suppliers, monitor market demands and track specific competitors.  Pricing is not revealed, but they offer a free trial and demo of services rendered. They mention an affiliate office in China.

Manifest Journals searching and reporting utility for U.S. Customs data

2nd Tier TI Providers, Part 1: Top Secret & Ultra Top Secret Sources for Customs Data

During the last several weeks, we’ve reported in-depth on the five top-tier Trade Intelligence Providers and purveyors of U.S. Customs (transactional) data, all of which are headquartered in the United States (possible exceptions are PIERS and Datamyne whose parent companies are headquartered in England and Uruguay respectively).

U.S. Customs, now under DHS

This week, we will outline second tier providers of U.S Customs data (or sellers of similar transactional data on one or more countries).  As you will notice, many of these venders are located in India or China.  The list of sources is mushrooming as prices are correspondingly plummeting.

One China based company is offering access and reporting on U.S. Customs Waterborne Import Manifest (BOL) data for 8 cents a day – $30 for an annual subscription.  Another, India based company’s cost per downloaded record is only 16 cents, thus to download 100 shipment records, the cost would be US $ 1.60.   Many offer subscription plans starting at $99 or less.

But let’s begin at the beginning. Many readers have requested information on how to source the raw data directly from Customs.  So, here it is.

List of the 40 Countries “Anonymous”; the unsearchable, unfindable TI Provider maintains transactional data for

U.S. Customs Data is now officially under the auspices of DHS – Department of Homeland Security.  They don’t make it easy to find them. Although they are required by federal mandate to release specified fields contained within the shipping manifests under the freedom of information act, they are not required by law to make the process easy.

There are two departments you have to deal with: one that handles and dispenses the data and the other that bills and collects the money. At last record the data center folks are headed by James Klosko, fax: 703-650-3144.  CBP form 3 (05/03) is required.  The $$ folks were headed by Deborah Wolfley fax: 317.298.1258.  Written request must be submitted – Customs form 368 – for collection of $$.

The cost is $100 per day or $36,500.25 (average) per year.  Buyers can now retrieve the data via FTP feed versus over night delivery, as it had been for many years.  You can even buy the raw data a year or two in arrears if you want to.  Sorry, no discounts are available.

On the theme of secrecy, I recently stumbled upon a mysterious unnamed data source while reviewing a survey about Trade Information providers conducted by the EU.  The report is available for download via our WTD Google Docs site.  Also check out WTD articles “Extraordinary (Top Secret) Report on TI Providers Published by the EU” Part 1 and Part 2.  This entity is conveniently referred to as “Anonymous”.

ANONYMOUS is a WEB application to access a cargo data-warehouse on import/export container records from about 40 countries. Sources can be queried from a single interface point. The data are translated and searchable in English.  Over 90% of the data is regulatory: the balance is derived from port authorities, carriers or other commercial data collectors.  However, this paid service is NOT ADVERTISED ON THE WEB.

They have the most comprehensive data collection on the planet.  “Anonymous” is the ONLY entity to have apprehended transactional data for Middle-Eastern Countries. I’d say they are the best-kept secret in the trade intelligence world.  Who are they?!

PIERS, Part 4: Directories & Databases & Research Reports, Oh My!

In the previous several articles, we outlined several of PIERS’ competitive advantages, then looked at their three evolved and related products: Piers TI, IPiers and MyPiers (which share a common UI and database) and subsequently summarized their newly acquired Trade Intelligence applications: Stats Plus, Prospects and Trade Finance.

In addition to these interactive platforms PIERS also offers other International trade related products.

International Trade Databases.  PIERS maintains transactional level databases (similar to U.S. Customs data) on 17 countries (all but two are Latin American).  Notwithstanding, these databases come complete with HS Codes, shipper names and commodity (product) details and encompass waterborne, land and air transport.

We reviewed the Mexican database. Despite being in Spanish, it was a treasure store of information.  Specific 6 digit harmonized codes were assigned to each shipment as well as the value, information and method of transport (which included air, truck and rail) for both imports and exports.  Therefore, with a little work and linking it to other databases, you could put together a pretty good profile of U.S. – Mexico cross border trade.

PIERS Importer – Exporter Directories

PIERS Online Directories of U.S. Importers & U.S. Exporters.  Basically, it’s a summary version of recent (last 12 months) trade activity by importers and exporters.  Previously available via hard copy publication or on CD, it is now accessible online (either separately or combined).  It includes over 150,000 importer and 50,000 exporter company listings.  These directories summarize top 3 to 5 U.S. ports of entry, countries of origin, SIC codes, number and value of shipments, and product descriptions for each trader.

PIERS Maritime Research. PIERS also publishes, in association with its sister company the JOC (Journal of Commerce), specific reports on Shipping, Carriers, Ports, and Trade Flows.

The scope of our survey necessarily excludes review of sister UBM Global Trade Companies and their products.  However, it may be said that in the area of integration – connecting the dots of disparate international databases – there is still significant ground to cover and opportunities to exploit.  Wiki reference.

Whereas PIERS has suffered in times past in the area of strategic forward thinking management, the acquisition of Commonwealth Business Media (including PIERS) by UBM in 2006 (UBM Global Trade formed in 2008) and installation of key executives John Day (CEO), Peter Spinelli (CFO) and Gavin Carter (CIO) have dramatically changed the mix.

Complete overall of their legacy IT systems along with acquisition and launch of innovative CenTradeX TI applications (as well as core technology staff) have also aided in PIERS’ competitive advancement.

Ironically, the one aspect they had shown greatest need for improvement is in marketing. However, recently they have joined the ranks of other market savvy TI providers in making intelligent use of social media. They have a compelling story to tell , the resources to tell it well and the management to sell it.

With both homegrown and acquired TI applications, PIER’S Arsenal of Products is impressive

In that spirit, below find a downloadable list of product brochures and data samples, courtesy of the excellent sales team at PIERS headed by Wael Jarous.  For more information, please feel free to contact sales manager Aliet Martinez at

**By the way the featured image appearing in this post is from a mural hanging in UBM headquarters, created by Meagan Spendlove.

PIERS, Part 3: Acquired Apps – Stats Plus, Prospects & Trade Finance

The next family of PIERS products I will expound upon were acquired not evolved.

Whereas Piers TI, IPiers, and MyPiers (along with individualized customization and forthcoming dashboards) utilize a common platform and database with varying features, add-ons, and options. Stats Plus, Prospects and Trade Finance are an entirely different ilk.

All referenced trade intelligence applications were acquired last year from CenTradeX, the company I developed and directed for 10 years.  For those interested, the background, start-up, development, acquisition of CenTradeX Applications by PIERS as well as retained assets that were excluded from the sale have been documented in earlier WTD articles.  Furthermore, I’ve already outlined the development and attributes of Stats Plus and Prospects in previous posts too.

Prospects & Trade Finance Geo Locator Home Screen

PIERS Trade Profiles and its sister application, Trade Finance were previous PIERS applications designed for sales prospecting (international trade leads) by the maritime/commercial and financial industries respectively.  These products were phased out and replaced by the (CenTradeX) Prospects platform.  The only difference between the two applications is that Trade Finance offers several additional search fields and sums up data quarterly (bankers like it sliced that way).

Several TI Providers have recently started to offer silos of other data (besides U.S. Customs data), such as Census or U.N. trade statistics. The primary and revolutionary difference with Stats Plus, Prospects, and Trade Finance (again which is really just Prospects) is that they were developed and evolved as INTEGRATED data platforms.

Statistical information (State, U.S., World), Company information (from D&B aka Harris Info and Hoovers, Kompass, Zoom, Yahoo, etc.), PLUS daily U.S. Customs (transactional) manifest records are all interconnected.  They are not contained and accessed from individual, unrelated silos.  They are served up as a unified whole.  Thus there is greater dimension and depth to the data.

Also, integrating third-party information sources with the U.S. Customs data tremendously aids in the normalization and standardization processes.  In fact, it is really impossible to do otherwise.  For instance, D&B profiles can be employed to normalize the many possible iterations of a consignee name.  Statistics can set the context by which to evaluate potential foreign suppliers.

These novel PIERS platforms integrate disparate data sources in ways that empower users to get more complete, accurate pictures of international trade as well as the underlying global traders involved.

The alternative is to depend upon singular (and incomplete) snapshots taken from transactional (Customs) data, maybe piece them together with other fragments of information gathered here and there from other sources, try to patchwork it all into some incomplete profile by which to then make an (important?) business decision in order to better (successfully?) navigate within the choppy and highly competitive waters of global trade.

Prospects Summary Tab

Prospects Carrier Trend Report

PIERS, Part 2: Home Grown & Evolved TI Applications – I, My & TI

In contrast to many TI providers that offer a “one size fits all” user interface, PIERS offers many products for varying business applications that incorporate U.S. Customs data.  In this article, I will focus on three (of seven) related products: Piers TI, IPiers & MyPiers- all of which use the same platform but are differentiated by a handful of features and corresponding price.

Back in the day, PIERS largely distributed the (somewhat) normalized Customs data via stacks of monthly CDs sent to their several thousand clients.  They were a hassle to use and easily pirated with a clumsy Excel like interface.  IPIERS became their first online solution.  It is the medium priced option of the three.

With IPiers, you get access to fully normalized U.S. Customs data – both import and export – for the last three years.  If required, you can fetch data as far back as 1979.  They can set you up to only see certain product lines (based upon Harmonized Code) or the whole tamale.  You can pay for unlimited access or just pay per record downloaded.

The UI is efficiently designed and comfortably maneuverable. There are standard reports or you can design and save your own.  You can schedule your reports to run and be distributed at will.  Export options include Excel, DBF, PDF and DOC.  Overall, it is a fetching TI interface.

Piers TI was the second online offering and a level below IPiers.  Piers TI provides access (through the same UI) to RAW (not standardized) U.S. Customs data. Even though the consignee and shipper names haven’t been standardized as in IPiers, users still get the benefit of commodity code attribution along with estimated shipment value and TEU count.

Piers TI is available in export only, import only or import & export versions and provides for searching and reporting on the last five years of data.  Reporting functions allow for roll-up of results, graphic displays and download of 10,000 records at a time.

When comparing products (and pricing) with other competing TI providers’ offerings, Piers TI (import only) is really the best apples-to-apples UI to evaluate.

MyPiers is a fully customized version of IPiers, designed around the products, preferences, and applications of an individual client.  PIERS programmers construct individualized data groupings and reports around specific customer requirements such as designated sales territories, certain commodities and supply chain movements.  Obviously, this option is best suited for higher end commercial and maritime clients.

Soon to be released “Dashboards”, a further add-on (up-sell) to MyPiers, will offer advanced graphic-oriented, executive-level interactivity while maintaining drill down capability into the granular level detail as well.

Ultimately, individualized consultation, design, and application development utilizing U.S. Customs data is the most expensive and powerful aspect of trade intelligence: People IQ.  The singular element of Trade Intelligence that is not easy to commoditize.

Up next, a look at PIERS newest family of products.

Stats Plus Global Market Report

Stats Plus Report of U.S. Buyers

PIERS, Part 1: The Fleet Battleship in an Ocean of TI Providers

This week’s series focuses on the 500 pound gorilla and alpha dog of Trade Intelligence Providers, PIERS, a division of UBM Global Trade (along with 7 other related companies) which in turn is one of 17 “business verticals” owned by London-based, publicly traded United Business Media.  Download annual report. For purposes of comparison and contrast, we will only be looking at PIERS and their handful of TI products.

PIERS company history goes back 175 years rooted in the Journal of Commerce  which provides news about global trade specifically related to waterborne freight movements.  JOC is one of the oldest publications in the United States, founded by Samuel Morse in 1827.  So, in some fashion or form, PIERS and sister companies have had almost two centuries evaluating and reporting on international freight movements.

Why is this important?  Well, it is definitely one of PIERS’ competitive strengths.  Tenured knowledge and experience with obtuse and complex data over time accrues to one a significant advantage that cursory acquaintance can’t replicate.  It’s safe to say no one knows the data better.

The other obvious advantage is the synergism and strength derived from being connected and intimately related to a multi-national media and information conglomerate with respectable resources at their disposal.  A single cruiser may be faster and more maneuverable but in comparison with an entire naval fleet wouldn’t last long in a firefight.

PIERS has elaborate normalization and refinement procedures in place for handling U.S. Customs data

On a more micro level, PIERS has some particular competitive advantages over other TI Providers that offer searching and reporting utilities atop U.S. Customs data, including:

  • They’re the ONLY ones to offer transactional waterborne export data.  The combination of reciprocal information exchanges with many ports & carriers along with an extensive staff stationed at ports collecting data is going to make this aspect hard to replicate.  Hence, PIERS is the only company that can provide BOTH sides of the import – export transactional picture.
  • PIERS attributes a harmonized code, many times down to the 6 digit level, to the individual shipment manifests.  Consequently, they assign estimated trade values by connecting said code to U.S. Census statistical data.  Arguably the values are many times askew, but as they say, “Bad breath is better than no breath at all”.  Nobody else even attempts it.
  • They are the best at data standardization and normalization, overall.  Many of us have done interesting, innovative and truly remarkable things with U.S. Customs data (and vastly superior in many ways) but the benchmark and standard is and always has been set by PIERS.

In the forthcoming articles, we will look at the specific “families” of products (both evolved and acquired) that currently comprise the expansive PIERS arsenal of Trade Intelligence.

Import Genius Part 4: Competitive Strengths and Needed Improvements

When I asked Ryan how he saw Import Genius relative to other TI providers and what were Import Genuis’ competitive strengths, he recounted the following:

  • Innovation and product development.
  • Visual Mapping utility.
  • Customer service with 24/7 a day phone support.
  • Overall cheaper than their competitors so you get more for your money.
  • Easy to use search tools created for “ordinary” people.
  • LOVE: They demonstrate more practical care for their customers.

Customer love is sweet

Since I’m not a customer (nor have I spoken with Import Genius customers), I can’t speak to the reality of the last claim.  I will, however, say that talking to Ryan on the phone for an hour or so and “feeling” the love, passion and conviction that he has for his company and product… well, he made a believer out of me.

As far as customers are concerned, Mr. Petersen said that about half are composed of small to medium-sized importers.  Another 30-40% are overseas suppliers looking for U.S. buyers (mostly from India and China). The third segment is primarily composed of freight forwarders (looking for prospects) and lawyers (checking for intellectual property violations and compliance type issues).

The two biggest areas of improvement needed to the Import Genius interface are:

  1. Data normalization and refinement.  U.S. Customs data needs a lot of tender loving care and many refinement processes in order to yield its succulent treasures.  Despite good intentions, passion, vision and street smarts, the beginning, middle and end of the matter has to be about the DATA.
  2.  Dimensionality and depth.  Much of Trade Intelligence is about connecting the dots.  The greater number of important dots you connect, the greater the smarts.  Statistical data, reverential data, company data, third-party credit data, tariff data, there are a plethora of sources and lots of dots to connect depending up on your particular business application.

I also don’t know IG revenues compared to those of the other Top Tier TI providers. They didn’t start with VC partners like Panjiva or Datamyne did.  They don’t have the infrastructure and history of PIERS.  However, if they can figure out a way to better refine the data, connect the dots and get more traction in the marketplace, I’d say they’d be pretty dangerous… to their competitors that is.

Import Genius Part 3: Target Markets, Product Demos and Pricing Plans

Each TI provider approaches the market a little differently. In the case of Import Genius, they have one all purpose interface which can be applied to several business purposes, as stated on their website:

  • Evaluate Suppliers. If you’re importing from overseas, we’ll help you find high quality suppliers. Our shipping records reveal customers, product lines, and exporting volumes for factories around the world. View Demo.
  • Monitor Competitors. Would you like to know where your competitors source their products? Our data reveals suppliers, product volumes, and industry trends for U.S. importers and distribution companies.  View Demo.
  • Find Sales Prospects. If you sell products or services to U.S. importers, our data lets you qualify prospects based on their shipping histories. View Demo.
  • Research Markets. If your livelihood depends on having the most accurate and up-to-date economic data, you need our business intelligence. (No specific Demo.)

Import Genius web site in Chinese

Although not specifically called an application on their website, they have produced an interesting video on how U.S. Customs data can be used to analyze publicly traded companies.  In addition, they provide videos illustrating three actual business cases where Import Genius was utilized by Apple, 3M and Travertine Imports.

Two other items of interest: First of all, their website can be viewed either in English OR Chinese.  Kudos!  They have an affiliate office in Shanghai.  Way to be culturally savvy and strategic!   Secondly, their headquarters is officially based in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands.  Great idea for corporate retreats!

Import Genius is very reasonably priced.  They have three pricing options: $99, $199 and $399 per month, allowing 40, 80 and 300 daily searches on datasets of 45 days, 1 year or multi-year (all records since 2006).   No visual mapping is provided for the $99 plan.

import genius pricing plans

Import Genius Part 2: Product Demo with Cool Visual Mapping Utility

Instead of enduring a canned demo, I asked Ryan if we could use Import Genius to search for a product of my choosing, in this case Mopeds, 50cc or under, sourced from China. Coincidentally, motor scooters were one of the products that Ryan and his brother had successfully imported in times past.  He was more than accommodating.

Therefore, we went on a live hunt for Chinese scooter suppliers.  The interface was more than adequate for the task, providing a list of suppliers that could then be filtered and sorted using various criteria.  There was a nifty tag cloud condensation of the manifest files that was particularly interesting.  Of course, the results set could then be exported into an Excel spreadsheet.  Searches could be saved for future reference.

Overall, the interface was clean and functioned well. It was also fast and efficient with the tasks given it.  The Data was less than 1 week old.  Some TI providers take weeks before their data is ready for prime time.  At CenTradeX we could turn it around and have it live within 24 hours, if pressed.

The very coolest, most innovative thing I saw was the dynamic visual mapping utility.  For instance, you can start with a potential Chinese supplier and see a visual map of their top ten customers in the U.S.  Then, you can click one of the displayed customers and, in turn, see their 10 top suppliers.  It’s a fantastic, graphic way to follow the supply chain and vet potential factories.

Several years ago I played with a linguistics version – a free visual online dictionary.  It’s fun to play with.  Try it yourself at or Visuwords.  My personal favorite is Visual Thesaurus.  The engine behind the Visual Thesaurus is called ThinkMap, which is available on a license basis and has been used in many interesting applications.  Import Genius has had the genius to apply this type of technology to international trade.

Import Genius Part 1: Early Beginnings With Roots in the Importing Process

I recently interviewed Ryan Petersen, co-founder of Import Genius and got a good walk-through of their Trade Intelligence interface.  Import Genius is one of the five (what I have labeled) “top-tier” TI providers who offer U.S. Customs data.  The other four are PIERS, Datamyne, Zepol and Panjiva. There are well over a dozen “second tier” providers strewn across the planet.  Each top-tier provider has their own particular slant and angle toward the data.  You could say that it represents the unique personality and objective that the company takes.  The data is all the same.

In the case of Import Genius, true to the personality, background and experience of the founders, they take a direct, pragmatic approach.  In effect they are the street-smart version.  Prior to establishing Import Genius, the founders were importers, getting hands-on-experience locating and vetting acceptable sources in China as well as the multifarious details involved in importing and distributing products in the U.S.

It was during their ten years as importers, in their efforts to secure reliable Chinese sources, that they ran across the U.S. Customs data.  They observed that the data could be manipulated in a much better and efficient manner and set off to make it so.  They wanted to incorporate to their interface the lessons learned and obstacles encountered in the real life learning lab.

Initially, they dreamed of creating a YELP for international trade, including customer feedback on suppliers, etc.  Unfortunately, the scope of their vision and initial launch date in the wake of the global meltdown of  ’08/’09, caused them to scale back a bit on the original plan.  Notwithstanding, they remained true to their core intent, which was to provide an easy way to do business across borders.

Ryan mentioned to me, while explaining the origins, design and unique competitive position of the Import Genius TI interface, that they really attempt to “plug into the existing processes” of their customers.  Thus, when a client initiates task “X”, the interface responds with “Y” throughout the client’s business processes.   He repeated the phrase, “plug into people’s process” a couple of times during the interview.

Essentially, Ryan and crew have created tools that they wish had been available during their importing days. Tools that could have made their job easier and more profitable.

Taking to Ryan was a déjà-vu experience.  As he shared his vision and passion for their product and the innovative, rogue, street-smart company culture they maintain, it took me back to the early days of CenTradeX almost 10 years ago.  I haven’t heard anyone speaking with such conviction and zeal for a long time.  His enthusiasm was, as they say, contagious.

Panjiva Part 4: Under the Hood Explanation of the Normalization Process

In addition to requesting the specifics on third-party data sources to which Panjiva “connects the dots”, i.e. Customs data, I wanted an under-the-hood explanation of their normalization processes.  Frankly, I was dubious of Josh’s claim to have a 70% success rate linking or resolving Manifest records to specific companies.  In response, again courtesy of their “go to” PR lady, Katelyn, they recite the following:

“Panjiva takes great pride in its patent-pending normalization procedure, which was developed by a team of MIT-trained computer scientists. Although the exact details of the algorithm cannot be shared, the fully automated process involves natural language processing, machine learning and clustering technologies. Panjiva first takes shipping-level data for all companies, then combines it with company-specific data and those from Panjiva’s full data set. Together, these paint a more thorough picture of the companies than one particular data source could do alone.

As part of this process, Panjiva keeps entities separate if they are operating at different locations.  This allows the user the option to look at a specific location of a factory or supplier. However, there are also automated and manual mechanisms that can roll these into super profiles to view related entities in aggregate.  Essentially, users can group them depending on how granular – or not – they want to get.

Because Panjiva relies on an algorithm, it is not always perfect and there are some errors due to the roughness of the data. However, the technology  analyzes enough attributes to make decisions that are robust. A few other things to note:

70% of Panjiva records are bound to entities using our proprietary algorithms for identifying when multiple shipping records are actually describing the same company/location entity. The remaining 30% of the records are opted-out, so those are not bound to companies, but these records are available in Panjiva’s Trends interface and via a raw customs search on the platform.

Panjiva does flag companies that are purely shipping companies, as many buyers are not interested in evaluating these companies as trading partners.  This is one of the few manual processes conducted by Panjiva.”

Having engineered similar technologies at CenTradeX, I can tell you that it is not easy.  I will also state, based upon the results set that I evidenced during the Panjiva demo, that they do a rather remarkable job in the normalization process.  From what I have witnessed thus far, no other TI provider, with the possible exception of PIERS, compares.

Changes in the make-up of sourcing “market share” can be viewed as well.

Panjiva Part 3: Connecting the Dots in the World of Global Sourcing

The following list of third-party data sources was graciously provided by Katelyn Henry of Version 2.0 Communications, Panjiva’s PR firm. The reason I requested and now publish this litany of information sources that Panjiva has connected to is because the normalization of the Customs data and “connecting the dots” are two of the most important aspects of transforming data into intelligence. In those regards, Panjiva has done an excellent job.


  • U.S. Department of Homeland Security provides bill of lading information for all shipments that arrive in U.S. ports.
  • U.S. Census Bureau provides trade flow statistics.


  • is the world’s leading online business directory dedicated to responsible and sustainable suppliers globally.
  • MADE-BY aims to expand the market for clothing which is manufactured in a sustainable manner by helping fashion brands clean up their production processes.
  • Social Accountability International (SAI) is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving workplaces and communities by developing and implementing social responsibility standards and assisting brands, retailers and suppliers in meeting labor and human rights objectives.
  • Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production is an independent non-profit organization dedicated to the certification of lawful, humane and ethical manufacturing throughout the world, based on 12 Production Principles focusing on compliance with local laws, workplace regulations, universal workers’ rights, the environment, customs rules and


  • CUSTOMS Info provides the most comprehensive information on companies and individuals on Denied Party Lists (DPLs) maintained by US Government
  • EDDI, Inc. is the most extensive database of known and suspected diverters, counterfeiters and their accomplices in the world, incorporating derogatory information on over 30,000 companies in the US and overseas.


  • D&B has delivered trusted business credit information for over 150 years.
  • DP Information Group (DP Info) is Singapore’s leading credit and business information bureau.
  • Experian Business Information Services partners with organizations to establish and strengthen customer relationships, enabling them to mitigate risk and improve
  • China Export & Credit Insurance Corporation (SINOSURE) With the most active and accurate information nationwide, SINOSURE’s database of Chinese companies contains business information on more than 6.5 million Chinese enterprises, and continues to expand at a rapid pace.


  • Bureau Veritas is a world leader in conformity assessment and certification services.
  • TriVista is an independent provider of Supply Chain, Quality and Risk Management services for manufacturers, importers, and exporters of commercial, industrial and consumer products.


  • Jigsaw is a leading provider of business information and data services that uniquely leverages user-generated content contributed by its global business-to-business community of 1.2 million members.


  • China Council for the Promotion of International Trade (CCPIT) established in 1952 is the largest institution for the promotion of foreign trade in China.
  • is the largest exclusively home furnishing manufacturers directory.
  • Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC) was established in 1966 as a statutory organization with a mission to create business opportunities for Hong Kong
  • Messe Frankfurt is Germany’s leading trade fair organizer, with 450 million euros in sales and more than 1,700 active employees worldwide.
  • Sourcing at MAGIC is the largest and most comprehensive fashion sourcing event in North America, representing over 700 exhibitors from more than 40
The next article will look at Panjiva’s processes of normalization the U.S. Customs data.

Panjiva has created a slick utility called “trend-spotting” which uses Trade Statistics to look for significant changes in the market

Panjiva Part 2: A TI Product with a Clever Mix of Art & Engineering

There are three very important aspects of any Trade Intelligence application: Access, Integration and Delivery.  These elements aid users in accessing, understanding and applying the trade information they need, when they need it, to make better, more informed business decisions.

Trade data is obtuse.  Hard to decipher.  Hard to make sense of.  Hard to see value in.

International Trade Data – particularly U.S. Customs Manifest data and U.S. Census statistical data – is not collected to help you, the end-user, source products, gather information on your competitors, or prospect for new clients.  By and large, it is collected by our government as a by-product of their attempts to monitor and control international trade transactions  all for purposes of national security and taxes (tariffs).

Integration: It is the job of your friendly neighborhood TI provider, like Panjiva, to take this rather obtuse data, clean it up, make it presentable and put it together with other data in a way in which you can do something useful.  In that regard, Panjiva has done some rather interesting things both in the areas of normalization (cleaning it up) and in integration or “connecting the dots”.  They interconnect handfuls of third-party databases in ways that provide essential value added additions to the fundamental or primary U.S. Customs Waterborne Import Manifest (BOL) data.

Access and Delivery: In addition to overall smarts, money, a clear business objective and latching onto an important market niche that perfectly matches the inherent strengths that are able to be unearthed from the U.S. Customs data, the technologists at Panjiva, led by co-founder James Psota and lead engineer Timothy Garnett (both mega-tech geeks with MIT Computer Science Masters) have crafted an extraordinary “tight” (excellent, cool, awesome) product.

As an artist /engineer myself, I appreciate beauty and excellence when I encounter it, including exceptionally designed and engineered technology.  An important aspect of well-crafted technology is that the components fit sleekly and efficiently together and contribute to the overall purpose and function for which they were created.  Panjiva’s interface is designed to help U.S. Manufacturers source products overseas.  The multifarious data and programming elements of their application seem to play well together and contribute that purposeful design.

As slick as the interface may be, it still comes back to data though.  In the next two articles we’ll focus in turn on Panjiva’s normalization processes and third-party data sources.

After vetting search results, you can focus on a specific potential supplier

Panjiva Part 1: A TI Platform with a Singular Business Purpose

I was surprised and impressed on many levels walking through the Panjiva Trade Intelligence Platform with founder Josh Green.

I had written an earlier piece about Panjiva a couple months ago entitled “Bridging the Continental Divides Between Buyers and Sellers?” so I knew that the key folks had come from the crème de la crème of academia – Harvard, MIT, Dartmouth- and had been successful apprehending both angel and equity investments.  So I knew they were all smart and well endowed.  Don’t you just hate that!

Word on the streets was generally positive.  A cursory review of their website, promotional material and social media updates leave a good impression.  You can tell they are on the ball and “have their stuff together” as a company.  Notably, Panjiva was/is the only top tier TI provider that focuses on one singular market segment and business application, i.e. sourcing.

PIERS has a handful of products: Prospects & StatsPlus (which they acquired from CenTradeX last year) as well as MyPiers, iPiers, Piers TI and Piers Trade Finance which tend to be geared toward particular market strata.  Prospects, as the name implies, is primarily a prospecting tool.  Datamyne, Zepol and Import Genius sell all-purpose applications, trying the “one size fits all” approach.

Panjiva focuses on sourcing, period.  Their website is designed around telling that story.  Two prominent navigational tabs point prospects to either “For Buyers” (those sourcing) or “For Sellers” (those who want to be sourced).  Their pitch to buyers (importers) is elaborate and convincing.

In accordance with Panjiva’s business objective and market niche in the sourcing world, they have apprehended over a dozen third party data sources that they connect (with various degrees of success) to the daily U.S. Customs data feeds.

I admit, after going through their interface and digging into the details behind the scenes, I have become convinced that Panjiva has- by far and away- the very best trade intelligence product on the market today for certain types of U.S. importers (those who are sourcing products and components being shipped via waterborne transport from factories overseas, i.e. non NAFTA countries).  Obviously, that was their clear and defined business objective and that is what they have accomplished, for which they deserve kudos, and because of which they will most certainly garner increasing market share.

In several subsequent articles, I’ll “go under the hood” to examine the particulars that developed the above perspective.

Sample of Panjiva Search Screen. It all starts with the right question.

Zepol, Part 4: Setting the Standard for Standardization & Success

In the previous three Zepol articles, I have extolled the incredible speed of their search engine as well as praised their elegant, well-designed user interface.  In addition, they seem to have consistently invested in product development and infrastructure.  Whereas they were initially the newcomer and rouge to the trade intelligence field, they have established themselves as elder statesmen.

Notwithstanding, in my opinion, there are two major areas of improvement needed, not only to withstand the onslaught of new competitors arriving monthly but also to gain market share among the other four top-tier TI providers.  Namely, better standardization of the manifest data itself as well as integration of other pertinent data sources.  These enhancements are not optional they are mandatory.

Presently, within the blindingly fast search results there are many iterations for the same shipper (foreign supplier) and consignee (U.S. importer).  In addition, NVOCCs and other transportation providers frequently show up as either the buyers (importers) or the sellers (shippers).  Hence, some potential business applications are askew:  validation of prospective foreign sources based upon shipment count, competitive analysis of U.S. importers, and trend analysis of shipments based upon any designated criteria.  These are distorted by the lack of rigorous standardization of the underlying data.

This issue is not limited to Zepol by any means.  Every Trade Intelligence Provider struggles with it.  Some have developed better methods than others. Only two companies out there do it with any measure of success. Both are utilizing third-party company databases plus advanced algorithms to refine the data.  Most don’t employ any advanced standardization procedures at all.  At CenTradeX, we developed arguably the best parsing, standardization and integration processes out there, but it took many years and hundreds of thousands of dollars to accomplish this.  It was an obsession for a decade.  It’s not easy.

In the other area of improvement, integration of other pertinent data sources, Zepol is clearly heading in the right direction with TradeView.  Contrary to their initially held position to only serve up U.S. Customs data, Zepol has added U.S. Census (Statistical) data.  What is especially notable is that they utilize virtually the same user interface for TradeView as TradeIQ.  It’s a fairly seamless and painless transition from searching and reporting on manifest data to doing the same with statistical data. This is no small accomplishment since the two databases are vastly different.

The real key and subsequent challenge will be to connect these two disparate silos of data to one another in significant ways that provide additional dimensionality and richness.  There could also be some interesting results from marrying their new offering, Compliance Monitor with TradeView, but at this point, a potential relationship seems fuzzy at present.

I’ll end this series by recounting my comment about TradeIQ.  Did I mention how freakin’ fast the darn thing is?  I really can’t get over it.  Again, if you want an idea of just how fast, check out the videos on Part 1 of this series, Zepol, Part 1: Fast, Faster, Fastest… Freakin’ Crazy Fast Search Engine. If you are interested in discovering the features and respective pricing of each of their subscription options, feel free to download this Spec Sheet. maintains an extensive video library wherein a dozen of Zepol’s instructional videos can be found. Zepol also maintains one of the better blogs out there.

Trade View results screen shows how U.S. Census statistical data can be used to identify potential source countries for a particular product. 

Census Statistical Data can also be used to spot sourcing trends for products and components.

Zepol, Part 3: Trade IQ – An Elegant, Well Designed User Interface

TradeIQ is Zepol’s original, primary and best-known product.  It’s the searching and reporting UI atop the U.S. Customs data.  TradeView uses the very same utility, and has the same look and feel, except that it sits atop U.S. Census (statistical) data.  Compliance Monitor, their newest offering, is simply email updates on specified Harmonized Codes of all pertinent changes.  There is no UI attached.

It is obvious that TradeIQ has seen a lot of improvement over their initial product launched in 2004.  Besides being incredibly fast, upon which attribute I expounded upon greatly in this initial series, Zepol, Part 1: Fast, Faster, Fastest… Freakin’ Crazy Fast Search Engine, TradeIQ has an elegant, well-designed user interface.  Like, Paul himself, it’s very straightforward, clear and concise.  The logic is easy to understand and utilize.  As far as utility to search and fetch manifest records is concerned, it is my personal favorite.

The search array spanning the top of the UI is neatly organized. Each search field offers users the opportunity to progressively drill down to the specificity they require.  For instance, if I wanted to look up shipments of China manufactured mopeds, shipped via Shanghai to Charleston to consignees in Tennessee, it might look like this:

  • Product: Scooters, 50cc, Scooter, Motorcycle
  • Shipper: World (all) > Asia > China >
  • Consignee > North America > Southeast > Tennessee
  • Intl. Port> World (all)> Asia > China > Shanghai
  • U.S. Port> Southeast > South Carolina > Charleston

If I wanted to broaden the search, let’s say to include all shipments disembarking China headed for Tennessee via any Southeastern port, all I need to do is make 2 additional clicks. The first click back up the “Intl. Port” search tree (China) and the second click two steps back on the U.S. Port (Southeast).  In this method, users easily refine and change the scope of their search.  The logic has remained the same since Zepol first launched their product.  The only difference is that now there are cool buttons instead of links.

The overall layout, user interactivity, organization of search results and graphic displays have much improved.  Conveniently arranged tabs and buttons provide users easy access to various views of the retrieved data. As would be expected, searches (and corresponding results) can be saved and exported (Excel or PDF).  In addition, users can schedule updated reports to be generated and emailed as desired.  Four selected reports serve as the default view for a respective user’s Dashboard.

Sample refined illustrating Shipments of mopeds into the U.S. by various Chinese suppliers between 2003 through 2011.

TradeIQ Profile Report conveniently summarizes search results in “top five” U.S. consignees, foreign shippers, Ports, Carriers, etc.

Zepol, Part 2: Company Background, Evolution & Competitive Position

Zepol was the first company, other than PIERS of course, to offer a commercial searching/reporting utility to atop the U.S. Customs Waterborne Import (BOL) data.  Their voluminous database of 100,000,000 records extends back to January 1, 2003.  With only a smattering of sales in 2004 and 2005, Zepol really began to emerge as a player in 2006.

I remember meeting with Paul in Minneapolis early on.  He struck me as a solid businessman.  His style was clear, concise and savvy.  We explored cost sharing the daily expense of the daily Customs CD’s. On the surface, it seemed plausible.

Our business plans and prospective clients didn’t overlap much.  At CenTradeX our approach was developing custom integrated solutions (utilizing multiple statistical, company, transactional and referential databases) and Zepol’s straightforward business plan was to exclusively offer the U.S. Customs data with a superior search/reporting utility at 20% discount over PIERS base product (which at the time ran around $5,000 to $6,000 annually).  Their singular data product was/is called “TradeIQ”.

I also remember checking in with my business associates at PIERS.  At the time, they really didn’t think Zepol represented any competition whatsoever.  PIERS maintained a comfortable monopoly that they believed was unchallengeable.  My, how things have changed in just 5 years! Five years represents a whole generation, technologically speaking.

We (CenTradeX) never did the deal with them.  We couldn’t agree on the particulars of reselling processed data, and we already had a data partner in China.  I think the new management at PIERS closely monitors the comings and goings of all their competitors. Zepol, recanted on their position to exclusively offer U.S. Customs data.  Their “TradeView” product now offers their same user interface to search and report on monthly U.S. Statistical data (with data extending back into 2007).

Whereas Zepol first competed on price alone (and a slicker search UI). With the emergence of Datamyne, Panjiva, Import Genius along with dozens of ultra cheap competitors coming on the scene, they have been forced to evolve into a different company.  Paul emphasized that they have heavily invested in infrastructure and improving their product as well as in customer service in an attempt to bring additional value to the equation.

Most TI providers see that there is nothing to be gained by a “race to the bottom” wherein products compete on price alone.  It’s about bringing true value to the end-user.  It’s about creating solutions, not selling data.  It’s about looking farther and adapting faster than your competitors.

Zepol’s Home Screen. Entry points to Products TradeIQ and TradeView.

Zepol’s very cool Dashboard providing users four “big picture” graphic overviews of saved searches. Fully customizable by the respective user. Click on the picture to view a larger version.

Zepol, Part 1: Fast, Faster, Fastest… Freakin’ Crazy Fast Search Engine

In this first of four articles on Zepol, I will dispense of the usual company background, forego superfluous narrative that indirectly ties my extensive knowledge and experience in Trade Intelligence to the subject as well as and any other attempt to subtlety impress and go straight to today’s main point.   Zepol’s TI interface is fast.  It is really, really fast.  It is incredibly, spectacularly, spine tingly fast.

As is my M.O., during the product demo provided by Zepol President Paul Rasmussen, we dispensed with the canned presentation and went off the beaten path to look up Scooters with foreign suppliers and corresponding U.S. importers of under 50cc moped style motorcycles.  The default search scope is set to hunting within the last 30 days of Manifest records.  In a second or two we got the results.  O.K., not too bad, pretty fast.  However, I wanted to see how the search engine would perform when really put to the test.

I asked Paul to extend the search from the very first manifest record, back in January 2003 to the very last record in September 2011… that’s around 100,000,000 bills of lading!  Keep in mind we’re searching through multiple textual fields (“Products” and “Marks & Numbers”) for each BOL using text terms: “Moped”, “scooter” and “50cc”.  We’re not talking about numerical fields with a singular numerical criterion.

BAM!  3-4 SECONDS later we’ve privy to over 6,000 shipments – with corresponding detail if needed – on the representative international trade transactions involving imported mopeds.  WOW.

I refrained from inquiring about the specific alchemy that created the magic.  What combination of server arrays, multi-core processors, RAM, query optimization and full text indexing was employed to do this? Paul credits co-founder Jeff Wilson and his tech team.

A couple of illustrations come to mind that may communicate this amazing data feat better.

I went with my eldest son to the Brickyard 400.  I remember pressing our faces next to the racetrack fence as scores of NASCAR speedsters zipped by at 200 mph.  The visceral memory of sheer speed and power is unforgettable.

In the final scene of the movie Secretariat, the remarkable story of the 1973 triple crown winning race horse, said underdog (rather under-horse) soundly beats the favored “alpha dog” (alpha-horse) by an astounding 31 lengths (still holds the record for speed and margin of victory).

Other notable examples could include Bruce Lee’s unmatched speed performing various martial arts maneuvers, Superman’s counter clockwise planetary orbits to save Lois Lane, and the Enterprise when it hits the warp speed button.

Now maybe you get the picture of just how fast Zepol’s search engine goes.  Zoom, Zoom!

Datamyne, Part 4: A Trade Analyst’s Dream Machine & WTD Editorial Note

Last year we ran several articles on the TI Provider Datamyne, Lisa Wallerstein the VP Product Development /Marketing and the announcement of their new interface, Datamyne 2.0.  In this last week’s series of articles, I focused on the specifics of their TI product following an in-depth demo and review.

I must admit that recently, while making my rounds with each top-tier TI provider and getting a deeper look at their products, my viewpoint is changing.

What I am discovering is that there is no one best product and TI provider out there.  Each has its own particular approach, technologies, interface, data sources, value added services, and pricing model that make it the best solution for certain niche or target markets.

After reviewing Datamyne’s interface, I can confidently state that it represents perhaps the best analytical user interface by which to “slice and dice” the U.S. Customs data that I have seen thus far.  It’s a trade analyst’s dream machine.

If you’re looking for a robust TI product that is straightforward and relatively easy to use by which to perform heavy-duty analytics on the U.S. Customs Data, you definitely need to check out Datamyne.

WTD Editorial Note: I’d also like to address an important issue that has come up on several occasions.  I have been accused by some of being overly biased toward PIERS.  In a number of articles and in handfuls of instances it has been noted that I have stated that PIERS products are the best.  By and large, I think the accusation has been well founded.

To be honest, one of the reasons for my bias is that the TI products we developed at CenTradeX (IMHO) were vastly superior (in aspects of innovation, UI access, data integration, graphic delivery and performance) in comparison to any other TI product. PIERS acquired these assets last year.  Furthermore, the team of superb technologists I worked closely with for many years also migrated to PIERS.  Therefore my high esteem has been transferred or credited to PIERS posthumously, so to speak.

Secondly though, having dealt closely with the new management team at UBM Global Trade /PIERS for many months during the due diligence process and afterwards (being somewhat privy to their “thought engineering” and witnessing the changes they are implementing) I have gained tremendous respect for them.  Further, they have several proprietary databases that are “untouchable” by competitors.  They have roots in history and experience that go back over 100 years.  They have worked with Customs data along with the nuances of refinement and standardization for many decades.

So, with regards to my previously perceived biases, I hereby recant my previous position that there is ONE best company and ONE consummate Trade Intelligence platform.  Vive la différence!

Datamyne, Part 3: Micro to Macro and Back in 60 Seconds or Less

One of the coolest things about Datamyne’s data mining interface is the drag and drop feature for adding or subtracting fields of data to the display and export processes.  Similar to creating and viewing Pivot tables in Excel, the UI provides users the ability to dimensionalize their perspective of the data and flip it one way then another.  Again, perfect for analysts who require more complex manipulation of the data.

My personal preference when working with or presenting trade data is first of all to get a big picture view, then logically drill down to finer detail and greater specificity.  This ability is absent in most TI products on the market.  Datamyne’s interface provides that functionality superbly.  It allows you to get both the macro view and the micro view as well.

One of the biggest difficulties I labored with in developing trade intelligence platforms is the tension between making data easy to access and to understand on the one side and providing the detail and specificity on the other.  Although Datamyne’s data mining utility is well crafted, it is still rather complex and fairly intimidating at first glance.  It’s about as easy as something complex can be.  Heck, all the buttons and control options on most video games confuse me.

Another important feature is that once users create and perfect their queries, they can save and retrieve them for future use.  In addition, they can set-up alerts that will automatically email them when certain criteria are triggered, such as when new shipments occur or new suppliers or competitors for their designated product enter the scene.

Not surprisingly, Datamyne’s customers are larger companies with complex supply chains who need to perform custom analyses.  To accommodate this market niche, Datamyne provides more extensive customer support and training.  They are the full service solution in comparison with many of the self-service e-commerce type conveyers of U.S. Customs data that have recently proliferated the marketplace.

Other competitive strengths that were mentioned to me include:

  • The best overall value with prices starting as low as $199 per month for access to the raw unfiltered, non standardized U.S. Customs manifest data.
  • Latin American Coverage:  Datamyne has its roots, data center and most employees south of the border (Uruguay). They offer transactional data for many South American and Central American countries.
  • Statistical data gathered and disseminated for almost 50 countries, updated monthly.
  • Versatile and (relatively) easy to use user interface.

All in all, it represents a very good data mining utility for trade analysts to employ to slice and dice and serve up U.S. Customs data.

Datamyne Data Mining Utility provides capacity to quickly get the big picture as well as drill down on a specific Bill of Lading

Datamyne’s way too cool Drag and Drop feature that allows trade analysts to create pivot table like views of the data