US port portals enter new markets with new features

US port portals enter new markets with new features

Port of Los Angeles.

The concept of a single electronic platform for port users is gaining momentum with truckers, beneficial cargo owners (BCOs), and other port users, with GE Transportation’s Port Optimizer at the Port of Los Angeles and the Port of Long Beach achieving breakthroughs as a pacesetter. (Above: the Port of Los Angeles.) Photo credit: Shutterstock.com.

GE Transportation and Advent Intermodal Solutions are adding new features to their port portal products and expanding their services to new ports as the concept of a single electronic platform for port users gains momentum with truckers, beneficial cargo owners (BCOs), and other port users.

Building upon the lessons learned from last year’s pilot project at the APM Terminal in Los Angeles, GE Transportation introduced last week its Port Optimizer software to neighboring Long Beach, adding features such as match-backs and geo-fencing to improve fluidity in the inland supply chain.

Advent, which offers intermodal solutions in New York-New Jersey, Los Angeles-Long Beach, Oakland, the Northwest Seaport Alliance of Seattle-Tacoma, and Port Everglades, Florida, is making its products — including trucker appointments, fee payments, drayage truck registry, dashboard metrics, and cargo key performance indicators — available to additional users throughout its network.

Port portals connect shipping lines, marine terminals, truckers, railroads, and equipment providers in a particular gateway through a single platform. Each segment of the supply chain is served by dozens of technology providers whose products improve efficiency within their particular space. However, BCOs, truckers, and other vendors must navigate through numerous websites to get the specific information they seek. The port portal allows access through a single platform. “It involves fewer clicks to the different systems,” said Jennifer Schopfer, vice president and general manager of transport logistics at GE Transportation.

Pilot portal at Port of Los Angeles

Since launching a pilot project last year at the Port of Los Angeles, GE Transportation has concentrated most of its efforts in Southern California. Proving the effectiveness of a community portal in the largest US port complex, which will handle about 16 million TEU this year, could provide a template for other ports looking to use technology to improve cargo fluidity.

“Moving goods more efficiently through this important gateway is the key to accommodating future cargo growth. The data collected during this pilot of some of our busiest terminals could help to accomplish this,” said Lou Anne Bynum president of the Long Beach Harbor Commission. Long Beach and Los Angeles, like most major gateways, are contending with increasingly complex supply chains caused by realignment of carrier vessel-sharing alliances, degraded vessel schedule integrity, weather events and congested terminals in Asia and Europe, and rail service issues.  

GE Transportation and the Port of Los Angeles last year launched the port portal at APM Terminals. Initial users were Maersk Line and Mediterranean Shipping Co., as well as a handful of truckers and BCOs. Regular users now vary over time between 30 and 60, and with the latest expansion efforts “by the end of the year we want to have several hundreds,” Schopfer said.

Users of the Port Optimizer software provide data that is shared by others in the supply chain to gain improved shipment visibility from the origin in another country, to the US marine terminal, and on to the importer’s warehouse. Although much of this information is already accessible through individual technology providers via their websites, Port Optimizer seeks to become the single platform for access.

The latest rollout connects GeoStamp and MatchBack Systems to Port Optimizer. GeoStamp has been used by truckers in Southern California for the past two years to gain real-time visibility to truck queues at terminal gates and congestion-causing delays within the terminals. MatchBack Systems facilitates street turns, allowing importers and exporters to exchange containers while avoiding the delays involved in returning equipment to busy marine terminals.

Port Optimizer — a system of systems

The Port Optimizer does not replace the use of existing technologies throughout the supply chain, but instead enhances their effectiveness by eliminating the need to move from website to website to access those tools, in effect becoming a system of systems. “We want to integrate with different technology providers to improve the user experience,” Schopfer said.

Advent has expanded its eModal appointments in Long Beach to all three terminals operated by SSA Marine, said Allen Thomas, chief strategy officer at Advent. The product also allows truckers the ability to pay all SSA fees via eModal. Making appointments and paying fees upon arrival at the terminal can take 10 minutes to 30 minutes. “By transferring to eModal, the trucker is allowed immediate entry instead of waiting for the EDI message,” Thomas said.

The port portal concept is built upon sharing advance notice of cargo arrival so BCOs, truckers, and service providers can marshall the labor and equipment they will need when the vessel arrives in port. The importance of accessing advance notice of cargo arrival 10 days to 14 days in advance is especially important today, given the poor on-time arrival performance of ocean carriers in the major east-west trade lanes, which has been as low as 35 percent this year.

Mega-ships magnify need for visibility for all stakeholders

Port congestion is also a problem as container discharges from mega-ships with capacities of 10,000-TEU and greater can overwhelm a marine terminal’s yard. Ships of that size now call regularly at ports on both coasts. The complexity of port logistics is also impacted by spot chassis shortages and rail service issues, and these conditions call for a platform that allows BCOs and truckers real-time visibility to shipment information and port conditions each day.

Marine terminal operators in Los Angeles-Long Beach this year have encountered delays in train arrivals and departures, especially those terminals served by the Union Pacific, which has acknowledged crew and rail car shortages. Port Optimizer allows BCOs and terminal operators to access notifications of train arrivals to build intermodal trains more efficiently. “We’re working with the railroads and the lines to facilitate more data sharing for both sides,” Schopfer said.

After more than a year of testing the pilot at a single terminal in Los Angeles, GE Transportation has now expanded Port Optimizer to all six terminals in Los Angeles and to three of the six terminals in Long Beach: Long Beach Container Terminal, Total Terminals International, and International Transportation Service. GE Transportation is adding new features at a rate of about once each month.

Advent is expanding its service offerings up the West Coast and in New York-New Jersey and Port Everglades, Florida. Advent has expanded its eModal Trucker Check module from Seattle to four terminals in Tacoma, and has expanded its Oakland community portal project to include dashboard metrics and cargo KPIs, as well as integrated turn times for all gates. Advent has also expanded its eModal portal for customers in Port Everglades. Advent serves all of the terminals in New York-New Jersey, and continues to upgrade the service offerings through TIPS, the Terminal Information Portal System, Thomas said.

Technology as key to increased productivity per real estate allocated

With US containerized imports projected to increase more than 5 percent to 6 percent over last year’s record performance, ports must turn increasingly to technology and process improvements to handle the growing cargo volumes that are stressing the international supply chain. With land dedicated to port expansion at a premium or non-existent in many gateways, ports must increase the density of their operations, and technology is seen as the most efficient way to move growing container volumes on the existing footprint.

Supply chain optimization through the use of technology and process improvements was a focus of the Federal Maritime Commission under Mario Cordero, who is now executive director of the Port of Long Beach. The Port Optimizer is expected to play an important role in this effort in Southern California. “We are always searching for new means toward improving operational efficiencies in the supply chain as it moves through this port complex. We look forward to observing Port Optimizer in action,” Cordero said.

The ultimate goal of Port Optimizer and Advent is to incorporate predictive analytics into their platforms. Schopfer said the industry has yet to develop true predictive analytics software, but allowing all members of the supply chain to gain visibility to shipments from the foreign port of exit to the US terminal and on to the import warehouse is a step in that direction.

Contact Bill Mongelluzzo at bill.mongelluzzo@ihsmarkit.com and follow him on Twitter: @billmongelluzzo

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