US shipping industry awaits data-sharing portal

US shipping industry awaits data-sharing portal

Shaving one day from the supply chain spread over thousands of shipments can save BCOs millions of dollars a year in cost. Photo credit: Shutterstock.

NEWARK — The marine terminal, trucking, and warehouse sectors are realizing incremental improvements in cargo velocity, but the industry needs a data-sharing portal that provides beneficial cargo owners (BCOs) with the end-to-end visibility they need to manage their inventory.

“We recognize this black hole in the supply chain. It is a weakness,” David Widdifield, director of retail solutions at Crane Worldwide Logistics, told the annual JOC Port Performance conference Dec. 13 in Newark. The answer could be port community portals into which individual platforms are plugged in, a so-called “system of systems” such as is being piloted by the Port of Los Angeles and GE Transportation, or a privately funded national portal as proposed by the Federal Maritime Commission.

Until now the transportation industry has been satisfied with incremental gains because even small improvements in productivity can produce impressive results. Shaving one day from the supply chain spread over thousands of shipments can save BCOs millions of dollars per year in cost, said Marc Held, CEO and co-founder of Armada, a just-in-time logistics platform.

Truck dispatchers that leverage technology such as the InfoMagnus GeoStamp product for real-time data on lines at the gate and bottlenecks in the marine terminal can reduce each truck visit by 5 to 10 minutes, or 10 percent, in Los Angeles-Long Beach, where the average turn time is about 85 minutes. This becomes a force multiplier for the port complex considering the more than 30,000 gate moves per day in the harbor, said Weston LaBar, executive director of the Harbor Trucking Association.

GeoStamp can geofence an entire terminal and creates geofences at key locations visited by trucks within the terminal. The electronic breadcrumb trail that is created enables the motor carrier to trace the progress of the trucks, and any delays that occur due to terminal congestion, chassis shortages, or out-gate issues. The data are valuable for real-time use during each truck trip, and, when aggregated over a period of time, can provide historical data on the performance of each terminal and can pinpoint where the delays most often occur, LaBar said.

Technology that provides visibility in the harbor environment can enhance efficiency processes such as extended gates, trucker appointment systems, and building peel-off piles for designated BCOs and their truckers. When combined with mobile apps for the drivers, BCOs get “amazing visibility” into the supply chain, said Robert Haney, senior product manager at Cargomatic, which connects drivers and shippers in real time.

As far as the BCO is concerned, all such tools contribute to answering the ultimate question that every shipper has everyday, Haney said: “Where is my stuff and when is it going to arrive?”

The warehouse is playing an increasingly important role in alerting the shipper as to cargo delivery, Widdifield said, because the warehouse is the link between the overseas factory, the marine terminal, and the BCO on the receiving end of the move. Achieving that end-to-end visibility is the goal. “We integrate all of this,” he  said.

However, as the technologies available to supply chain logisticians multiply, the complexity of the supply chain increases. The large import distribution center feeds the mid-size regional consolidation facility, which feeds the smaller sourcing warehouse in the urban core that delivers packages to the end consumer. “What are our warehousing needs and what are we trying to achieve? Faster, smaller shipments,” Widdifield said. In today’s world of rapid fulfillment, real-time tracking on 15-minute cycles is too slow, he said.

Although each sector of the supply chain can point to its successes in contributing to improved cargo velocity, participants hesitate to share the data across the entire supply chain to produce the large velocity gains that all industry stakeholders say is needed. As vessels get larger and terminals handle container exchanges per vessel call that can easily be twice what they were five years ago on footprints that have not grown, the marine terminal is becoming more of a bottleneck for rather than a facilitator of cargo velocity.

There are small signs of data sharing. LaBar noted that marine terminals, initially skeptical of the GeoStamp data that exposed their weaknesses, now use the data to pinpoint their problem areas and take steps to correct the issues.

BCOs, carriers, a terminal operator, truckers, intermediaries, and railroads this past year have participated in the Port of Los Angeles-GE Transportation information portal that provides a single window through which supply chain participants can share shipment data in a secure environment. The pilot project has demonstrated that information on shipments that is available 10 days to two weeks before vessel arrival but has not been shared until a few days before arrival, can in fact be securely shared two weeks in advance, said Gene Seroka, executive director of the Port of Los Angeles. The information portal is now being taken port-wide, and could provide a model for other ports as well, he said.

Contact Bill Mongelluzzo at and follow him on Twitter: @billmongelluzzo.


Solving the black-hole in the ocean carrier industry data will not give BCO's the the final link in supply chain visibility. Reality is that their supply chain may start as far back as the supplier of the raw materials to make the products that they eventually provide to their customers, and there may be 25 or more steps in that process. And even if it is a rather "simple" buy from a supplier and move it to a geographic location to ultimately sell it to a customer, there are more entities involved than the ocean carrier and they only have partial access to all of those entities. The "ocean carrier" portal is a good thing, no doubt. It may help on the port terminal area communications gaps; it isn't THE solution to BCO's supply chain visibility issues.