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West Coast port platforms would give advanced cargo notice

Knowing exactly when cargo will arrive and be available in real time
is becoming critical to supply chain planning.
Photo credit: Port of Long Beach.

A planned West Coast platform that would be shared with US importers, ocean carriers, terminal operators, truckers, railroads, and equipment providers could enable those moving cargo through California ports to better prepare by giving them up to two weeks' notice.

Since most US ports are struggling to handle mega-ships, causing congestion flare ups, the efforts under way in Los Angeles and Oakland to accelerate cargo velocity are expected to be adopted, to various degrees, throughout the industry. The California portals are scalable to meet the needs of container ports on all coasts.

Through West Coast port efforts, importers, ocean carriers, terminal operators, truckers, railroads, and equipment providers will be able to digitally share shipment information up to two weeks before vessels arrive in port, eliminating many supply chain bottlenecks and moving shipments faster and more efficiently to beneficial cargo owner (BCO) warehouses.

The ports of Los Angeles and Oakland are partnering with technology providers to provide open platforms through which previously siloed information will be shared in a secure environment to the benefit of all port users. Two terminal operators in Long Beach will begin participating in the General Electric (GE) Transportation portal this year.

The goal of the Port of Los Angeles-GE Transportation and Port of Oakland-Advent Intermodal Solutions projects is to foster a culture change in an industry notorious for viewing supply chain data as proprietary. “This is a relay, not a sprint,” Noel Hacegaba, Long Beach managing director, commercial operations and chief commercial officer, told the 18th Annual TPM Conference in Long Beach. The Los Angeles portal was launched last year with limited participants, and this year it is being expanded to all Los Angeles users and to Long Beach.

Also last week, Oakland announced a partnership with Advent to introduce by mid-year a digital platform where port users can obtain personalized cargo status updates, check vessel schedules, pay freight-handling fees, and make trucker appointments. “This is the next big thing in global trade,” said Eric Napralla, senior project administrator. “It’s a common platform, one place where everyone can go to more easily view and direct their shipments,” he said.

Other ports, which share the same challenges of handling mega-ships and unprecedented cargo surges during each vessel call, are seeking information on the digital information portals. GE Transportation is discussing the Los Angeles portal with other ports, alerting them to the fact that 60 to 80 percent of what is being deployed in Southern California is usable elsewhere. “This is designed to be modular,” Jennifer Schopfer, vice president of transport logistics at GE Transportation Digital Solutions, told the TPM conference.

West Coast ports, which handle the largest vessels calling in North America — as large as 15,000 TEU capacity — have taken the lead in pulling all port users together. Gene Seroka, executive director of the Port of Los Angeles, said the three-and-a-half year journey involved seeking Federal Maritime Commission approval for information sharing among terminals and port users, identifying the black holes into which information falls, providing funding and nudging supply chain partners to share data. “It takes leadership. The Port of Los Angeles didn’t fear failure. If something doesn’t work, we get up and try again,” Seroka said.

Oakland saw a need to link its four terminals with port users to accelerate cargo flow. The goal is for BCOs to better manage their international supply chains and gain visibility into when their shipments will be ready for pick up, trucking companies will know exactly when to dispatch drivers, and terminal operators can better plan their labor and equipment needs. “They’ll only log into the portal once. Then they can navigate the entire port with a few simple clicks,” Napralla said.

Truckers are vocal advocates of digital platforms that simplify information gathering by providing dispatchers with a single window into shipment data. “The average trucker in Los Angeles-Long Beach views 40 websites a day,” said Weston LaBar, CEO of the Harbor Trucking Association. People are paying people to scrub websites,” he said. Citing a major goal of truckers, if the portal results in an increase in the ability of drivers to consistently achieve dual transactions (an export load or empty return to the terminal and an import load out), it will be of significant value to the drayage industry, LaBar said.

Schopfer said the port optimizer tool utilizes machine learning to detect patterns and develop prescriptive analytics to create a dynamic port environment. “We envision a day when you come to this system after missing an appointment and we can reroute you,” she said.

The port encourages all supply chain participants to express their needs and work with Los Angeles and GE Transportation to develop solutions, Seroka said. Helping truckers achieve dual transactions, facilitating development of a portwide appointment system, promoting chassis availability, and giving terminals insight into what is coming in by rail are the types of issues that stakeholders are seeking through the portal, he said.

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

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