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LA Port And GE Evaluating Information Portal Results
Kinghood International Logistics Inc | Updated: Jul 10, 2017


Supply chain complexity is well illustrated in the maritime shipping sector, which is defined by multiple parties spanning different locations, functions, and transportation modes. This complexity belies how information is managed and shared in this sector, however. Manual processes, spreadsheets, inefficient means of communication, and lack of visibility is not uncommon, making the maritime shipping sector a perfect candidate to test an information portal.

   This is being done now at the Port of Los Angeles, which partnered with GE Transportation to develop a maritime information portal. A two-month pilot launched in May, and concluded in June. Officials are currently evaluating the initial results.

  Chris Chase, marketing manager at the Port of Los Angeles, attributes the complexity of the maritime shipping sector to a number of factors. For starters, every shipping line and terminal has its own operating system, and these systems are not designed to be interoperable. Furthermore, many of these systems are old, making it even harder to integrate with other systems.

  At the same time, the maritime shipping industry is facing new challenges in the form of larger vessels, carrier consolidation, and vessel sharing alliances, putting extreme pressure on ports, terminals, logistics providers, and others to keep cargo moving quickly through the supply chain, while meeting the demands from BCOs, particularly reefer shippers, for accurate, real-time information.

  Chase recalls when the massive CMA CGM Benjamin Franklin called at the Port of Los Angeles in December 2015. The 18,000-TEU vessel was the largest to visit North America at the time, and it spurred the idea for a maritime information portal. GE Transportation was chosen to partner on the project, which got underway late last year.

   Jennifer Schopfer, vice president of transport logistics at GE Transportation, agrees that larger vessels will require greater throughput at ports. At the same time, she adds that software and technology, especially cloud-based solutions, are driving interest in the portal.        

“In general, technology is more readily available today, and more economical. People are also more comfortable leveraging technology,” she said.

  Schopfer also credits increased competition throughout the supply chain for driving adoption of technology solutions. “People can really get behind a tool that improves efficiency,” she said.

   The juxtaposition of disparate systems and increased demands prompted the idea “to find a way for these systems to talk to each other, and to aggregate information and present it to end-users on a single platform,” Chase said. It’s been a sizable challenge thus far, he said, “because there is a lot of competing information out there, and many of the processes are still very manual.”

  A handful of entities participated in the first pilot program. Data from US Customs and Border Protection serves as the starting point, Chase explained. “We’re taking data at the point when the shipping lines submit their manifest to Customs,” which is then matched up with data from shipping lines. This starting point — 10 days to two weeks or so prior to vessel arrival at the port — helps others in the supply chain improve their planning.

  “Obviously, if you’re a refrigerated cargo customer, this is valuable because it gives you more visibility and tools to make better planning decisions for time- and temperature-sensitive cargoes,” he said.

  The list of participants in the first pilot includes Customs; a half dozen BCOs (Home Depot, Lowe’s, and others); about 10 trucking companies; UP and BNSF railroads; chassis providers; and Maersk, Mediterranean Shipping Co., and APM Terminals.

   Only one vessel per week participated in the first two-month pilot. Chase anticipates a second pilot will launch with more people, cargo and stakeholders, such as customs brokers. 

  “There’s so much still to learn. It’s one thing to have a single ship’s cargo, but entirely different when you have to deal with 100,000 or so containers that come into Southern California every week. That requires different procedures, so we’re still learning and trying to set the stage for the next step,” he said.

  Chase reports that the feedback has been good. The portal is helping drive visibility and efficiency. For instance, displaying information on a single screen, which minimizes time searching for information or toggling back and forth between multiple screens.

  “I feel like we’ve gotten a few things on the right track, while a few other things we thought would be useful haven’t quite panned out. So, we’re re-evaluating as we go forward. We’re constantly working on this,” he said.

  GE Transportation’s Schopfer offers another consideration. “We’re asking ocean carriers, BCOs, railroads, terminal operators, and truckers to share data and plan together. Yet this industry, similar to other industries, has a problem sharing that kind of data with one another. It requires work. It means opening up your kimono. That’s one of the challenges we encountered, and it’s a reason why a project such as this took so long to materialize.”

  Nonetheless, she’s hopeful that the design of the pilot program — a sampling of supply chain stakeholders that are representative of the larger industry — will yield results that will attract buy-in from others.

  It’s too soon to know if the portal will be offered on a subscription basis or other type of model. Schopfer said the pilot programs will help determine the value of the portal, measured in improved throughput at the port, improved inventory management, and other benefits.

  The Port of Los Angeles’s Chase said different models will be evaluated. At the same time, there are obviously costs associated with operating the portal, “and these will continue if we keep it up and running.”

  Right now, the focus remains on creating a solution that “can tie information together from different sources, make it relevant, and make it accurate, and share that information about the various supply chain stakeholders that intersect here at the waterfront,” he said.


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