Watch Now

Port of LA leader calls for industrywide digital transformation (with video)

“Digital transformation is a way to get our economy back on its feet and make it more resilient to future challenges,” says Gene Seroka in his keynote address opening American Shipper’s Global Trade Tech summit

With the Port of LA behind him, Executive Director Gene Seroka delivers the Global Trade Tech keynote address Wednesday. (Photo: Port of LA)

With his workplace, the Port of Los Angeles, providing the backdrop, Gene Seroka kicked off American Shipper’s Global Trade Tech summit Wednesday by calling for “bold steps in the digital transformation of the maritime industry.”

“Today’s challenges have introduced widespread uncertainty, created erratic trade flow and further spotlighted the need to reassess strategies. Indeed we are in the midst of challenging times. This pandemic has wreaked havoc on economies around the globe,” said Seroka, executive director of the largest container port in the Western Hemisphere.  

“We all must do whatever we can to fight it,” he said. “One way is to assure much-needed supplies are reaching the people that need them most. In March I was appointed by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti to be the city’s chief logistics officer concurrent with my duties here at the port. We quickly went to work, established Logistics Victory Los Angeles — or LOV LA — to marshal our city’s logistics and purchasing capabilities in an all-out effort to speed personal protective equipment to our medical and other front-line workers. 

“In April, faced with a dire need for N95 masks, LOV LA signed a contract with the iconic Honeywell Corporation to produce 24 million N95 masks over a two-year period. Nearly 800,000 of these masks have already been allocated at cost, 79 cents per unit plus tax, to local hospitals — no markup, no margin, a service of the city of Los Angeles,” Seroka said.  

He said to date LOV LA has distributed more than 1.5 million units of protective equipment and other supplies to over 30 Los Angeles-area hospitals and 28 skilled nursing facilities. 

“At its core, LOV LA is a humanitarian response to the disruption and breakdown of the global medical supply chain. But medical supplies are not the only global supply chain experiencing disruption. The present crisis has highlighted how both indispensable and fragile our industry is. More than ever we need to improve the resiliency of our supply chains. This requires bold steps in the digital transformation of the maritime industry to supply greater visibility, reliability and efficiency,” Seroka said.

He said the Port of LA has been leveraging information technology and data-driven insights in support of supply chain optimization since 2014. 

“It all starts with being responsible stewards of data. By respecting the proprietary nature of data in the maritime industry, we can create an industrywide culture that recognizes the value of data, capturing it and turning it into actionable insight,” Seroka said. “Internationally, there has been significant interest in combining data from different systems to optimize point-to-point routes in the global supply chain at large. As a result, ports around the world have joined a ‘smart ports’ movement powered by digitization.” 

The port and GE Transportation, a Wabtec company, co-created the Port Optimizer in 2016.

“It’s a port community system built on U.S. Customs data designed to harness critical supply chain elements on our containerized imports,” he explained. “Today, nine of the port’s top 10 carriers are now feeding data into the Optimizer. This digital port community system has given our supply chain partners secured, channeled access to real-time integrated data and insights in a single portal. It has improved line-of-sight visibility on cargo and enhanced predictability. Cargo efficiency and velocity can be improved because of better overall planning capabilities.”

Data protection has become increasingly important, Seroka said, noting that the Port of LA has had a cybersecurity operations center since 2014.

“We’ve also begun developing the next level of port protection. In the works is the first maritime sector cyber-resilient center designed to protect data flowing through our port community,” he said. 

“The pandemic has only heightened activity by opportunists. Since March of this year, unauthorized intrusion attempts are averaging roughly 40 million per month on our systems. That’s up nearly 50% from January alone. We all know that attempted intrusions and threats never stop. We have to stay one step ahead of the bad guys all the time. Through collaborative data monitoring, collection and analysis, this new center will have the capability of sharing threat information with port stakeholders. This will allow companies to prepare against malicious cyberattacks that could impact the cargo supply chain and disrupt the critical flow of goods,” Seroka said. 

He said the push for digital transformation needs to happen on an industrywide scale

“Let’s create the capability to provide secure, real-time data to cargo owners and their transportation service providers, and let’s activate it on a national — even global — scale. This would allow cargo owners, retailers, manufacturers, hospitals, agriculture producers and others to securely interface with multiple systems and get accurate, real-time data to drive their decision-making.

“Cargo owners would have greater control, allowing for better planning and succinct movement of goods. Transportation service providers would be better able to allocate labor and equipment,” Seroka said. “For the hospitals we currently serve through LOV LA, it would mean greater reliability on the source and arrival of critically needed personal protective equipment and medical supplies. For the farmers across America, this is about choice, a system that gives them the exception-management tools to be nimble and reroute their product in the event natural or man-made disruptions occur. 

“Digital transformation is a way to get our economy back on its feet and make it more resilient to future challenges,” he said.

“So what’s next? We have the data and the ingenuity. Now we need to accelerate the conversation about policies and procedures to get it done. We need to develop common data standards and open architecture that serve all parties. We will need safeguards to keep proprietary information secure and available for use by those authorized. And perhaps more importantly, it should be developed and designed by the users in our supply chain. It will require all of us — public and private sectors alike — to offer input,” Seroka said.

He said funding from the federal government will be needed and Congress has shown a willingness to provide resources to drive digital transformation.

“Bottom line, we have to come together to get it done. We must treat our national freight network as one system and harness its full potential. It’s time we connect industrial sectors, goods movement and trade gateways with a seamless end-to-end system that shares data for the greater good,” Seroka said. “With today’s highlighted awareness about the importance of supply chains, let’s move our U.S. freight system into the next gear. The nation’s economy and our livelihoods depend on it. And I know we can deliver.” 

Seroka: Information flow vital for ocean container moves

Port of LA’s Seroka helps procure 24 million masks

Port of LA leader tasked with lifesaving logistics for city

Click for more American Shipper/FreightWaves stories by Senior Editor Kim Link-Wills.

Kim Link Wills

Senior Editor Kim Link-Wills has written about everything from agriculture as a reporter for Illinois Agri-News to zoology as editor of the Georgia Tech Alumni Magazine. Her work has garnered awards from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education, the Georgia Institute of Technology and the Magazine Association of the Southeast. Prior to serving as managing editor of American Shipper, Kim spent more than four years with XPO Logistics.