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Port of Long Beach: On-water visibility requires supply chain information highway

San Pedro Bay complex ‘not out of the woods yet’ clearing cargo from docks, getting ships to berth

The Port of Long Beach plans to provide more visibility to cargo flowing across its docks. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

The Port of Long Beach announced Thursday that it has selected technology consultant Uncomn to help it do something historically uncommon in the ports sector: provide digital end-to-end visibility across transportation modes.  

Executive Director Mario Cordero said during a press conference that the port has made it a priority “to help stakeholders by getting them information they need and when they need it. … It was clear that the best possible solution was to offer access to a platform that securely collected published data and allowed users to analyze the data with their own systems.” 

The Port of Long Beach is hailing this system, slated to become available in 2022, as a supply chain information highway. 

“Just as we need to upgrade our physical infrastructure, we also need to build out our digital infrastructure to support the supply chain of the future, a supply chain that is integrated and digitally connected,” said port COO Noel Hacegaba.  

Cordero said that with the support of the Biden-Harris administration, the industry has come together to look for solutions to untangle the kinks in the supply chain. 

“As we continue to navigate through this crisis, we’re also moving ahead with a new initiative to support the supply chain of the future. One of these initiatives addresses one of the most common problems we hear from our stakeholders — a lack of visibility and data transparency,” he said. 

Cordero said the port’s visibility tool “will help shippers track their cargo across the supply chain by enabling the movement of data from mode to mode. To help us build this digital infrastructure, the port has selected Uncomn to design and build a system that will provide stakeholders up and down the supply chain critical data they need to plan their day-to-day operations. 

“The ultimate goal of this project is to provide a platform that solves a problem with data sharing across transportation modes so that cargo can be delivered reliably and efficiently. Think of this as a data link, which authorized members of the supply chain could access at no charge,” he said.

Hacegaba said the supply chain information highway will aid large and small shippers alike.

“It basically puts data into the hands of participants so they can then optimize their supply chains and solve their own logistics problems. Recognizing that the more than 200,000 shippers that use our port have different data needs, this is not a one-size-fits-all solution,” Hacegaba said. “Instead, the supply chain information highway harnesses the data capabilities of all existing and future platforms and enables users to create their own dashboards and other digital tools tailored to their needs.”

He said users will be able to lay out operational decisions, plan resources and minimize delays with data on all cargo “events,” from booking to gate moves to container release.  

“Each authorized user will be able to ingest this data and will be enabled to create customized reports and dashboards to visualize all shipments across the supply chain. And here’s the best part — it will be free to the end user,” Hacegaba continued. 

“We’re in the process of developing the concept, but we expect to have a soft launch completed by February 2022,” he said, adding that the ultimate goal is “end to end and coast to coast. Once we develop the prototype, we plan to scale up and take this to the Port of Oakland, which is joining us in this initiative, and eventually to other ports across the nation.”

Asked by American Shipper why the Port of Long Beach is building its own system rather than integrate with an existing platform, such as the Port of LA’s Port Optimizer, Cordero said the information highway is not being developed to compete with other systems. “In fact, quite to the contrary, it’s meant to complement these other systems.”

The Port of Long Beach recognized “the tremendous cooperation across the supply chain with the emergence of different platforms,” Hacegaba said. “Our philosophy here is to be inclusive, not exclusive.”

He added, “Our desire is to have other port authorities and all stakeholders across the supply chain join us in that effort.”

Hacegaba said the Port of Long Beach is investing about $400,000 to demonstrate the proof of concept it hopes to conclude in February. 

“Our goal here is to be complementary, not to reinvent the wheel, not to replicate what’s already in the marketplace,” he said. 

Hacegaba explained that “one of the key objectives is to be able to provide data on every event in the movement of that container. So we’re going to track it back as far as the port of origin all the way to the last mile and perhaps even beyond.”

Asked by American Shipper if the supply chain information highway would be fully operational and accessible by the 2022 peak season, Cordero only said its rollout was a priority. “The first six months of the year this is going to be an ongoing process. The good news, and the message point here, is we are working now with a vendor, Uncomn. We are very optimistic that we’re going to move very quickly here to really provide, again, what this industry desperately needs, which is an integrated system of systems where we can really accelerate data sharing across all modes,” Cordero said.  

Meanwhile, he granted, “the supply chain continues to be under a great deal of strain, but thanks to the continued collaboration of all industry partners, the active engagement of our government partners and bold short-term actions taken here at the ports, we do see some signs of improvement just in time for the holidays. 

“As of [Thursday] morning, there are 74 container ships on their way to the San Pedro Bay port complex. Just off the coast, there are 28 container ships waiting at anchor. This is down from 86 just three weeks ago. The reduction of the number of ships at anchor is helping to reduce the impact on local air quality. It is also helping to enhance safety by reducing the navigational risks associated with having all those ships concentrated off the coast. 

“Although the flow of cargo is slowing down following this pre-holiday rush, the single major factor in the dramatic reduction in the number of ships at anchor is the new vessel queueing system that was put in place by the industry to reduce impacts on local air quality and improve safety. The new vessel queuing system has been very successful in meeting its intended objectives,” Cordero said.  

He said it was important to note that the Port of Long Beach was moving more cargo than ever. 

“This year through November, the Port of Long Beach has already surpassed the total number of containers for all of 2020, and we’ll close out 2021 with another record year. And yes, we understand the focus here has to be on what we can do to move even more,” Cordero said.  

“Long-dwelling cargo containers are down by 47% at the San Pedro Bay complex since the fee was announced,” he said, referring to a plan to assess fines to carriers for containers remaining on the docks past a certain number of days. The fee implementation has been delayed several times.

By moving these containers out of the terminals, we are creating capacity the terminals need to bring those ships at anchor to berth. With the support of our ocean carriers and their sweeper vessels, we’re also evacuating empty containers from our terminals. Empty containers account for about 36% of all containers on terminals. This is down from 45% just a couple of weeks ago. By evacuating empty containers from the terminals, we are making space for more inbound containers,” Cordero said. 

“We are not out of the woods yet, but we are making meaningful progress.” 

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.