Increasingly, we are witnessing a swift and rapid change in the supply chain. In the wake of globalization and aggressive digitalization, commercial trade flows have evolved dramatically. Both the volume and the scope of services managed within the supply chain have reached unprecedented levels. The objectives and operational priorities are moving from a cost-oriented approach to a more demand and value-oriented approach, in order to maintain the high level of service increasingly demanded by customers.
To that end, GE Transportation (NYSE:GE) and the Port of Long Beach have recently completed a three-month technology pilot to improve cargo flow at the busiest port complex in North America. What better testing ground than the Port of Long Beach? The port is a gateway for trans-Pacific trade, and a trailblazer in innovative goods movement, safety, and environmental stewardship. It’s also the second-busiest container port in the U.S., served by 175 shipping lines with connections to 217 seaports worldwide.
The initial outcomes of the pilot include proven advanced visibility of incoming cargo, with 14+ days faster access to information, improved turn times while increasing throughput, more productive turns, and all leading to increased supply chain performance. Equally as important, the pilot deepened technology and stakeholder collaborations.
“Many of our industry’s inefficiencies are the result of a lack of transparency between stakeholders, which creates an inability to plan operations in advance,” says Weston LaBar, CEO of the Harbor Trucking Association. “On a typical day, a trucker/dispatcher will need to access more than 40 websites to facilitate their operations in the port. This system will aggregate data from all stakeholders, condense it in one single access point, and allow truckers to begin planning their operations at least 10 days in advance of containers being ready for pick-up. This portal has the potential to solve many of the problems we deal with today.”
Port Optimizer enhances cargo flow as participating terminal operators and other stakeholders receive much improved advance notice of cargo arrival, coordinated with data on the availability of equipment, labor and other resources needed to move that cargo through the supply chain.
“Dark spots often exist between supply points on the chain, and not even necessarily because of a competitive advantage. The more cooperative the sharing, the better for everyone. It’s more cultural in nature. Breaking down the cultural barriers,” Jennifer Schopfer, VP and general manager of GE Transportation Transport Logistics, tells FreightWaves by phone. “This is absolutely a step in the right direction. Just to make it real, when the ports are headed off from Long Beach across the ocean, they know what’s on their vessel and they’re sharing that data with some folks, but not everyone.”
“This community system gives everyone the data with a 14-advance notice. It gives them two-weeks to anticipate that cargo,” she adds. “Really what we’re doing is taking data that exists.”
So if it’s not a competitive disadvantage to share data, what’s the problem? According to Schopfer, it’s not just a single answer. “You tend to plan just the next step ahead, but passing that information down the supply line, that’s what’s not happening. You can extrapolate that more broadly. Ultimately, who wants the information? The shipper or the cargo owner? Currently we’re making it hard for them to manage their inventory. They have four or five days of a black hole where they don’t know where their cargo is. It’s not a competitive disadvantage. That’s a mistruth. It’s just not the case. We want to encourage broader sharing for everyone who is going to touch the box. There are just so many stakeholders in the chain.”
Schopfer also serves on the BiTA (Blockchain in Transport Alliance) Interoperability Committee. “Having these standards protocols across these modes and nodes in transporation is going to be critical. So getting this information to be shared is going to make the adoption all that much faster.”
In terms of challenges the pilot program faces, it’s really all about the education. “We do a good job to get buy-in. People are excited to log in and use the software, and are excited about the notion of what we’re doing,” says Schopfer. “A couple of lessons we’re learning is that when asking someone to adopt this software, we’re also asking them to change the way they work to some degree. To overcome that, we design the software to work alongside what they do. We do some shadowing and customize the software to their needs from a user experience, from the perspective of a day-to-day job that fits into their world.”
“We can’t underestimate how challenging it can be in the tactical steps to get people to share data. We’ve made a lot of inroads. We just have more education to do. It’s a lot of conversations you have to have to help people realize it’s not a competitive disadvantage to share their data,” she says.
Also for the Port of Long Beach pilot, GE launched additional Port Optimizer functionality for marine terminal operator and landside transportation integrations, to facilitate better planning and gate transactions. For example, GE expanded drayage final mile capabilities through a collaboration with Envio 360 that enables real-time, port-to-door visibility to bring goods to market in a more reliable and predictable manner.
“Integrating the Envio 360 Drayage Optimization Platform enhances Port Optimizer’s capabilities to deliver greater supply chain visibility and response,” says Schopfer. “Standardized and real-time intermodal drayage data enables better capacity management and utilization, with visibility to intermodal container drayage at maritime ports, railroad networks and yards, and intermodal terminals, to increase supply chain reliability and improve planning.”
Envio 360 automatically evaluates the best strategic plan for hundreds of containers, every second, to ensure the best assignments for efficiency and on-time performance. Users achieve real-time, 100% visibility across their entire container drayage network.
The Port of Long Beach Board of Commissioners will be reviewing the results of the pilot in the coming weeks.
“We were very pleased with the level of participation and engagement from our customers and supply chain stakeholders during the pilot demonstration,” said Noel Hacegaba, deputy executive/COO at the Port of Long Beach. “We look forward reviewing the results of the pilot with our Board and determining the next steps in our participation in the Port Optimizer portal.”
In March of this year, GE Transportation joined BiTA. BiTA is the transportation and logistics industry’s leading trade association for blockchain education and standards development. “GE Transportation is always on the forefront of technology trends and investments that define the future of freight and supply chains,” said Craig Fuller, managing director of BiTA.