Technology undergoing testing at the San Pedro Bay ports may stand to inject some much-needed transparency into the supply chain, allowing the various stakeholders – from shipping lines to trucking companies, chassis providers to beneficial cargo owners – to know in advance when shipments are due and where, and thereby better allocate their resources to prepare for them.

Last year, APM Terminals at the Port of Los Angeles participated in a pilot project to implement technology developed by GE Transportation. The program, Port Optimizer, allows supply chain stakeholders to see where cargo is and when it is due to arrive, enabling them to better allocate their resources to handle that cargo in advance. The program is expanding to the entire Port of Los Angeles as well as to two terminals at the Port of Long Beach this summer. (Port of Los Angeles photograph)


GE Transportation’s Port Optimizer, software launched in a limited pilot program at the Port of Los Angeles (POLA) last summer, provides one integrated platform for supply chain stakeholders to access information about cargo movement. The platform was first tested at POLA’s APM Terminals with the cooperation of the shipping lines Maersk and Mediterranean Shipping Company. This summer, the port will roll it out to all its terminals and is working to get all other shipping lines on board as well as trucking firms, chassis providers, rail companies and other goods movement players, according to POLA Business Development Manager Christopher Chase.


The Port of Long Beach is also rolling out the program in a pilot phase this summer with Long Beach Container Terminal and Total Terminals International participating.

One of the greatest challenges in initiating the pilot program is that companies are often reticent about sharing their data, according to Jennifer Schopfer, vice president and general manager of transport logistics for GE Transportation.


“The willingness and openness to sharing data remains a challenge,” Schopfer said. “It’s not a technical challenge anymore. We have the technology to share data in a secure way. It’s more of a cultural challenge.” The ports and GE Transportation are still working to educate potential participants about the Port Optimizer to address this concern.


“We’re not collecting any competitive or sensitive information. No information about individuals, no information about pricing, no information about what is inside the containers themselves,” Schopfer clarified. “We’re really seeking information at the container level: Where is the container? What kind of container is it? What size and type is it? Where is it ultimately going? And where is it at any point in time?” This is the type of information that facilitates equipment and resource planning, and helps to support a more efficient flow of goods, she explained.


When a user logs into the Port Optimizer, the system recognizes who that user is and to which company the user belongs. “You’re only going to see information about containers that you’re a party to or that you should have rights to see,” Schopfer said.


In last year’s pilot program with the Port of Los Angeles, GE Transportation took feedback from users and made some changes based on their recommendations, according to Schopfer. “We sought a lot of feedback from all of those folks in order to actually understand what they want to see and how they want to see it,” she said, explaining that many changes had to do with how information was displayed. But some bigger changes are due for this summer’s pilot programs at the ports.


The first version of the Port Optimizer applied only to imported cargo. The next iteration will also include export data, Schopfer said. “The scale of the solution is much bigger,” she noted. “This is a product that is going to continue to evolve with new features and enhancements as we roll them out. Our development process is very iterative.”


GE has also been working with the trucking community to integrate information about appointments at multiple terminals. For example, if a trucker misses an appointment to return an empty container to one terminal, the Port Optimizer would be able to show the trucker other openings to bring it to that terminal or others within the complex, Schopfer explained.


Mario Cordero, executive director of the Port of Long Beach, believes the program could prove to be the solution to creating a universal, port-wide appointment system for trucks. “One of the things we need to do in this gateway is move towards a uniform appointment system,” he said. “In the 2017 Clean Air Action Plan of both these ports, in addition to the quest for zero emissions, one of the short-term objectives is to implement a uniform appointment system. The way some of us think we’re going to do this is through this information portal.”


Benefits of implementing this technology mainly pertain to better strategizing throughout the supply chain. “The benefits that we see are better equipment planning, especially on the land side,” Schopfer said.


“The folks we have dealt with have all been very positive on it,” Chase said of the response to the pilot last summer. “What they basically said is, we need more. If everybody is on board then this really is something. . . . And that is what we are working on right now, is getting all the parties in the harbor to participate.”


Chase said that the initial pilot phase achieved the port’s goals. “People could see the cargo earlier,” he said. “It was in a format that was easy to read and understand. And, more importantly, they could make decisions off of it. They had information further in advance than they had in the past.” While supply chain stakeholders would typically receive information about incoming shipments about 48 hours in advance, the Port Optimizer enabled them to learn about them as much as two weeks in advance, he explained.


Anthony Otto, president of Long Beach Container Terminal, noted that multiple companies are working on developing similar programs. “Be it GE or whatever the company is that puts that together, I think a single platform or a single portal . . . everyone could go to without having to go to 12 different websites is a good thing,” Otto said. “The mechanics of all of that still needs to be worked out. I think the idea of moving towards . . . a common portal to do all of your business is a positive step.”


Schopfer said GE Transportation is shopping the program around to other ports throughout the nation and the world. Asked if it would ultimately be sold to port authorities or as a subscription service to individual companies, Schopfer said it’s hard to say at this point. But ports will likely retain a major role. “Inherently, we need a convening force and that tends to be the port authority,” she said.


Both Chase and Schopfer noted that ports around the world are watching to see what happens within the San Pedro Bay complex.