August 23, 2017

Port of LA seeks additional partners beyond GE for cargo tracking portal

GE Transportation's five-year commitment needs to be just the start of things, port officials say.

By Ben Ames

Officials at the Port of Los Angeles are seeking more partners to share shipping data with their online cargo tracking portal following news that GE Transportation will expand the pilot project into a $12 million, five-year program and provide a secure network to handle the information flow.

The expansion is the latest step by industrial giant General Electric Co. to flex its muscle as a provider of supply chain technology. Over the past year, GE has acquired firms that provide cloud-based logistics collaboration and three-dimensional printing, and partnered with German I.T. giant SAP SE on an Internet of Things (IoT) project.

GE, which launched a two-month test of the portal in May, said the pilot was a success. However, to reach its full potential the system needs to enlist a greater number of stakeholders across the seagoing supply chain, port officials said Tuesday. GE and the port have said the portal would allow beneficial cargo owners (BCOs) and container line companies to share online data and gain advanced visibility of incoming cargo.

"Our goal of increasing the line of sight from a couple days to more than a week was successful, but the limiting factor was that it was a pilot and had limited sample size," Port of Los Angeles Marketing Manager Chris Chase said in an interview. "The response was 'This was a great start; I need more'."

If approved by the Los Angeles City Council, the expanded agreement would support some nine million TEUs (20-foot shipping containers), more than 15,000 truck providers, and thousands of cargo importers, the company said.

However, the port will have to convince supply chain players to share their data, a pitch that could be a difficult sell in an industry that traditionally guards its shipping statistics carefully and where rival firms often find their cargo sitting side by side on the same dock.

The port will address those privacy and competition concerns by relying on GE's Predix industrial internet and data analytics platform, which is designed to support the high security and large volume of data required, Chase said. "This is not a public website; different pieces of the supply chain have segregated data," he said. "If you sign on as a trucker, you only see information related to your trucks. And if you're shipping line A, when you log in, will see only your data, not lines C, D, and E."

New participants in the portal could include a wide range of supply chain providers. The original pilot included one terminal operator, three chassis providers, two steamship lines—Danish carrier Maersk Line and Swiss carrier Mediterranean Shipping Co. (MSC)—and various trucking and rail industry firms and BCOs, Chase said. The planned expansion would add the Port of Los Angeles' remaining six terminal operators and another dozen steamship lines, he said.

Once those players have agreed to trust the portal with their data, the process of joining the network requires a simple technical change in which they open up a new connection to their standard data interchange, Chase said. "The baseline building block is the data they send to Customs anyway; the information that by law they have to send in before the ship sails overseas," he said.

Much of that data can already be found on dozens of various websites, but the GE portal will collect it in a single online repository that allows users to see the information faster and gain precious time to react to changes, he said. "We're trying to marry the digital world with the existing world, to cut through the two weeks of static that now exists, since it takes 13 days for a ship to leave China and get to LA. If you know what's coming at you 7, 8, 9, 10 days out, it makes it easier to put assets in place than if you have 12 hours or 24 hours."

Armed with that advance warning, firms will be able to improve their efficiency, decrease traffic congestion, cut emissions from idling trucks, manage empty containers, locate chassis, and other tasks, he said.

About the Author

Ben Ames
Senior Editor
Ben Ames has spent 20 years as a journalist since starting out as a daily newspaper reporter in Pennsylvania in 1995. From 1999 forward, he has focused on business and technology reporting for a number of trade journals, beginning when he joined Design News and Modern Materials Handling magazines. Ames is author of the trail guide "Hiking Massachusetts" and is a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism.

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