Assisting Ports to Pursue their Future
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Assisting Ports to Pursue their Future

By Kurt J. Nagle, President & CEO, American Association of Port Authorities

Kurt J. Nagle, President & CEO, American Association of Port Authorities

Business leaders, economic development professionals, innovators, congress and the administration are among those striving to boost the U.S. economy and create jobs. Because seaports are literally the gateways for commerce at both the regional and national level, the role they play in keeping freight moving and country’s economy humming is more important now than ever.

Cargo activities performed at U.S. ports today support 23.3 million American jobs, generate over $320 billion annually in total tax revenues and account for more than a quarter of the national economy.

In light of a wave of supply chain logistics innovation, including digitalization of cargo data, creating resiliency in electrical supplies and telecom networks, and development of new cybersecurity technologies to protect those networks, the American Association of Port Authorities’ (AAPA) serves as a conduit to its 140-member ports to share information on emerging new resources and solutions to help ensure their business success.

"The technology aligns with an industry migration toward digitalization of international supply chains to address challenges of tracking containerized cargo door-to-door"

Given the paucity of federal dollars for physical infrastructure improvements to aid ports in being more internationally competitive, technological innovations offer another option. There’s value for ports in knowing when older systems and technologies have reached their ‘use by’ date, and what new systems are available to replace them.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey in September 2015 was the first U.S. port to implement a sharable online shipper interface with its Terminal Information Portal System (TIPS). Developed by Sustainable Terminals Services Inc., this new and innovative internet tool compiles information on one platform from all six of the port’s terminals. It then provides the data to qualified users in real time, such as container availability, booking status, vessel schedules, and information on where to return empty The result? Increased cargo handling efficiencies at the port authorities’ terminals, and happier customers.

In March, AAPA held its first-ever smart ports seminar, focusing on topics such as cloud computing, the internet of things (IoT), cybersecurity, data analytics, data portals and sharing, terminal operating systems, and intelligent transportation systems. The host port, Port of Oakland, showcased its new online Oakland Portal, which provides a comprehensive digital view of vessel schedules, cargo and terminal information all in one place. The technology aligns with an industry migration toward digitalization of international supply chains to address challenges of tracking containerized cargo door-to-door.

To keep cargo flowing efficiently through America’s largest container port gateway, the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach this year have teamed with GE Transportation on an information portal, called Port Optimizer, that uses digitized maritime shipping data and makes it available to cargo owners and supply chain operators through secure, channeled access. The purpose is to increase visibility, enhance real-time decision-making and optimize cargo movements through both San Pedro Bay mega-ports.

“To keep pace with the rapidly changing shipping landscape, operations at our ports must evolve,” said Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Gene Seroka. “Digital solutions that enable supply chain partners to receive a ship’s cargo information well in advance of arrival are a critical key to optimizing U.S. cargo efficiency and trade competitiveness.”

GE Transportation believes its partnership with the two ports will unlock the power of big data, demonstrate how digital can enhance and improve operations, and generate insights into building a smarter, more efficient supply chain.

In August, another AAPA-member port – the Halifax Port Authority (HPA) – entered into a collaborative agreement on a blockchain-focused global trade digitization solution known as TradeLens, developed by Maersk and IBM.

TradeLens’ goal is to develop a highly secure digital ledger system that promotes information sharing across the global shipping industry which can reduce costs, improve productivity, increase the speed of the delivery of goods, and provide transparency. The Maersk-IBM blockchain enables the needed safety and security for the digital platform while TradeLens offers opportunities for ports to adopt innovations that harness digital technology to track cargo through the supply chain and reduce costly terminal congestion.

Other AAPA-member port authorities have also initiated similar digital technologies, such as Port Houston which joined in the Maersk-IBM blockchain pilot program in March to bring the power of cryptocurrency to the sector and enhance cargo movement efficiency and transparency and The Northwest Seaport Alliance whose website now features its Port Portal that includes gate cameras, terminal updates, vessel schedules, and truck turn times on a single platform for both the Seattle and Tacoma container ports. By the end of 2018, the Alliance expects to seek proposals on a website upgrade that will add container tracking and dwell time capabilities.

With the recent wave of ocean carrier industry consolidations and restructuring, AAPA believes ports, marine terminal operators and their customers are focusing more on technology to compete and support their business plans. To assist them with these decisions, whether for cargo handling optimization, enhanced security, or environmental protections, AAPA provides a host of resources, including technical committees, professional education workshops, networking events, and shared resources on its website and through its publications.

While ports and their private-sector partners are looking to technology solutions to increase efficiencies and boost their competitive edge, they’re also planning a combined $31 billion a year of investments into their physical infrastructure for the same purpose. However, much of the infrastructure that needs to be built or improved, such as road, rail and water connections, requires federal funding that lags far behind the levels ports need. Recent AAPA surveys show ports need $66 billion over the next decade in public investment for landside and waterside infrastructure in and around their facilities. This includes funding for navigation channel maintenance and construction, building vital road and rail connectors to ports like bridges and tunnels, and improving port facility infrastructure.

As the leading advocate on Capitol Hill for the infrastructure, security and environmental funding and policy needs of America’s ports, and by bringing port authority personnel together to share and learn from each other, AAPA is working to ensure these seaports succeed as economic development engines, commerce facilitators and jobs creators.

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