“Liberating” Supply Chain Data with the Supply Chain Information Highway
The ongoing supply chain crisis has underscored the need for deeper and more accurate supply chain visibility. While many have pinned their hopes in this regard on what digitization can provide, disparate systems created by diverse players typically inhibit interoperability efforts.
As a result, data silos are common across the global and complex supply chain—which means that even with all the information that digitization can provide—supply chain stakeholders still can’t operate optimally, often because they can’t access the data needed to do so.
To address this conundrum , the Port of Long Beach announced plans for its Supply Chain Information Highway in December 2021—and momentum has been building ever since.
While it may seem this is just another data-related initiative similar to others recently introduced by various players, in this instance, the framework is different in that it’s meant to add a complementary—rather than competitive—dynamic to the fray.
Here, we’ll take a look at the short history of the Supply Chain Information Highway—including what it is, why it’s different, and how supply chain stakeholders may benefit from what it offers.
December 16, 2021: A New “Cargo Data Tool” is Announced
On December 16, 2021, the Port of Long Beach announced its partnership with UNCOMN to launch the “Supply Chain Information Highway.”
“Amid unprecedented disruptions to global trade caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Port of Long Beach is partnering with UNCOMN, a leading U.S. technology consulting firm, to launch the ‘Supply Chain Information Highway,’ a free-to-stakeholders cargo visibility service software,” the statement said.
“The software will help shippers make better operational decisions by providing the data to integrate into their own systems and track their cargo through the complete supply chain.”
To determine what services would be most helpful, the Port of Long Beach met with industry partners and stakeholders—who gave an “overwhelming response” that “due to the varied nature of business issues across terminals, the best possible solution was to offer access to a platform that securely collected, curated and published data across all modes of transportation, and allowed users to analyze the data using their own systems.”
“This tool will put actionable data into the hands of supply chain participants, to enable them to make better plans and decisions,” said Port of Long Beach Executive Director Mario Cordero. “It will be free, and the data collected will work with existing systems.”
“In an era of e-commerce and overnight delivery, it’s more important than ever to have full visibility and transparency for shipments,” said Long Beach Harbor Commission President Steven Neal. “Our goal in working with UNCOMN is to make a tool that will enable our partners to schedule and plan prior to cargo arrival and reduce delays during each handoff between modes of transportation.”
In a separate statement, Cordero summed up the need like this: “Shippers have two basic questions: Where’s my cargo? How do I get more visibility? We’re developing a system of systems that complements existing data-tracking platforms by giving supply chain participants real-time updates at each transfer point in the intermodal network.”
At the time, a soft launch of the tool was expected to take place in February 2022.
March 3, 2022: West Coast Ports Voice Support
On March 3rd, the Port of Oakland and the Northwest Seaport Alliance (NWSA) stepped in with their support for the new initiative.
“The Port of Oakland and The Northwest Seaport Alliance voiced their support Tuesday for the Port of Long Beach’s ‘Supply Chain Information Highway’ digital initiative, a free-to-all service that delivers data for shippers and other stakeholders to integrate into their own systems to track cargo and allot resources,” according to a Port of Long Beach statement.
“Creating a shared digital platform will provide decision makers timely, comprehensive and quality data,” said Port of Oakland Maritime Director Bryan Brandes. “Having this cargo visibility tool can help speed the supply chain and set a digital foundation for improving goods movement.”
“The Northwest Seaport Alliance is glad to work alongside the Port of Long Beach and Port of Oakland to address supply chain challenges. We look forward to this project increasing visibility in cargo delivery and trade opportunities along the West Coast,” said John Wolfe, CEO of The Northwest Seaport Alliance.
The statement also noted that “in recent months,” the Port of Long Beach and “its technology service vendor” had been “gathering and ‘normalizing’ event data for an initial group of stakeholders, including a marine terminal operator, transportation providers and key beneficial cargo owners. Members of the testing phase group were invited to transmit data, query data, and validate the results.”
March 29, 2022: Into Demonstration Phase
On March 29th, the Port of Long Beach announced that the Supply Chain Information Highway was moving into the demonstration phase.
Noting that the initiative had “quickly moved from proof of concept to demonstration,” the statement said that at the time, the Port was “running simulations with participating terminal operators, ocean carriers, trucking companies, railroads and beneficial cargo owners.”
“The pilot uses real data that supports day-to-day operations,” said Port of Long Beach Deputy Executive Director Dr. Noel Hacegaba. “Even in this testing phase, the initiative is already enhancing the planning process our partners use to track cargo and optimize their operations.”
Citing the support voiced by the Port of Oakland and the NWSA, the statement noted that “the Utah Inland Port Authority has subsequently joined the initiative, and other port authorities are poised to follow suit.”
“Our stakeholders want a practical and flexible way to access data that is accurate, reliable and actionable,” Hacegaba said. “Long Beach alone has more than 200,000 different shippers ranging from small businesses that move several containers a year to major retailers that import tens of thousands of containers annually. The Information Highway allows them all to access the data they need so they can then use that data to optimize their own operations.”
He added that the system also functions as a common corridor that connects other data-sharing platforms.
“The whole idea is to liberate data. Instead of requiring the supply chain to conform to a one-size-fits-all system, the Information Highway flips the equation by accommodating data delivery to meet each user’s unique needs,” Hacegaba said.
NWSA Chief Operating Officer Tom Bellerud agreed.
“We are looking for any means of better understanding of cargo flows, better transparency for ourselves and our own planning processes, as well as our marine terminal operators, shippers, Class I railroad partners, the trucking community, and any other member of the supply chain that can gain an advantage from this,” Bellerud said in the statement. “While our industry is highly competitive, we all benefit from a level playing field.”
Complementing Other Data-Sharing Initiatives
In the statement, NWSA Operations Business Analyst Alicia Blake said the Supply Chain Information Highway aligns with a digital platform NWSA is developing “to give shippers, dispatchers and drivers greater visibility when making and managing trucking appointments.”
“We are working with a third party to aggregate the data and better share the available information to reduce congestion,” Blake said. “Although it’s not physical improvements like bridges and roadways, data has really become one of those integral pillars of any supply chain.”
Port of Oakland Director of Communications Robert Bernardo said a similar effort is taking place there, with objectives that are consistent with what the Port of Long Beach is trying to achieve with its initiative.
“At the end of the day, the entire supply chain is a public-private partnership that has common challenges and common goals,” Bernardo said. “We have to become a technology-proficient industry.”
Additional complementary initiatives that are either currently being developed or are already in the works include:
Freight Logistics Optimization Works (FLOW): Announced by the White House in mid-March and of which the Port of Long Beach is a participant, “the project aims to pilot an exchange of key freight information among members of the goods movement supply chain.”
Federal Maritime Commission’s Maritime Data Infrastructure initiative—"The project seeks to establish standards and best practices for data access and transmission to support a ‘reliable and stable ocean transportation system.’”
Supply Chain Optimization and Resilience (SCORe) Coalition: “A group of public and private sector members that includes major retailers; supply chain, transportation and technology leaders; and the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles” that is “focused on building consensus for international standards for a national freight data portal.”
May 24, 2022: AWS Collaboration
At the AWS Summit in Washington on May 24th, leaders for the Port of Long Beach and Amazon Web Services (AWS) announced that AWS will be used to “power” the Supply Chain Information Highway.
The announcement noted that UNCOMN “is partnered with AWS, which will provide the cloud computing infrastructure and services for the Supply Chain Information Highway to function, storing the information in Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3), a solution that offers industry-leading scalability, data availability, security and performance.”
In the following Port of Long Beach video, Deputy Executive Director Hacegaba speaks with Nick Powers, Vice President of Growth for UNCOMN, about the Supply Chain Information Highway.
To learn more, visit the Port of Long Beach’s webpage that contains further details about the project: Supply Chain Information Highway.