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New Data Management Project at Long Beach Port Targets Efficiency, Visibility

The Supply Chain Information Highway, created by the Port of Long Beach, UNCOMN and Amazon Web Services, is now in the proof of concept stage.

Aerial view of the Port of Long Beach.
Port of Long Beach
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The nation’s second-busiest container port is in proof of concept with new digital infrastructure and an online platform aimed at making cargo movement more efficient and visible — and planned for adoption by other western cargo hubs.

Port of Long Beach officials joined leaders from UNCOMN and Amazon Web Services (AWS) Tuesday at the AWS Summit in Washington, D.C., to announce their collaboration in creating the Supply Chain Information Highway. Dr. Noel Hacegaba, port deputy executive director and chief operating officer, told Industry Insider California that the project is a “common corridor” that enables officials to aggregate data in disparate forms from entities including shipping companies, trucking lines and even the port’s pilot organization, to provide accurate, improved, real-time visibility into cargo and transportation. Among the takeaways:

  • The project went live in March with Phase One: a proof of concept at the Long Beach Container Terminal, one of the port’s six container terminals. Phase Two, the full buildout later this year, will bring the port’s other five container terminals into the system — and build it out at the Port of Oakland. The project’s other port partners besides Oakland are the Northwest Seaport Alliance, which comprises the ports of Seattle and Tacoma in Washington state; and the Utah Inland Port Authority, a dry port in Salt Lake County. Contractual agreements, Hacegaba told Industry Insider, are being finalized but conceptually, each of the ports will be an “on-ramp” to the Highway — and develop their own entry point to the system with assistance from the Port of Long Beach and UNCOMN.
  • The Highway resulted from a request for proposals from the port, its chief operating officer said. The port selected UNCOMN to design and build the system, and the St. Louis, Missouri-based company connected in AWS to provide a secure cloud environment for the data — and to assist port officials in a “working backwards process” to define the project’s needs and problems. That process, Hacegaba said, prompted the realization that “the supply chain is a system of systems,” and that pre-existing visibility tools were themselves still very much siloed, leaving customers wondering about the exact location of their cargo. With that knowledge, officials devised a “digital infrastructure that enabled each of these different tools to interconnect” and lowered the existing friction points. There’s no intention, Hacegaba said, to monetize what has been created. Nor will shipping companies and other shipper partners be forced into any sort of standard, Nick Powers, chief operating officer at UNCOMN, told Industry Insider — rather, they’ll be able to share their data in its existing formats.
    “We want to liberate the data and make it accessible for free to all of our shippers and partners,” Hacegaba said. “Secondly, we put security at the center of this digital infrastructure. The digital highway will rest on this secure cloud.”
  • Security is a vital concern for the three partners, considering the cargo passing through is valued at $200 billion a year and accounts for nearly 1 in 5 containers moving through all U.S. ports. Powers said a key aspect is safeguarding data from the other users — tagging it to inhibit unauthorized sharing. The company, he said, was able to leverage its work with the federal Department of Defense and in logistics networks with the U.S. Transportation Command to securitize the cloud prototype constructed, while focusing on remaining serverless as much as possible. If U.S. Customs data should wind up being a part of the data gathered, Powers said, “we will have it in GovCloud in order to meet the regulatory requirements.
    “The big thing that we’re mostly concerned with is sharing data across multiple modes of transportation in a way that enables them to plan and act in a more efficient way than they do today,” Powers said. “It’s really not about the cargo inside the container; it’s about the container itself and making sure that the right people are at the right positions to receive that container and keep it moving forward as fast as possible.”
  • The “cloud computing infrastructure and services” for the Highway to operate, enabling it to ingest, normalize and store data that can then be made available and actionable to others, come from AWS, Kim Majerus, its vice president for U.S. Education, State and Local Government, told Industry Insider via email. The Highway relies on a variety of data sources that are stored in Amazon S3; the normalized data itself lives in a secure data lake. Shippers or other partners are able to authenticate to view and use the data. Information is up-to-date and in real time, in event- and non event-driven formats, so that users may see patterns and trends. Eventually, they will be able to “leverage artificial intelligence and machine learning to predict supply chain flows,” Majerus said.
    “Many services that are being used in the Supply Chain Information Highway application offer native data encryption capability through tight integration with AWS Key Management Service (KMS),” Majerus said. AWS KMS, she noted, is a secure and resilient service that uses validated hardware security modules that have been validated under Federal Information Processing Standard 140-2, or are being validated, to “protect keys and ensure data security and compliance.”
Theo Douglas is Assistant Managing Editor of Industry Insider — California.