438 billion reasons why mobility is needed in port management

December 9, 2014

  • Tom Caprel Tom Caprel

This is part one of a three-part series. Read part two and part three here.

Shipping by air may be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about cargo, but the majority of world trade still takes place over water. In 2013 alone, the port of Los Angeles in the U.S. managed the import and export of over 438 billion dollars worth of goods. Together with the port of Long Beach, they handle about 40 percent of all U.S. cargo containers.

America’s ports are critical infrastructure points, and they pride themselves on their efficiencies and workflows. In this three part series, we’ll take a look at the role of mobile technology in maritime administration and port operations management. First we’ll look at foundational workflows and examine the importance of security and how mobility in port management could tighten up the notoriously open and immensely challenging port security.

Port management defined the cutting edge

Their need for more efficient data management pushed many ports to adopt the first mainframe computers in the 1970’s. They still attempt to keep abreast of current technology trends. However, it comes as a surprise that many U.S. ports still use paper-based workflows for tasks around their facilities.

In 2013 alone, the port of Los Angeles managed the import and export of over 438 billion dollars worth of goods.

For example, when a truck enters the facility to deposit a container, but the driver’s paperwork contains inconsistencies, the driver is given a slip of paper, and told to wait while his vehicle is checked for manifest accuracy and contraband. He must continue to wait until his vehicle is ready, which sometimes can take hours. Including mobility in port management workflows could speed up processes like this, creating a more efficiencies that save significant time and money. Multiply those savings by our 149 international and domestic ports, and it’s easy to see where billions of dollars in savings are possible.

Manifest issues in current port security

One of the keys to successful port management is carrying out  effective shipping procedures while adhering to rigid national security requirements. Security requires both imports and exports to be checked for illicit goods and weapons. Inspectors must ensure that each container has proper documentation, checked against schedules and shipping manifests.

Although, in theory, this is a gargantuan task of information processing, mobile can help gather and asses security information: It becomes a platform that can be used by security personnel, drivers, port workers, port authority, and upper management, with a series of apps that communicate critical information wherever needed.

Using the example above, a driver could use their mobile device to be notified when their paperwork had been resolved or allow port security to contact them in real time with questions and images. Meanwhile, port security is searching the vehicle, using live video on their devices to send images to the home office with questions or concerns. They can use the same app to scan the container ID, and an image processing solution grabs the container text, automatically searching it in their database. If the truck needs to be x-rayed, those images could be sent through the app to mobile devices, allowing the security personnel to zoom or manipulate the image in real time.

One of the keys to successful port management is carrying out effective shipping procedures while adhering to rigid national security requirements.

If a major issue is present, security in the main office can see an overview of the situation or live footage from their mobile devices. On the way to the crisis, they no longer have to rely on cellphone calls or radios, as their mobile devices can show live video and audio at the site, helping put critical information in the hands of the first responders.

Mobile apps also provides proven security while maintaining effectiveness, especially when using an MDM or MAM, eliminating concerns over stolen equipment and digital records on a device. If a device is lost or compromised, it can be wiped remotely over the internet by IT teams. This feature isn’t always present on portable computers or custom hardware currently used by the transportation industry.

SAFE Act and its challenges

A somewhat controversial topic is the 2006 Security and Accountability For Every Port (SAFE) Act, which required 100% of inbound cargo to be scanned for radiation and advanced imaging tools before being received onto U.S. ships. A consortium of businesses and maritime professionals testified on the extreme difficulty of implementing this protocol, and for years have deferred the requirement.

According to SecurityInfo Watch, at a recent hearing Senator Tom Coburn raised questions about the potential risks for terrorist attacks based on existing vulnerabilities. He also added, “…100 percent scanning isn’t viable or may not be viable, but we need to have a better approach than two to four percent scanning that we’re seeing today.”

No doubt implementing the SAFE Act would be an expensive endeavor, but it seems like it could be more expensive to risk not doing it and certainly more expensive to implement non-mobile solutions. Indeed, even Ronald J. Boyd, Chief of the Los Angeles Port Police Department said in opening remarks at the recent Port Security Operations Conference in Long Beach, “Protection of our supply chain has never been more important than now.”

As Lextech CEO Alex Bratton wrote in Billion Dollar Apps, “Many workflows are still paper-based across industries. These systems must go mobile. Billions of dollars are at stake.” Maritime security management is no exception.

If you work in this industry, what are your every day challenges? Which workflows could stand for improvement? Do you think a reasonable implementation of the SAFE Act is possible with mobile?

Coming up in part 2: Using mobility to improve port operations management