AAPA Seaports Advisory

Innovative Program Propels Cargo Visibility Enhancements at U.S. Ports

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How Public Sector Focused Innovation Programs Can Create Market Ready Technology Solutions To Improve Cargo Visibility
The United States boasts more than 150 public port authorities. While each may have responsibility over multiple ports within its jurisdiction, these agencies oversee the operation and management of various seaports, inland ports, and terminals across the country. A majority are structured as regional economic enterprises and therefore play a crucial role in facilitating maritime trade, managing port infrastructure, and promoting economic development.
The COVID-19 pandemic not only exacerbated supply chain disruption at a global scale, but it also elevated the priority of attending to a number of pressing challenges. In recent years, we’ve witnessed an uptick in initiatives designed to curb supply chain bottlenecks, alleviate disruptions and improve freight coordination. So much so that according to the US Department of Transportation, these efforts have lowered costs for consumers and lowered inflation across the economy. Notably, research demonstrates that the normalization of supply chains accounts for more than 80% of the disinflation in the US since 2022. 
Cargo visibility, particularly at ports, is among many areas ripe for innovation and improvement. The challenges in this arena arise from a wide variety of underlying causes, including:

1) Infrastructure: Many ports still rely on manual documentation processes, which are prone to errors, delays, and inefficiencies. These manual, paperwork driven processes can lead to inaccuracies in tracking and delays in cargo movement. What’s more, inadequate infrastructure, such as outdated IT systems or insufficient network connectivity, can hinder the implementation of advanced cargo tracking technologies and real-time data sharing platforms.

2) Security: Concerns over data security and privacy resulting from inadequate safeguards can impede the sharing of sensitive cargo information or real-time data among stakeholders. Moreover, compliance with various regulatory requirements, such as customs regulations and security protocols, adds complexity to cargo visibility efforts. Non-compliance can result in delays and penalties, further complicating cargo tracking and visibility. Additionally, cybersecurity risks come with increasing digitization and connectivity, ports are vulnerable to cyber threats such as data breaches and ransomware attacks.

3) Data: Lack of uniformity or standardization in data formats and communication protocols among different stakeholders in the supply chain hampers the seamless exchange of information. Further, limited interoperability among various systems used by different entities involved in port operations (shipping lines, terminal operators, customs authorities, etc.) may result in fragmented visibility due to challenges in data exchange and integration between systems. Finally, data generated at various stages of the supply chain is often stored in isolated silos, inaccessible to other stakeholders. This lack of data sharing prevents real-time tracking of cargo movements across the entire supply chain.

The sheer number of obstacles and opportunities surrounding cargo visibility has created an opportune inflection point for cross sector collaboration to usher in a new era of “smart ports”. Both private and public sector actors are turning to technology to source new and innovative solutions that allow for real-time tracking of trucks and containers, efficiency metric reports, and advanced data analytics.  
At the federal level, one notable example is the Freight Logistics Optimizations Works (FLOW) initiative.  Launched as an outgrowth of the Biden administration’s 2021 ​​Supply Chain Disruptions Task Force, FLOW is a first-of-its-kind private-public partnership created and led by the U.S. Department of Transportation for members, which include the nation’s busiest container ports, major ocean carriers, and some of the largest retail importers. The FLOW platform publishes data on inland freight hubs, including rail terminal and warehouse end destination data, that enables members to access an enhanced view of future container import volumes and traffic. This data is designed to avoid supply chain challenges, such as delays, inform capacity decisions and perhaps ultimately, help lower costs for consumers. 
Beyond expanding public access to available data through FLOW’s unique API, the industry is anticipating a new wave of funding support. The $17 billion Bipartisan Infrastructure Law includes an allocation of $450 million to strengthen coastal and inland waterway ports through the U.S. Maritime Administration’s Port Infrastructure Development Program (PIDP). The US DOT recently designated roughly $5 billion in grants to improve the movement of freight across the country and ease trucking bottlenecks through new build or repair infrastructure projects. 
At the local level, Miami-Dade Innovation Authority (“MDIA”) recently joined forces with PortMiami, Miami-Dade County, and the American Association of Port Authorities to launch the Cargo Visibility Public Innovation Challenge. This open call presents a game-changing opportunity for local and global early-to-growth stage startup companies to revolutionize cargo visibility using public data.
Examples of increased-visibility solutions include leveraging technology like cameras and computer vision in public spaces to track containers at ports and on public roadways; utilizing public data sources such as satellite imagery, APIs, weather data, and maritime databases; employing advanced analytics, machine learning, or AI to process data; and focusing on optimizing internal port processes with external stakeholders without the need for extensive integration. 
MDIA’s aim with this first of potentially many seaport related challenges is to accelerate solutions that set a global benchmark. To do so, it will select at least three (3) technology start-ups and provide $100,000 in funding to each company to support testing of solutions at PortMiami so that they can be scaled to others globally.  
PortMiami is recognized as the Global Gateway of the Americas, linking worldwide markets with US consumers and producers, who in turn work with global container carriers that connect Latin America, Asia, and Europe to Florida. For companies, this is a unique opportunity to pilot technology in a commercial setting with one of Miami-Dade County’s most important economic engines, which contributes $43 billion annually to the local economy and supports more than 334,500 jobs.  
MDIA’s public innovation challenge endeavors to pioneer the future of cargo management by using Miami-Dade County,  a leading technology hub, as the preferred testbed. Indeed, as cargo movement surges, enhanced visibility is becoming more crucial for efficiency, sustainability, and cost reduction across the supply chain. As MDIA and other federal efforts demonstrate, we must leverage innovative models to bridge widening gaps between private innovators and the public sector in order to meet pressing industry and community needs. 
The deadline to submit proposals is April 29, 2024. Those interested in learning more about this opportunity should visit: www.mdia.miami/port.
Leigh-Ann Buchanan, Esq., currently serves as the President and CEO of the Miami-Dade Innovation Authority. As a founder, investor, and strategic advisor, her body of work explores how technology, innovation and social investment intersect with equity to transform communities. Leigh-Ann has led a diverse portfolio of social impact initiatives that collectively have unlocked more than $75 million in philanthropic support from public and private sector sources to bridge opportunity and access gaps for underrepresented groups.


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