The Impact of New Information Technologies on U.S. Containerized Agricultural Exports - Focusing on the Ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach, Oakland
Report Prepared for USDA-AMS USDA Cooperative Agreement No. 20-TMTSD-CA-0007 January 3, 2022
71 Pages Posted: 30 Jan 2022
Date Written: January 3, 2022
We are entering a period of dynamic and fundamental change in the transportation and logistics industry. The communication and collaborative aspects of the Internet are changing the way firms develop their logistics strategies, processes and systems. Internet and digital technologies help facilitate information sharing and logistics synchronization between trading partners and service providers. Companies that embrace this paradigm and the opportunity it presents can minimize operating costs, achieve better supply chain integration, and increase market power through customer-focused fulfillment.
Today’s digital technologies in the logistics industry are driven by a new generation of cloud-based applications that seek to enable collaboration and optimization, leveraging a central logistics information backbone to provide visibility across the logistics chain. These new enterprise and logistics applications are sometimes integrated with core financial, transportation and warehouse management systems to achieve improved efficiency and supply chain excellence. Companies successfully implementing this new paradigm include Amazon, UPS, FedEx, and retailers such as Walmart, Target, and Costco. Through their technology investment, utilization and sharing of real time data, they make efficient use of their many physical assets to achieve timely delivery, profitability, and impressive customer satisfaction.
Turning to containerized agricultural export, however, we see a technology landscape with deeply fragmented providers and logistics nodes. There are understandable reasons behind this fragmentation. For example, Southern California (San Pedro Bay) alone consists of two major ports, three major chassis providers, more than a dozen ocean carriers, 13+ terminals, two railroads, 4,400+ truckers, and thousands of importers and exporters. Yet, each stakeholder has its own enterprise resource planning system (ERP), transportation management system (TMS) and/or warehouse management system (WMS). These systems are at best minimally connected to other logistics stakeholder systems, and these participants are therefore unable to (technologically) talk to each other and share real-time data.
Clearly, through the use of APIs (application programming interfaces) today’s off-the-shelf digital technologies offer the potential for significant collaboration, data sharing and efficiency gains – e.g., ERPs, TMSs, WMSs, port enterprise systems and their community data portals, marine terminal operating systems, railroad operating systems, and the plethora of IoT, GPS and RFID devices that can be installed on chassis and containers.
However, the on-the-ground reality remains that:
• Many agricultural export logistics providers operate on thin margins so it can be difficult for them to make this investment.
• Updating and adopting new digital technologies to replace legacy systems and implementing API integration across all providers and logistics nodes can involve significant time and cost.
• The adoption and effective utilization of new digital technologies also require investment in human capital.
• Many providers in this fragmented technology ecosystem remain fearful of losing control over their proprietary data.
• Transforming this ecosystem only adds true value and cargo visibility if all provider/stakeholder
“enterprise and operating systems” and logistics nodes are connected and integrated through the cloud via APIs. Such an ecosystem will only be as strong as its weakest link, and can only efficiently function if all of the providers in the logistics chain share real-time data and information.
This report addresses the fragmentation and impact of digital technologies in the context of containerized agricultural export. This includes a discussion on the continued existence of “legacy technology systems” and the lack of API integration and sharing of real-time data among agricultural export logistics providers. As examples, we specifically analyze that state of digital technologies as they apply to chassis management and the utilization and execution of street turns (also referred to as “matchbacks").
To help improve the technological efficacy and resiliency of this agricultural export ecosystem, we propose five recommendations: (1) promote technology education training for agricultural exporters and their logistics service providers and partners; (2) the agricultural community must actively engage and incorporate “technology as infrastructure” into the current national supply chain discussion and debate; (3) providers must monitor Digital Container Shipping Association (DCSA) developments and where appropriate incorporate those initiatives into their agricultural export business model; (4) consider pooling technology resources (e.g., the creation of technology cooperatives); and (5) offer incentives that will help providers and users upgrade and adopt new and collaborative cloud and API-focused logistics technologies.
Keywords: Agricultural Exporters, Logistics, Supply Chain, Containers, Enterprise Resource Planning Systems, Transportation Management Systems, Warehouse Management Systems, APIs, Freight Visibility, Port Congestion, Startups
JEL Classification: M11, M13, M15, M16, M21, Q13, Q16, Q17, Q18, R40, R41, R42, R53, R58
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation