“It’s just basically enhanced visibility throughout the supply chain, more so than an information superhighway,” said Case. “It’s letting people, sort of, better understand where goods are throughout the supply chain and how to better plan for them.”
The International Maritime Organization, a specialized agency of the United Nations which is responsible for the safety of international shipping, uses a vessel tracking system called AIS (automatic identification systems), whose data isn't publicly available, according to Case. With the Supply Chain Information Highway, shippers will have more room to pivot and understand if they'll have a shortfall.
“Most small- to medium-sized businesses traditionally haven't had that. And they've also not had a need for it. Because when the supply chain operated, with some degree of fluidity, it was pretty reasonable that if you record to 21 to 24 days, from there to say, the rail ramp in Chicago, it was pretty much reliably there,” explained Case.
“Because of the backup, because of equipment shortages, it may be two weeks to get on a train off of that pier. And then once that container gets here, if there's no wheels, or what's called the chassis to mount it on, they just leave it sitting on the train,” he added.
The shortage of chassis has caused drivers to wait long hours to load once cargo arrives to a designated location. Chicago emerged as a bottleneck in the global supply chain last year. According to The Journal of Commerce, BNSF Railway has begun grounding containers in Memphis and Kansas City as its Logistics Park Chicago terminal has been clogged for months. Case compared logistics problems like Chicago's to throwing a party for 50 people but having 150 show up.
According to Case, the question to ask is, “Can that visibility [from the Supply Chain Information Highway] prevent future bottlenecks?”
His answer: “Maybe, if it allows the people who own the assets (i.e., the terminal operators, the vessel owners, the railroads and the chassis manufacturers) to know how much equipment they're going to need where and when to be ready for it when it shows up.”
The Port of Long Beach is the second-busiest container seaport in the nation, and with Chicago being a prime distribution hub, the Northwest Seaport Alliance’s involvement makes sense. Case said that the new data-sharing system could be integral in Chicago to eliminate delays and get products into the hands of consumers.
“It will once again provide a more ready supply of ocean containers for exporters, and for exporters both of manufacturing and agricultural goods to be able to get their goods out of the United States, and to help the United States reduce the trade deficit and have a have a stronger export industry.”