November 2002 | Commentary | Viewpoint

'Seeing' Safe Ports: Connect to Protect

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The emergence of new global logistics challenges in the wake of Sept. 11 has prompted the U.S. government to effectively secure our borders. But, of the 5.7 million containers arriving in the United States each year, less than two percent of all shipments offloaded at U.S. ports are inspected prior to arrival.

Limited human resources and finances prevent U.S. Customs from increasing the number of container inspections. This, coupled with ever-present terrorist threats, leaves U.S. ports dangerously vulnerable.

Connect to Protect

Connectivity is key to combating these threats. Sharing and electronically linking information throughout the supply chain helps security officials more accurately identify suspicious shipments.

To achieve this level of collaboration, the government is working with supply chain management vendors to employ the latest technologies aimed at creating global, real-time in-transit visibility and accountability of cargo, equipment, and personnel.

While the importance and requirements of connectivity are clear, a recent study conducted by Urban Wallace & Associates reveals that progress is hindered by several barriers:

  • Insufficient information detail.
  • Systems that do not talk to one another.
  • Lack of electronic connectivity.
  • Business process deficiencies. n Hesitancy to share information.

Moving forward, innovative government programs such as the Container Security Initiative (CSI) are addressing the critical mission of securing the nation's ports. To secure the supply chain, the government is asking shippers to share information with their trading partners. This request will not go away and the status quo will not be tolerated. Supply chain participants must work to create an environment that promotes the rapid dissemination of information among those that need to know.

To successfully accomplish this, according to Urban & Wallace, supply chain partners need to provide:

  • Appropriate technical capabilities.
  • A secure communication line.
  • Mutual benefits for trading partners.
  • A secure system administered and promoted within the trading community.

Collect then Connect

To ensure safe ports, trading partners must first collect quality information, then share this data with their supply chain partners in real time. The collection of quality data requires intelligent messaging systems, the ability to engage and include trading partners with varying technical capabilities, and data message integrity that can offset human errors and foster product identification.

Once data is collected, partners must share the information among companies with differing management systems and technical capabilities.

Despite government initiatives to drive better compliance—such as CSI and the U.S. Customs C-TPAT—challenges still exist. Many small companies continue to track shipments using simple spreadsheets and faxes. Considering compatibility and network integration requirements, these less-efficient methods significantly impede connectivity.

Also, as import inspections become more intense, manufacturers with lean supply chains and just-in-time delivery strategies fear inventory stalls could force manufacturers to close plants.

To this end, the government must determine who is responsible for the costs incurred from expensive inspection equipment and will similarly need to address foreign concerns that these homeland security initiatives will hurt shippers looking to consolidate shipments.

Expect to Connect

As the government makes strides toward securing our borders, ports, and supply chains through existing commercial off-the-shelf technologies, the fundamental components of a secure supply chain rely on access to real-time information. Trade participants are implementing universal solutions to realize the security and cost benefits that can be derived from this visibility.

The key to safe ports is connectivity, and the urgency to connect has never been greater. Full trading community cooperation is vital to secure U.S. borders.

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