U.S. ports are creating a de facto international paperless trading network that will enable them to exchange business information quickly and easily.
Ports, ship lines and shippers in the United States and overseas can tap into the telecommunications links that GE Information Services set up for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey's Automated Cargo Expediting System, or ACES.
"What you're seeing here is ports beginning to come together in some sort of common link," said Jerrol Larrieu, director of management information systems for the Port of New Orleans' Crescent system. Mr. Larrieu also is director of the American Association of Port Authorities' information technology committee.
ACES' potential use by other ports in the United States and elsewhere comes with New York's renewal of its contract with GE Information Services.
It marks the first time a U.S. port has opened up its data-processing service to use by other facilities, maritime executives said.
New Orleans will link with ACES as soon as Mr. Larrieu gets approval from the port's board. Port authorities in Houston and Savannah, Ga., also are discussing ties, and a number of other ports are in negotiations with GE Information Services.
Abroad, the ports of Singapore, Hamburg, Germany, and Le Havre, France, have expressed interest in tapping into ACES, executives said. A number of U.S. ports have electronic links with individual foreign ports.
With the ACES system, ship lines, ports and transportation companies come under an electronic umbrella. One user can easily communicate with all the other companies tied to the system.
Ship lines, ports and service bureaus often must maintain dozens of individual links with different companies. With an ACES-type system, they simply tap into a single network.
"There's no reason in the world why the Port of New Orleans can't be on New York's system," said Jim Levis, manager of systems integration for Atlantic Container Line, in South Plainfield, N.J. "What that does is, it provides communications to all of the shipping lines through New York's system."
Users can send to ACES and receive data from other electronic communications networks as well. The South Carolina State Ports Authority works with the IBM Information Network, while the Port of Seattle has an agreement with Sterling Software's Ordernet Services division. But GE Information Services, through its ACES contract, offers advantages in cost and convenience, port executives said.
"We are seriously considering joining the ACES network," said David Crickette, information services administrator for the Georgia Ports Authority. "There are some very attractive financial cost benefits for all the port authorities to participate in the network," he said. Georgia works with GE Information Services' regular network.
Houston is "evaluating" a switch from BT Tymnet to GE Information Services, said James Eldridge, manager of management information services at the Port of Houston Authority. "It looks like there will be a significant cost savings," he said.
"Our trading partners are already using General Electric," Georgia's Mr. Crickette said.