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Carriers, Shippers, Ports and DOT Data Sharing Improves Supply Chain

data sharing to improve US supply chain
US DOT is leading a data sharing initiative to improve the supply chain (Los Angeles file photo)

Published Aug 10, 2022 8:01 PM by The Maritime Executive

As part of its efforts to enhance U.S. supply chain operations and fortify it along all its elements from the shipping companies to terminals, intermodal operators, and shippers, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) is developing its industry partnership, Freight Logistics Optimization Works (FLOW). Long called for among the industry, one of the key initiatives of the working group is the sharing of data among the partners and with DOT to identify and manage problems along the supply chain.

FLOW was launched in March as a first-of-its-kind effort by the Biden-Harris Administration and supply chain companies to develop a digital tool that gives companies information on the condition of a node or region in the supply chain. The objective is to improve oversight across the supply chain and provide better information so that goods can be moved quickly and cheaply. 

Since its launch, DOT reports that the number of companies participating in the program has doubled. There are now 36 participants that are a part of FLOW, including major shipping lines MSC, Maersk, CMA CGM, and Hapag-Lloyd, as well as terminal operators, port authorities, intermodal shippers, and retailers and manufacturers. DOT expects membership will continue to grow in the coming months.

“The start of data sharing between industry and USDOT is an important milestone for FLOW,” said Army General Stephen Lyons who is the Biden Administration’s Supply Chain Envoy.  “We look forward to continuing to collaborate with industry to develop this tool to enable industry to make more informed decisions that will improve the movement of goods along our supply chain.”

Lyons has been critical of the supply chain, saying during a Bloomberg interview this week that more fluidity is key to improving the movement of cargo. Data sharing is seen by many as one key element while Lyons is also calling for universal 24/7 operations by ports, warehouses, and all carriers.

The lack of transparency across supply chain networks is cited by DOT as a key element that makes the supply chain brittle and unable to adapt when faced with an anomaly. Through the FLOW pilot, DOT seeks to act as an independent steward of supply chain data across a largely privately-operated enterprise that spans shipping lines, ports, terminal operators, truckers, railroads, warehouses, and beneficial cargo owners.

"The Biden-Harris Administration is proud to bring together companies from across the supply chain in this first-of-its-kind initiative to share information and help move goods more quickly and cheaply," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. "To keep supply chains moving and prices down, we must invest not only in our physical infrastructure but also our digital infrastructure, and FLOW is an important part of that effort."

DOT hosted a meeting of the members of FLOW today, August 10, to discuss the results of their recent data-sharing initiatives and how it can help meet the challenges that remain. DOT also plans to hold listening sessions with small businesses, technology experts, and others, as it seeks to identify additional issues along the supply chain.