FLOW: Easing Supply Chain Disruptions With Data Sharing

The chaos that has ensnared international trade for the past two years has highlighted the crucial role that stable supply chains play for national and global security. Since the pandemic’s start, leaders and policymakers worldwide have been confronted with the perils that supply chain disruptions pose for them and their citizens.

Few countries have felt this harder than the US. According to an index released by GlobalData, a data analytics firm, the US is the most vulnerable nation to supply chain disruptions. Their report, which ranks the magnitude of a nation’s supply chain vulnerability between 1 and 100—with one being the most vulnerable and 100 the least vulnerable—awards the United States a score of 38.35. For comparison, Canada received a score of 77.59, Mexico one of 81.58, and France ranked 76.18. 

Remedying these vulnerabilities will require substantial cooperation between firms and policymakers to rethink everything from sourcing and production to transportation and regulatory measures.

One such effort is underway through the US Department of Transportation’s Freight Logistics Optimization Works (FLOW) initiative. The program seeks to establish a data exchange between carriers, shippers, and logistics providers with the federal government. The goal is to improve supply chain visibility, reduce bottlenecks at ports, and promote data-driven decision-making across the transportation and logistics sector.

Data sharing for fewer supply chain disruptions

According to a recent press release from the US Department of Transportation (USDOT), FLOW is “an effort…to develop a digital tool that gives companies information on the condition of a node or region in the supply chain so that goods can be moved more quickly and cheaply.”

By facilitating data sharing in the supply chain sector, the program aims to improve cooperation between private firms and government agencies and bolster the resilience of national supply chains. Some of the data that will be shared through FLOW include:

  • Cargo bookings
  • Vessels-in-transit
  • Drayage truck dispatch
  • Over-the-road truck dispatch capacity
  • Dispatch capacity
  • Warehouse capacity

The DOT will use this information to generate a demand-over-capacity index that provides firms and public entities with a snapshot of cargo traffic and overall supply chain performance in the US.

Reception from private firms has been positive since the pilot’s launch in March 2022. Some firms participating include large ocean carriers such as CMA CGM and Hapag-Lloyd, consumer goods manufacturers like Procter and Gamble and Samsung, and national retailers like Target. 

A more collaborative future for global supply chains

For years, concerns over revealing trade secrets or losing competitive advantages made supply chain firms reluctant to report the kind of data available in the FLOW exchange. But the pandemic has served as a wake-up call for the value of collaboration in an industry where a single transaction often involves multiple players who rarely communicate. 

Data sharing can significantly improve delays and wait times, especially in ports. The US Secretary of Transportation has said that disclosing information about specific container pickup can help reduce port congestion and idle times for truck drivers. He told NPR: ”Something as simple as knowing whether the container that is in the middle of a set needs to be picked up sooner than one that’s on top of it sounds like basic stuff, but doesn’t always get shared”. 

FLOW isn’t the only initiative seeking to improve supply chain collaboration. On a global scale, the Supply Chain Optimization and Resilience (SCORe) Coalition is currently working with ASTM International—an organization that develops technical standards—to standardize supply chain data and enable the creation of a worldwide supply chain data exchange.

Post-pandemic, the appetite from firms and policymakers to develop consensus and share data is strong. A move towards a more collaborative future will make global supply chains more transparent, innovative, and resilient.

The future of supply chains is collaborative. CTSI-Global has more than six decades of experience collaborating with partners large and small across the transport and logistics sector. Contact us to learn how we can empower you with the right partnerships to succeed