Through a public-private initiative, the Department of Transportation is developing a digital tool that gives companies information on the condition of a node or region in the supply chain.
In March, the Biden Administration introduced Freight Logistics Optimization Works (FLOW), an information-sharing initiative focused on the exchange of freight information between parts of the goods movement supply chain. The effort started with 18 initial participants that represented diverse perspectives across the supply chain, including private businesses, warehousing, and logistics companies and ports.
Those stakeholders are now working together with the Administration to develop a proof-of-concept information exchange to ease supply chain congestion, speed up the movement of goods, and ultimately cut costs for American consumers. The Department of Transportation (DOT) is leading this effort and bringing supply chain stakeholders together to problem solve and overcome coordination challenges.
“Recent supply chain disruptions have raised national awareness of the need for improved information exchange. Supply chain stakeholders deserve reliable, predictable, and accurate information about goods movement and FLOW will test the idea that cooperation on foundational freight digital infrastructure is in the interest of both public and private parties,” the White House said when introducing the initiative. “FLOW is designed to support businesses throughout the supply chain and improve accuracy of information from end-to-end for a more resilient supply chain.”
Fast-Forward to Now
It’s been four months since FLOW was rolled out and there are now 36 participants taking part in the initiative. In August, the DOT, Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Port Envoy Gen. Stephen Lyons hosted a convening of FLOW partners to advance the development of the initiative and welcome new members.
The convening marked an important milestone for FLOW: the number of participants has doubled, and existing partners have begun securely sharing data with USDOT for the first time. “At the convening, members who operate across our supply chains will discuss the results of their recent innovative data sharing and how it can help meet the challenges that remain,” DOT reported.
According to FreightWaves, data submitted by participants — including purchase order forecasts, cargo bookings, vessels in-transit, marine terminal space availability, drayage truck dispatch capacity, over-the-road truck dispatch capacity, chassis availability and warehouse capacity — will be used to create an index of demand over capacity, according to DOT. The index is expected to act as a leading indicator of freight congestion and supply chain performance.
All in Favor Say “Aye”
Several FLOW participants have voiced their support of the initiative and its potential. “It has been great to collaborate with the FLOW team since the very beginning and see the progress already being made toward achieving true end-to-end visibility that includes every link in the supply chain,” said Ed Aldridge of CMA CGM America and APL North America.
“This is essential for increasing fluidity of operations in the U.S. and will enable all parties in the supply chain to more accurately forecast and address potential issues,” he continued. “At CMA CGM, we are committed to being part of the solution and continue to work with the U.S. government to make a real difference for the industry and our customers.”
Mike Wells of DCLI is equally as enthused by FLOW’s prospects. “As an active participant in the FLOW initiative, DCLI welcomes the progress that has been made in developing a data sharing process that will improve visibility into the health of our supply chain, enable more effective management of our assets, and ultimately improve service to our customers at major port gateways,” Wells said. “We look forward to continuing these efforts in the months ahead.”
Tearing Down the Information Silos
Ultimately, FLOW is all about opening lines of communication and flattening out the information silos that exist across key trading partners. These data gaps have always existed, but they became especially apparent—and, detrimental—during the early stages of the pandemic. Across some sectors and for some products, the issues have continued well after some of the more publicized product outages subsided.
“Currently, the lack of transparency across supply chain networks makes our supply chain brittle and unable to adapt when faced with an anomaly,” the USDOT Maritime Administration points out. “Through the FLOW pilot, USDOT is serving 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.”
“By providing a shared view of the national logistics system,” the DOT continues, “including both supply and demand assets, participants can better understand supply chain capacity nationally.”