An ambitious initiative taken on by the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) addresses continued calls for data standardization and information sharing in ocean shipping as companies focus on making supply chains as risk-proof as possible.
The FMC’s Maritime Transportation Data Initiative is being headed by commissioner Carl Bentzel, who offered the latest update on the program during Wednesday’s FMC meeting.
The commissioner has spoken with ocean carriers, terminal operators, drayage trucking companies, warehouses, distribution centers, shippers, intermodal railroads and governmental bodies since the initiative launched in December.
Bentzel made clear during this week’s meeting the goal isn’t to create a brand-new system and that his process has emphasized using already available information.
“I think the effort I’m looking at is how to take the information that’s out there, the players that provide the information, and create a greater transparency—not to set up a new system of information flow, but to utilize what’s out there, to harmonize that information and to work with all of the [industry] groups to keep the status quo on business and competition, but provide greater information to allow them to be more efficient,” Bentzel said.
He found as part of an initial assessment based on the stakeholder meetings held so far, there isn’t a “credible” system currently in place that could be used as a basis for data standardization. He welcomed industry players to reach out with suggestions, however.
Adding to the challenge of the data initiative is that few federal agencies have jurisdiction over shipping at the ports, outside of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the U.S. Coast Guard, the commissioner pointed out.
Bentzel reported the general consensus he’s heard from industry is there should be a federal standard for data transparency and sharing.
Given the number of stakeholders involved, the operating environment in ocean shipping has historically been defined by competition, with FMC chair Daniel Maffei pointing to the fact that the commission is primarily focused on ensuring competition even as the data initiative is aimed at encouraging companies to work together.
Commissioner Max Vekich said the standardization effort would serve as a bridge across competitors.
“Just the idea of getting a common lexicon will be of great utility to the whole industry,” Vekich said during the meeting.
The challenges of the past few years underscored the need for some form of standardization, with the subject of transparency continuing to dominate supply chain conversations.
By way of example, American Eagle Outfitters Inc.’s logistics business Quiet Platforms said Thursday it’s working with supply chain tech company FourKites on real-time inventory tracking. Elsewhere, the Port of Long Beach late last year announced a Supply Chain Information Highway that’s aimed at offering real-time tracking information from participating terminals, carriers, trucking companies, railroads and shippers.
“I think the pandemic has revealed that we don’t have a lot of space for all of the cargo that’s coming into the United States,” Bentzel said. “And, so, if we don’t make the system more efficient going forward, we probably will not be able to accommodate the volumes that we have.”
Bentzel’s preliminary recommendations are now open for public comment before they are set to be finalized.
The FMC’s data sharing initiative is running alongside a pilot program established by the federal government earlier this year called Freight Logistics Optimization Works (FLOW), also focused on data sharing.
White House Port and Supply Chain Envoy Gen. Stephen Lyons said earlier this week during the ASCM Connect Annual Conference the “one of a kind” pilot program is likely to expand the participant base within the next month.