Federal Maritime Data Initiative Meetings Conclude; Continued Consensus on Need for Better Data

The need for real-time data within the supply chain remained in the spotlight as the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) Maritime Data Initiative meetings concluded in April.

Access to good, real-time data is crucial to prevent inefficiencies through every step of the supply chain, allowing for possible bottlenecks to be predicted and prevented when data is being used to its highest potential.

The goal of the FMC initiative is to establish data standards and best practices for data access and transmission, which is essential not only for reliable and stable ocean transportation systems, but for the global supply chain.

The weekly meetings ran from December through April and examined global supply chain issues from the perspectives of different groups of stakeholders.

Comments from the April data initiative meetings are summarized below.

Consequences and Benefits of Bad and Good Data

The April 5 meeting featured marine terminal operators (MTOs), who discussed how having better access to data would improve overall efficiency in their yards by enabling them to plan yard space, worker hours, and equipment needed in advance. MTOs could better stage cargo in their yards if they had access to better data, thus improving overall supply chain efficiency by allowing for an increase in service to truckers and oceans carriers as well.

The MTOs also discussed issues with receiving too much data, sanitized data, and lagging data — all of which create their own set of inefficiencies

  • Too much data means that it constantly needs to be sorted through and someone must find and pull out what is useful. A lot of data also requires a huge amount of bandwidth.
  • With sanitized data, it is hard to get the level of detail needed to glean the necessary information to be adequately prepared.
  • Lagging data often is not useful at all because it is old or already out of date.

Stakeholders discussed the hope that the supply chain would ideally move to a service infrastructure model and utilize data warehouses so supply chain stakeholders can pull into their systems only the information that is needed.

One stakeholder suggested the mining of data for manifests to better inform staffing strategies in marine terminals and improve import flow. He noted, however, that this would require more complex data management and likely more advanced systems. Their goal is to reduce the rehandling or unnecessary shuffling of cargo. He quipped that the marine terminal is not like a “buffet at the Bellagio”; there is only so much real estate for cargo, and they need to optimize assets and move quickly.

Uses for Standardized Data

The last two meetings on April 12 and April 19 both highlighted the role of carriers in the supply chain. Stakeholders discussed the need for creating a standard that would span across industries, as the lack of a standard is creating inefficiencies, information gaps and a need for some data to be input manually. Standardized data would enable stakeholders to leverage the information, help with fluidity and create a more seamless system for transport and visibility.

The speakers emphasized the need for real-time data because it allows stakeholders to act in real time and choose next best alternatives if they see the potential for a bottleneck in the system. These types of preventative measures can occur only if the data is being captured in real time.

Having the ability to access real-time data also is important for putting the power into the hands of the customer, whomever that may be, in each step of the supply chain. At the end of the day, customers want to know exactly where their cargo is, and currently, being able to collect and share that information often is a complicated process.

One speaker observed that because of the nature of the global supply chain, no one has the ability to just stop what they’re doing and replace the technology that is being used and then start the supply chain up again. Integration has to take place while performing, and on top of that, it has to take place while increasing that performance year over year. The speaker remarked that replacing systems which have been in place for decades is not an easy task to undertake.

Remarks from Commissioner Rebecca Dye

Commissioner Rebecca Dye spoke briefly at the last meeting, noting that visibility is the most important element needed for the ocean supply chain. Commissioner Dye said that no one in the world has been able to harmonize the supply chain, as you would need to tell every significant supply chain actor what they need to know exactly when they need to know it, but that no one supply chain actor can fix the problems alone, a mutual commitment within the supply chain is needed.

Final In-Person FMC Maritime Transportation Summit

Federal Maritime Commissioner Carl Bentzel has led meetings with maritime and intermodal stakeholders from December 2021 to April 2022. Initial findings from these meetings will be presented at the FMC Maritime Transportation Summit, currently scheduled for June 1.

All meetings are open to the public and the FMC has made available a new email address where stakeholders can communicate any concerns related to the topic of maritime data at maritimedata@fmc.gov.

To see the dates and topics of the past initiative meetings, plus links for online viewing, visit the FMC Maritime Transportation Data Initiative website at www.fmc.gov.

CalChamber coverage of previous meetings is available here.

Information compiled by Nicole Ellis, CalChamber international affairs and media relations specialist.

Susanne T. Stirling, vice president, international affairs, has headed CalChamber international activities for more than four decades. She is an appointee of the U.S. Secretary of Commerce to the National Export Council, and serves on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce International Policy Committee, the California International Relations Foundation, and the Chile-California Council. Originally from Denmark, she studied at the University of Copenhagen and holds a B.A. in international relations from the University of the Pacific, where she served as a regent from 2012 to 2021. She earned an M.A. from the School of International Relations at the University of Southern California. See full bio.