Technology

National Freight Data Hub to increase efficiency and productivity

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Data is becoming the oil that lubricates the flow of freight across the nation.

The importance of data for the smooth flow of goods was highlighted in the report from iMOVE’s Freight Data Requirements Study which was released recently by the Federal government.

The study is a comprehensive analysis of the needs for, and availability of freight data in Australia. iMOVE found a highly fragmented environment in which much data is collected but its inconsistency and dispersed storage severely reduces its usefulness.

In today’s high paced, highly competitive freight industry, the factor that distinguishes high performers is the intensity of their data usage. Going forward however, it is not just individual freight operators that have to perform well, but the whole system must operate seamlessly. Despite each company’s fierce independence, we now have to work together to coordinate the movement of goods along supply chains. And that is going to require active sharing of information (freight data) amongst the relevant stakeholders.

If we deny this need for a modest sharing of basic data we will never know ‘when the box is going to arrive’ (see previous discussion on this subject Where’s my box? The case for improved supply chain visibility. Now!), and never enjoy the increased productivity. Australia’s success depends on getting this right.

The importance of freight to all of Australia

iMOVE is pleased that the Federal Government has recognised of the importance of the freight sector to the national economy, and the importance of data flow to the efficiency of the transport system. ACIL Allen Consulting recently estimated that a 1% increase in total factor productivity in the logistics industry would yield a $2 billion increase in national GDP.

We strongly support the development of the National Freight and Supply Chain Strategy and welcomes the release of the Federal Government’s update on its actions to strengthen Australia’s supply chains and lift the performance of Australia’s freight industry.

The Deputy Prime Minister, Nationals’ Leader and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack said, ‘The Liberals and Nationals Government, together with industry and the state, territory and local governments, is working on developing a National Freight and Supply Chain Strategy to make sure we can meet that growing task and keep freight moving efficiently.’

A National Freight Data Hub

The federal government responded to the recommendations in the iMOVE report by committing $8.5 million in the 2019 budget to develop a National Freight Data Hub, and to pilot supply chain data exchange processes. Together, these initiatives will improve the flow of data and will help business and governments make better operational and investment decisions.

‘Industry has called for better freight data and we are delivering. We know better data makes better decisions and that means jobs and opportunities can flow, especially in the regions,’ Mr McCormack said.

Recommendations

Amidst all the fact finding, results of interviews and surveys, and close analyses of the industry both nationally and internationally, the report makes 12 recommendations, across three areas. They are:

Establishment of a national policy on freight data in Australia

  • As the lead agency in the formation of the National Freight and Supply Chain Strategy (NFSCS), the Commonwealth should lead the development of a national policy on freight data that seeks to improve the collection, hosting, access to, and analysis of information relating to the movement of freight, and which addresses the interests of all stakeholders in the sector. It is recognised that the NFSCS is being developed in conjunction with all jurisdictions.
  • Consistent with existing legislative requirements, a mechanism should be established to define and implement nationally a framework of standards for freight data to facilitate aggregation and comparison across diverse data sources. The States, via COAG, would play a key role in facilitating a framework of data collection standards. The Commonwealth would play a coordinating role.
  • The Commonwealth should act to make its own freight related data available in a manner consistent with open data principles, and encourage other data owners such as asset and fleet managers, regulators, state government agencies, freight operators and freight customers to do likewise.

Freight Data Coordination Office

  • A Freight Data Coordination Office be established to:

a. collect, host, and disseminate freight data at a national level, leaving data analysis to be conducted by relevant stakeholders according to their respective mandates, including at the state and regional level;
b. encourage data providers to deliver needed data compliant with established data standards; and
c. initiate processes to procure missing data.

  • A mechanism be established by which a steering group representative of data users and data collectors can guide the priorities of the Office to build trust in the new organisation and maintain its relevance to stakeholders.
  • The Commonwealth take a leadership role in the procurement of such ‘commercial’ freight-related data as is needed and which exhibits good value for money. For example, if jurisdictions are separately purchasing vehicle movement data, there may be a benefit in the Commonwealth acting as a monopsony buyer of these datasets.
  • Secure protocols be established for data collection and handling that support participation and contribution from stakeholders that can supply a wide range of data sources.
  • Practical and robust arrangements be established for securing access to raw freight data from industry participants including rules related to aggregation and public access to respect commercial sensitivity.

Other initiatives

The following initiatives are intended to support progress towards better meeting stakeholders’ requirements for fit-for-purpose and up-to-date data sets. We recommend that:

  • A republishing or ‘hosting’ website be established with the mission to republish all freight data on a single site.
  • A transition be encouraged to move towards low cost, harmonised collection processes for all freight related data from wherever it is generated or held. This includes (but is not limited to):

a. the automation of current survey processes;
b. the increased adoption of vehicle telemetry and usage of vehicle telematic data;
c. the establishment of new automated sensing methods to generate needed data;
d. accessing public and private datasets with agreed inquiry tools; and
e. changing data analyses to utilise the higher availability of automatically collected data.

  • Acknowledgement be made of the important contribution to the Australian freight data ecosystem by some existing programs, and that arrangements be made to either encourage, or directly support (if a Commonwealth program), their continuing operation. We recommend the following programs, among others, be considered for ongoing support:

a. TranSIT (CSIRO);
b. Supply chain Indicators, Infrastructure Performance Dashboard, Freight Performance Indicators, Developing and Promoting Best Practice Modelling Assumptions (BITRE);
c. Customs Freight Data Analysis Project (National Transport Commission (NTC), BITRE);
d. Tracking Commonwealth and state open data (Australian Transport Data Action Network (ATDAN), BITRE);
e. Supply chain data visibility through the GS1 EPICS standard (Australian Logistics Council (ALC), Nestlè and others);
f. Data Sharing Taskforce (NSW Government); and
g. Heavy Vehicle Infrastructure Asset Registers (DIRDC, Australian Road Research Board (ARRB)).

  • The Commonwealth prioritise its investment in assembling ‘missing’ freight data towards the following five freight data needs (identified from a case-by-case assessment conducted by this study of the potential costs and benefits associated with the closure of each gap):
    Supply chain visibility:

a. Improve the visibility of the containerised supply chain, from port to intermodal hub to final destination; and
b. Improve the visibility of the domestic food and manufactured products supply chain, from farm/plant to warehousing and distribution centres to the final destination.
Better coordination of existing freight data (standards, confidentiality, harmonisation, granularity):
c. Adopt and propagate freight data standards and protocols (where considered beneficial) to align datasets to common standards and levels of granularity and confidentiality, focusing first on network utilisation measures (e.g. volumes) and productivity measures already collected (or potentially easily collected at low cost) by freight operators.
Long-term planning and investment in the network:
d. Determine the most significant data needs related to the government’s role in planning supply chain network integration and expansion, and long-term sustainability and resilience, potentially through dialogue with Infrastructure Australia and relevant state-based infrastructure advisory bodies (such as iNSW and Building Queensland).
e. Give priority to satisfying the network infrastructure data needs of these bodies.

Download the report

iMOVE looks forward to working with all stakeholders in the freight community to help them improve the flow of information across the industry to enable operational and investment decisions to be better informed, and for the sector to improve its efficiency and productivity.

To have a closer look at the study, here are all the downloadable components of the report:

I would like to acknowledge information provided by many industry stakeholders, along with assistance provided by the Australian Road Research Board (ARRB), the Research Centre for Integrated Transport, Innovation (rCITI, UNSW), the Australian Institute for Business and Economics (AIBE, University of Queensland), and the Centre for Supply Chain and Logistics (CSCL, Deakin University).

Author: Ian Christensen. Ian is the Managing Director of iMove CRC. He’s excited by the opportunity presented by the digitisation revolution to address the needs of the transport and mobility sectors, and looks forward to combining his CRC leadership experience with his interests in technology, enthusiasm for national progress, and familiarity with industry.

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