The findings of a freight data sharing study, which involved trials with companies including Woolworths, Nestle and Toll Group, has outlined the opportunities for improvement in the sector, as well as identifying why supply chains are suffering.

The iMOVE Cooperative Research Centre study undertaken with the Bureau of Infrastructure and Transport Research Economics (BITRE) and GS1 Australia recently released its report, the findings of which will assist the Australian Government in setting up the National Freight Data Hub (NFDH).

The NFDH will collect and aggregate data to:

  • Give visibility to how the freight network is performing
  • Improve infrastructure and transport network planning
  • Support operations through aligned data standards and provided timely insights into issues and bottlenecks

The iMOVE/BITRE study sought to test specific use cases to get a deeper insight into these issues and give the NFDH a head start in addressing freight supply chain problems faced by industry.

The study involved three parts: two pilot trials with industry operators including Nestle, Woolworths, Toll, and Infrabuild; and a third pilot working with global business communications standards giant and barcode inventor GS1 Australia dealing with data aggregation.

The data aggregation project involved creating methods and systems to collect and convert raw freight consignment message data into strategic-level data  ie. producing insightful information for governments and industry that can be used for infrastructure planning and policy development.

Using GS1’s electronic interchange systems, the data aggregation pilot was highly successful in showing the benefits that can be gained.

Importantly, it illustrated how aggregated (‘strategic-level’) outputs can be derived from raw freight consignment messages. These include freight volumes by mode and commodity for specified time periods; supply chain-specific freight volume metrics; and supply-chain and network performance metrics (e.g. travel times, and estimated arrival times etc.)

A statement from the report said that the data aggregation project results “demonstrate how operational data can be transformed into strategic data that can help inform infrastructure planning, network operations, corridor planning and freight policy”.

The pilot trials including Nestle, Woolworths, Toll, and Infrabuild sought to identify matching unique consignment information across partner supply chain management systems, and see how this could be shared on different systems in real-time.

Although the trials were cut short by COVID-19, the early findings revealed that real-time freight consignment data is not currently shared across the supply chain and supply chain operators’ noted this impacted their ability to respond to disruptions.

The report said, “The multiplicity of standards and systems in use across industry, made it very difficult for project participants to reconcile and match related consignment records across the different systems”.

The study uncovered, in some cases, the unavailability of useful information about freight consignments once they left the dispatch bay, with paper-based systems still widely used.

“As a result, the shipper typically had no visibility of delayed or late shipments, until queried by the customer, impacting the ability to respond to unanticipated disruptions in a timely and efficient manner,” the report stated.

“The inability to link information across supply chain partners can result in significant re-keying of the same information multiple times across the supply chain, increasing cost and reducing efficiency.

“Increasing digitalisation can assist improved visibility of freight consignments and interoperability between supply chain partners.

“It can also significantly reduce the administrative burden for small operators. Improved visibility can help improve predictability, efficiency, and productivity of the freight industry, and improve industry responsiveness to supply chain delays, bottlenecks or error.”

iMOVE Managing Director, Ian Christensen, called on industry to take bolder steps to embrace data and increase information sharing along supply chains, or risk being out-competed by overseas operators who are already reaping the efficiency benefits.

“If we don’t lift our game Australian productivity could fall further behind, and our competitiveness will be seriously undermined,” Mr Christensen said.

“Freight operations overseas are working vigorously to reduce ‘transactional friction’ along supply chains. 

“Australian businesses need to catch up and recognise the importance of sharing data to maintain the competitiveness of local supply chains.

“State and Federal governments in Australia are also focussed on achieving stronger supply chain performance. 

“Their interest is in making informed decisions on new infrastructure and better freight policy, and to do that they need a clear view of the overall picture. This is best achieved by aggregating (anonymised) real operational data from the freight industry itself.

“iMOVE wants to find ways for governments and businesses to work together to make this happen.”

In a statement following the report’s release, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development, Michael McCormack, said the study will lead to improvements in getting goods to customers by improving access to real-time supply chain freight data.

“The report provides insights for governments and industry for infrastructure planning and delivery,” Mr McCormack said.

“It shows how increasing digitization can improve visibility of freight for supply chain partners to decrease unexpected delivery disruptions.

“The Australian Government has committed $8.5 million to fund projects such as these that are enhancing the collection of freight data across the nation and settle the design of a National Freight Data Hub.”

Assistant Minister for Road Safety and Freight Transport, Scott Buchholz, said the report could open the door to improved productivity and efficiency for the freight industry.

“The report noted sharing real-time freight data would mean our supply chain operators could respond to delays and errors quickly, which will help our truckies do their crucial job getting goods to businesses and consumers,” Mr Buchholz said.

“We want to ensure our freight is moving efficiently across the country, getting to our doors as smoothly as possible.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted more than ever the critical importance of our freight supply chains and all those involved.

“This study has given the Australian Government a deeper insight into ways we can improve our freight supply chains.”

For more information on the Freight Data Exchange Pilot Projects, including a copy of the Summary Report, click here.