The pandemic emphasized the need for better ways to identify supply chain problems before they pile up catastrophically. In this video-taped update from the US Department of Transportation (DOT), Pete Buttigieg, US Secretary of Transportation, and Celeste Drake, Deputy Director of the National Economic Council, present a progress report on the Freight Logistics Optimization Works (FLOW) initiative. In this digital infrastructure project, supply chain participants share data to address their mutual challenges. The speakers make a compelling case for FLOW’s progress in its efforts to improve US supply chains’ affordability, reliability and resilience.
- The Freight Logistics Optimization Works (FLOW) Initiative is a collaboration between the public and private sectors to address US supply chain challenges through data sharing.
- FLOW’s shared data infrastructure enables firms to deploy resources more effectively, thus improving their capacity and efficiency, and cutting the cost of consumer goods.
- Even post-COVID, challenges such as climate change will continue to stress supply chains.
The Freight Logistics Optimization Works (FLOW) Initiative is a collaboration between the public and private sectors to address supply chain challenges through data sharing.
The COVID-19 pandemic pushed supply chains to their limits. In the United States, ships were left stranded at sea – sometimes more than 100 waited for berths at ports, so they could deliver their cargo. Goods themselves were stuck in warehouses far from their intended destinations, pushing many small businesses to the brink of financial failure and putting consumers’ health and happiness at risk.
“Some people were saying, especially on television, that Christmas was just going to be canceled in 2021.” (Pete Buttigieg, US Secretary of Transportation)
The US Department of Transportation was proactive in addressing these problems, first, by boosting America’s physical infrastructure – its ports, roads, railroads and bridges. It also helped increase the number of truckers delivering goods and created temporary container yards. But investing in public infrastructure is not enough if your data infrastructure is also lacking. That problem led to the creation of the Freight Logistics Optimization Works program or FLOW in March 2022.
FLOW works to provide a real-time picture of supply chain conditions by aggregating and sharing participants’ data. This information resource allows government entities and private companies to identify and respond to potential supply chain problems before they escalate, thus improving the movement of goods throughout the United States.
FLOW’s shared data infrastructure enables firms to deploy resources more effectively, thus improving their capacity and efficiency, and cutting the cost of consumer goods.
FLOW started with just 18 participants, but that number doubled within a few months. Today, in places like Los Angeles, Long Beach and New York, more than 50% of industry members participate. The ports, shippers, manufacturers and agricultural producers who have joined FLOW share their data and also gain access to pooled data, thus giving them the information they need to work more effectively. This, in turn, helps lower the costs of goods for consumers.
“Many of you are now sharing data about your supply chain operations with us, that we are then aggregating, anonymizing and sending back out to build a shared real-time picture of American supply chains that can help you to more efficiently deploy your resources, your equipment and your people.” (Pete Buttigieg)
Historically, companies have had no practical way to share data about what they’re moving, and how, when and where. That’s one reason supply chains became snarled so easily during the pandemic. The supply chain suffered from too many unforeseen delays, the kinds of issues that can arise at any point in the shipping process. Imagine wanting to pick up family members who are flying into one of Washington, DC’s two major airports without knowing the right airport, airline or arrival time. FLOW participants aren’t left guessing. For instance, often they can learn which shipments are planned to arrive at which ports as much as three months in advance.
Even post-COVID, challenges such as climate change will continue to stress supply chains.
The pandemic won’t be the last severe challenge that tests US supply chains. Climate change and the resulting increase in extreme weather events continue to disrupt shipping and harm American communities. Thus, continued investment in infrastructure – both physical and digital – is imperative. As US Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg clarified, the US Department of Transportation, in partnership with business, will continue to support FLOW’s expansion and refinement to help ensure the long-term agility and resilience of America’s supply chains.
About the Speakers
Pete Buttigieg is the US Secretary of Transportation, and Celeste Drake is Deputy Director of the US National Economic Council.