In most industries we don’t think twice about the quality of the data we receive. Personal banking and travel are two great examples. If your online checking account indicates a deposit has cleared, we believe it. Likewise, when our airline app tells us the flight has landed, we are confident our friend will soon be ready for us to pick them up at arrival. Not so in international shipping, where data for everything from a cargo’s departure, gate-in at a terminal or release from customs is far less dependable than we would like.
It’s an issue that has hampered widescale digitization, putting us well behind most industries today. True digitization requires dependable and trusted data which enables a virtuous cycle where organizations use and share data to their mutual benefit. That cycle is broken when you can’t trust the data, and that lack of trust has widespread impacts in the supply chain. If you can’t trust the data, you can’t be sure that a container will arrive at a terminal when planned and can’t confidently adjust your transportation plan for expected delays. And then supply chain participants downstream can’t get the accurate and timely information they need to adjust their plans, either. Everyone is impacted.
The result is a vicious cycle of unreliable data that can't support digital processes consistently. Digitization stops right there. For this reason, our team is committed to data transformation in supply chains and putting data quality at the heart of everything we do. We recently trained our attention on four approaches to improving data that will form a much-needed foundation for industry-wide change.
Some practices that are pretty standard in other industries have yet to take root in the supply chain. We are using APIs rather than EDI in the exchange of data. APIs have a way of enforcing standards — which is one of our big goals, as well as a big goal in the industry. Implementation of strong validation rules is also a priority. If we can settle those two things, we'll be well on our way to making the data that's available in the ecosystem more accurate, complete, consistent and reliable.
Getting data straight from the source and making it available in near real-time will boost the quality of information, too. So we are really focused on connecting directly to data publishers and employing technologies that publish their data immediately. By getting confirmations from the actors themselves and not from second or third parties, the facts come in fast and unfiltered.
Enabling supply chain participants to share information without hesitation isn’t directly related to data quality, but it doesn’t work without it. Transparency and availability can’t happen if supply chain partners can’t be absolutely assured that they’re in control of the information they share and that their sensitive data like sourcing information and pricing are protected.
TradeLens participants operate within a contained supply chain ecosystem where data is encrypted, secure and fully auditable. The TradeLens data sharing and permission model governs what parties to a shipment provide data and what parties are granted access to that data, based on international standards and codified in a publicly available specification. Sensitive information like trade documents remain under the control of the providers across a distributed network of the blockchain nodes.
So what else does TradeLens do to improve data? First off, no data provided by participants ever gets changed. But TradeLens can be a catalyst for continuous improvement in industry data quality. How? By enabling multi-party data exchange and facilitating improvement feedback loops between data users and data providers. When users have issues with the data, the feedback is sent directly to the data providers. TradeLens also proactively employs advanced data analysis tools to detect issues and potential issues which get reported back to the source.
The power of feedback loops comes from the buy-in of the ecosystem participants — a requisite of joining TradeLens — to cleaning up their data and continually remediating root cause issues. That makes it an iterative process that every participant has skin in. This is perhaps the biggest and most far-reaching benefit. Because in truth, none of this works without the commitment of all parties to data transformation. TradeLens is helping organizations to see that by providing better data, they benefit, too.
Commitment to standards and to providing real time information is taking hold on TradeLens, and that's creating trust. We're seeing the results in the sheer volume of events being shared. The next goal is to get the parties in the logistics chain to use the information to create transportation plans, replan, make rolling estimates and publish actuals as they occur. When participants use the information they receive to improve operations and minimize impact on everyone else, the future of data transformation is revealed. That means delays or issues upstream won’t necessarily mean delays at destination because others in the logistics chain can re-plan and react accordingly, thus reducing or eliminating the impact.
Through tools backed by AI, TradeLens will be able to take that a step further by proactively informing participants of problems and potential problems. TradeLens supports a new ethos of data quality by creating an ecosystem where it can flourish, thrive and take hold up and down the supply chain. From there it can spread across every industry that relies on supply chains.
We’re already seeing signs of the transformation. As the TradeLens platform grows to include some of the world’s largest ocean carriers, their commitment to data standards sets the pace for other participants. Another sign is the growing number of new ecosystem participants from throughout the supply chain. The more accurate events that are shared and the more platform participants there are who commit to using the data and acting on it — the bigger and wider this data transformation will be.
Learn how to become part of the new wave of transformation by becoming an ecosystem member. Whether you’re a carrier, 3PL, customs authority, shipper or port operator, every contribution improves data quality and everyone benefits.