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Getting Logistics & Distribution Data to FLOW with Interoperability
Rob Trice, Founding Partner, Better Food Ventures
In the sector I focus on, food and agriculture, I see firsthand how the lack of interoperable data leads to lost margin, higher costs, and greater food waste. In 2021 my colleagues wrote of these challenges: Megan Shahan wrote an Issue Paper for the Farm Foundation on the need for Data Interoperability in Agriculture and Seana Day and Brita Rosenheim undertook the herculean effort to develop a landscape of Food Supply Chain Tech companies.
The good news is that there is now movement starting to address this lack of supply chain data interoperability. In March of 2022 The White House issued a press release to announce the FLOW initiative to improve “Freight Logistics Optimization Works”. The Department of Transportation is leading this effort by convening stakeholders and developing proof-of-concepts.
Additionally, a complementary undertaking, the SCORe (Supply Chain Resilience & Optimization) Coalition is making good headway in getting participants and working groups established. According to Jeff Weiss, Counsel to SCORe, if all goes as planned, SCORe will have a formal standardization process underway this fall after a Board vote by ASTM International, the nearly 100-year old non-profit organization that has established over 13,000 standards in its lifetime.
One promising element of the SCORe Coalition is that it is making a concerted effort to map and collaborate with other efforts (so as not to”reinvent the wheel”).
SCORe is also making inroads to adopt the most effective ways to turn standardization talk into action. Too often outcomes from data semantic harmonization initiatives never get implemented in industry. To that end, I am pleased that SCORe is working with agriculture technology players like the Purdue Open Agriculture Technology Systems (OATS) Center, OpenTEAM, Semios, our organization– The Mixing Bowl, as well as industry groups such as Farm Foundation and the International Fresh Produce Association to cooperatively apply the “Interoperable Data to Enhance Agriculture” (IDEA) methodology to industry challenges in the perishable food supply chain. The IDEA approach brings stakeholders from across a specific supply chain together to map information data gaps (through something called “event storming”) and then uses software development hackathons to rapidly iterate solutions to those problems. (As an example of this methodology at work, see the report-out from the Farm Foundation’s “Fixing the Healthy Soils Tech Stack” two-day collaborative hackathon last month). The output from a two-day hackathon is not intended to solve all of a supply chain’s data problems, but it rallies a community to continue working together on the burden of implementation in the industry.
Resiliency—the ability to recover from an unexpected shock—requires visibility, agility, and redundancy. The lack of digital infrastructure and transparency makes our supply chains brittle and unable to adapt when faced with a shock.
Perhaps a silver lining of COVID is that, as we rebound from the crisis, we are taking action to optimize supply chains through better digitization. We’ve seen a raised awareness of the need for interoperable supply chain data and, more importantly, a healthy awareness of the numerous groups working on data interoperability to interoperate between themselves to be effective. Human and institutional interoperability, coupled with the latest data sovereignty technology solutions, can lead to the effective implementation of data interoperability that will provide the resiliency we need in our supply chains.