Conducted by the iMove Cooperative Research Centre in conjunction with the Bureau of Infrastructure and Transport Research Economics (BITRE) and GS1 Australia, the study involved companies including Woolworths, Nestle and Toll Group.
It involved three pilot trials – two with Nestle, Woolworths, Toll, and Infrabuild; and a third with standards organisation GS1 Australia to deal with data aggregation.
The industry trials looked for matching unique consignment information across partner supply chain management systems, and investigated how that could be shared in real time across different systems.
Despite being curtailed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the trials established that real-time freight consignment data is not currently shared, and this is affecting the ability to respond to disruptions: "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," according to the report.
Furthermore, paper-based systems are still widely used, and "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."
Not surprisingly, this situation results in "significant re-keying of the same information multiple times across the supply chain, increasing cost and reducing efficiency."
The third pilot used GS1's electronic interchange systems to show how strategic-level insights can be derived from freight consignment message data.
Examples included freight volumes by mode and commodity for specified time periods; supply chain-specific freight volume metrics; and supply-chain and network performance metrics (eg travel times and estimated arrival times).
The parties suggest the report will assist the Australian Government in setting up the National Freight Data Hub (NFDH) next year.
The NFDH will collect and aggregate data to give visibility to how the freight network is performing, improve infrastructure and transport network planning, and support operations through aligned data standards and provided timely insights into issues and bottlenecks.
"If we don't lift our game Australian productivity could fall further behind, and our competitiveness will be seriously undermined," said iMove managing director Ian Christensen.
"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."
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack said "The report provides insights for governments and industry for infrastructure planning and delivery.
"It shows how increasing digitisation 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 "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."
The freight data exchange pilot projects report is available here.