DOT adviser, FLOW members reflect on 2 years of data-sharing platform


“The need for speed” goes beyond the famous quote by Maverick in “Top Gun” — it can also be considered the mantra of the logistics world.
Trade at rest is not making money. That was made clear two years ago, when the ports around the globe were congested with containers. The cascading impact of the global supply chain out of balance sent inflation soaring and left retailers frustrated at not being able to receive their products.
This tangled mess of trade was the catalyst for the creation of the Department of Transportation’s Freight Logistics Optimization Works (FLOW) platform. The thought of data sharing two years ago seemed like a far-off bet but it was worth the try. One of the brains behind the curation of FLOW is Andrew Petrisin, adviser for multimodal freight for DOT.
Petrisin is referred to by some FLOW participants as “FLOW employee number one.” He was working for the administration during the historic congestion and saw how the logistics industry tried to unknot the tangled system.
“The terminal operators were really trying to understand and forecast future congestion, as well as the future performance of the supply chain,” said Petrisin in an interview on CNBC.
Petrisin explained that operators were trying to understand when the volume of ships would essentially be unloaded and when the cargo would be out of port.
“It was a very manual form of data sharing where we were getting on calls three times a week, talking through it with them,” he said.
It was during these phone conversations that the DOT saw there was a need to create a public/private partnership in which the data being shared could be seen at any time on a digital platform.
“The partnership would be tech-forward and permanent,” said Petrisin. “FLOW kind of blossomed from there.”
The DOT adviser went into detail, saying that throughout the past two years the platform has grown considerably. There are at present 70 participants in FLOW and about 60 more in the onboarding process.
According to Petrisin, the total cargo volumes being captured by FLOW at some of the major U.S. ports is nearly 80% as it is booked. Announced Wednesday morning, FLOW has expanded its line of sight in the container-tracking process by adding inland ports including rail terminal and warehouse end-destination data.
The result is comprehensive information with visibility into actual demand, with real-time snapshots of port and inland network congestion.
Petrisin explained the data sharing on the platform starts with country of origin and freight volume to ports, and the freight is broken down by reefer, dry, rail, truck, inland ports to warehouse destination.
“If there’s a silver lining from the COVID pandemic,” said Jim Bishop, director of marketing and sales for Union Pacific, one of the first participants in FLOW, “it’s that enhanced communication between each piece of the supply chain is critical. We’re proud of the work we’ve done to engage stakeholders, including collaboration with FLOW to better understand import volume and timing, so we can keep our part of the chain fluid.”
FLOW is able to do this through the aggregation of purchase orders from its shipper and importer partners as well as booking information from ocean carrier partners, to create a model of future demand.
“We’re talking 40 days out for booking information and 60 days out for purchase orders,” said Petrisin.
On the supply side of the capacity, Petrisin said demand is changing daily so it’s vital for FLOW participants to see the interdependent nature of the supply chain system. Participants are able to use information on availability for chassis and terminal usage as a complement to existing data for comprehensive planning.
He stressed FLOW can be used as a proactive tool, and he is seeing it being used like that now as ocean carriers and shippers try to navigate current uncertainties around the Red Sea attacks.
“We’re working with an ocean carrier partner essentially to use the purchase order data that is shared through FLOW to better estimate future bookings inland,” explained Petrisin. “They might receive bookings in the future to help them better do their service planning, working with an IEP or chassis providers to essentially have a better preview of chassis utilization.”
At the West Coast, the DOT sees the potential cargo shift due to the events in the Red Sea, and FLOW participants are using the data gathered to see the big picture and find cost-saving solutions. Petrisin categorizes FLOW as a collaboration tool with partners in warehouses who also tap the data to better predict vacancies and rates. Shippers also use the booking data and terminal data for assessing congestion potential and improving communication with partners on where shipments are and when they will arrive at their destinations.
Petrisin believes FLOW complements the investments being made on the physical infrastructure side at the ports or terminals and that the program is a long-term commitment for both the DOT and participants.
Jason Craig, director of government affairs for CH Robinson, said that for the first time, there’s a U.S. government office advocating for freight transportation.
“Supply chains depend on dozens of government agencies — customs, for example,” Craig said. “None of those agencies have supply chains as their top priority. Now, there’s an office monitoring for disruptions and dedicated to working with all those other agencies to keep supply chains moving. That’s the main reason C.H. Robinson was one of the first members of the FLOW initiative. By virtue of our scale, C.H. Robinson has the industry’s largest data set on shipments, routings and carriers. So we’re happy to contribute our data to the cause.”
Paul Brashier, vice president of drayage and intermodal at ITS Logistics, a recently onboarded FLOW partner, and whose ContainerAI was folded into the platform, said, “For the first time, we are seeing a strategic executive branch effort to accumulate data and milestones and use that to identify and get ahead of supply chain bottlenecks before they metastasize. The data offers us actionable information when determining our logistical planning.”
FLOW is among a number of DOT supply chain initiatives created through President Joe Biden’s infrastructure law. In March the U.S. Maritime Administration announced an initiative to strengthen coastal and inland waterway ports with $450 million from infrastructure funding.
In January, DOT announced nearly $5 billion in grants to build or repair infrastructure projects geared toward relieving trucking bottlenecks and improving the movement of freight on the nation’s highways.
Launched two years ago by the Biden administration, FLOW has partnered with retailers including Home Depot, Nike, Walmart and Target; railroads Union Pacific and BNSF; and logistics providers C.H. Robinson, DHL and FedEx. The nation’s busiest container ports, including Los Angeles, Long Beach and New York, are part of the FLOW platform, as are top ocean carriers including MSC, Maersk, CMA CGM and Hapag-Lloyd.
“We’ve been working closely with DOT Secretary Buttigieg and his team to improve the efficiency and timeliness of America’s supply chain through data sharing and data analysis,” said Peter Levesque, CMA CGM North America president and CEO. “The FLOW initiative is a good example of what’s possible when government and industry work together to solve the big issues that impact the U.S. supply chain.”
An economic report by the White House found that more than 80% of recent progress in lowering inflation (disinflation) in the U.S. economy can be attributed to the supply chain.
“This isn’t a one-month or two-month endeavor,” stressed Petrisin. “This is something we need to do for the betterment of the industry and the betterment of the country.”



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