Supply chain players developing common infrastructure to share data to improve system

Communications and Information Minister S. Iswaran announced the initiative, stressing the need for the public and private sectors to work closely together. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

SINGAPORE - A common infrastructure that allows for the open and trusted sharing of data across the fragmented supply chain ecosystem is being developed by a group of industry players from both the public and private sectors.

The infrastructure will connect the existing data platforms of importers and exporters, shipping companies and financial institutions, helping to reduce dependency on physical documents and instances of fraud, as well as ease congestion at container nodes, among other benefits.

Communications and Information Minister S. Iswaran announced the initiative on Monday (Nov 16), stressing the need for the public and private sectors to work closely together as Singapore navigates a fluid and unpredictable digital future.

"It's about coming up with new ideas and possibilities, regardless of the constraints, and this is where we (the public sector) need to function with the private sector," said Mr Iswaran, who was speaking during the inaugural Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) Insights Conference held at the Sands Expo and Convention Centre.

"In certain areas, different parties might not able to come together because of regulatory hurdles, and the Government has a convening power which is able to surmount that challenge and get the ball rolling with some resources."

He noted that a major reservation among those in the private sector when coming up with new ideas has been about how these ideas will be perceived by the authorities, but he emphasised that the Government has in general been welcoming of "creative proposals".

Ideation, or coming up with new ideas, was the first of four I's underpinning public-private collaboration in the technology sector that Mr Iswaran identified.

The other three are innovation, or creating commercial solutions from ideas; implementation; and inclusion, which involves bringing the impact of digitalisation to every member of the society.

The common data infrastructure is being spearheaded by the Alliance for Action on Supply Chain Digitalisation, which consists of some 50 players in the supply chain ecosystem ranging from multinational corporations and small and medium-sized enterprises, to government agencies and start-ups.

Two trials have begun - the first in digitising trade and financial data, and the second in managing congestion at container nodes.

Being able to share data is a crucial first step for the supply chain ecosystem to maintain Singapore's competitive edge as a trade and logistics hub, said PSA International group chief executive officer Tan Chong Meng, who co-leads the alliance.

"In the containerised trade alone, where goods are moved in containers, there are many players in the system, all providing different services, and often data is not exchanged in an efficient and flawless manner," he said.

"The common data infrastructure will help manufacturers, producers and consumers be clearer on where their products are, how their shipments are moving, and how the bank is treating (the transaction). All these relationships can happen in real time without loss or waste."

Mr Tan Chin Hwee, Asia-Pacific chief executive officer of Trafigura Group and the other co-lead of the alliance, added that trusted data flows will also help in detecting and mitigating the impact of trade-related fraud.

The alliance is one of several industry-led partnerships set up by the Emerging Stronger Taskforce, which was convened in May to help Singapore seize new opportunities as it recovers from the pandemic.

The limited visibility of the movement of goods has also resulted in frequent congestion at warehouses and depots, where long waiting times for the loading and unloading of containers are common.

This pain point could be addressed by sharing key operational data, with consent, such as container bookings and job management data among major shipping lines, depot and warehouse operators, and hauliers.

"With access to a larger pool of data, there is also more opportunity for automation," said Allied Container Services managing director Lim Kian Chin.

"For instance, algorithms can be written to automate job dispatches and time slot management for (going in and out) of depot gates."

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