Singapore to pilot common data platform in bid to plug supply chain gaps

With COVID-19 highlighting the need for robust supply chains, Singapore believes the use of a common data platform is essential for resolving critical pain points and linking key stakeholders including importers, shipping companies, and financial institutions.

Singapore has unveiled plans to pilot a new common data platform that it says is necessary to facilitate a more robust supply chain ecosystem for international trade flows. Organisations from both the public and private sectors will participate in trials that aim to improve data efficiencies in container flow and financial processes. 

The efforts are led by the Alliance for Action (AFA) on Supply Chain Digitalisation, one of seven industry groups put together by the Singapore government in June to identify and prototype new ideas to drive the local economy. The other alliances look at key growth areas such as robotics, e-commerce, and environmental sustainability.

Specifically, significant inefficiencies have been identified in physical event, documentation, and financial data flows across the value chain, according to a joint statement issued by the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), PSA International, and Trafigura. These gaps have resulted in cost and asset underutilisation impacting all enterprises. 

The organisations added that the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a "reconfiguration" of trade flows and supply chains physically and digitally, which has meant nations and businesses now need to seek out better efficiencies and resilience in their supply chains.  

The alliance, hence, concluded that a common data infrastructure was necessary to resolve pain points in the ecosystem, they said. 

The AFA, jointly led by PSA and Trafigura Group, over the past three months have gathered more than 50 supply chain players, including multinational corporations, local large enterprises, SMBs (small and medium-sized businesses), and government agencies to highlight gaps and opportunities across the supply chain. 

"For Singapore to remain relevant in the growing digital economy, it is laying a common foundational layer with digital utilities that enable businesses to move into the digital domain [and] build a stronger and more robust supply chain ecosystem for international trade flows, thereby, advancing our position as a global supply chain and trading hub," the alliance said.

It added that a common digital platform would facilitate data sharing and enable all businesses to easily "plug and play" into the infrastructure. 

To kick off the initiative, two applications will be developed to improve trade finance and container flow node. 

Financial institutions, for instance, currently lack visibility over the physical movement of goods in the supply chain, hindering their ability to address demand from shippers. These sellers would be able to make better decisions from digitally tracking the physical movement of their goods, which provide higher visibility and traceability across the trade process. 

Logistics players, on the other hand, have limited visibility across container flows, resulting in frequent congestion at container flow nodes including depots and warehouses. This translates to long waiting times and added cost. 

For these organisations, a data common infrastructure would improve process flow efficiencies -- enabling financial institutions to provide and access information directly from trusted parties to reconcile trade details -- as well as enhance planning asset utilisation, since shipping lines, depot and warehouse operators, and hauliers more seamlessly share operational and event data, such as container bookings and job management. 

It also reduces dependency on physical documents, improves data flow, and builds greater trust across trading and financial communities, the alliance said. 

The common data infrastructure will be developed based on key principles around "open, trusted, and secure data-sharing" and the scalability and interoperability of local as well as global data platforms. It will also aim to provide timely access to all players in the value chain.

IMDA and other government agencies will work alongside the AFA to develop and pilot the common data infrastructure.

Trafigura's Asia-Pacific CEO Tan Chin Hwee added that his organisation will work with Singaporean banks during the pilot to "access data directly from reliable sources and parties to reconcile trade details with ease". The platform could also potentially help detect and mitigate trade-related fraud, he said. 

"Building a 'digital twin' of the physical movement of goods will improve visibility across the trade process, and help stakeholders reduce dependency on physical documents in the long term," Tan said.

PSA Group CEO Tan Chong Meng added: "COVID-19 has revealed both vulnerabilities and opportunities in the global supply chain ecosystem. It is Singapore's ability to rally together multiple stakeholders to co-create and bring a common vision of supply chain end-to-end visibility to fruition, that will set us apart as a trusted global trade and logistics hub. 

"The development of a common data infrastructure is our opportunity to enable large and small businesses to optimise their supply chain flows through Singapore, promote long-term sustainability as a key nodal hub in the global supply chain, and at the same time, support Singapore businesses in expanding their export markets," the PSA chief said.

Other organisations involved in the initiative include ExxonMobil Asia-Pacific, DBS Bank, and Standard Chartered Bank.

Pointing to the bank's experience in tapping distributed ledger and other emerging technologies to digitise its processes, Standard Chartered's Singapore CEO Patrick Lee said: "Establishing a common set of digital standards and guidelines around data sharing across trade platforms will be key to achieving enhanced interoperability, secured data flows, and a seamless e-invoicing experience for trade participants."

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