Delbert CopeChief Technology Officer, FourKites

Last month, FourKites received an Honorable Mention for Fast Company’s prestigious World Changers Awards. This contest, now in its fifth year, honors products, concepts, companies, policies, and designs that are pursuing innovation for the good of society and the planet. Some of our fellow winners this year include FourKites customers like Land O’Lakes, whose American Connection Project seeks to bring broadband access to rural communities; and FourKites partner IBM’s COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium.

FourKites’ Network Congestion Map, the FourKites product which received this distinction, was designed at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the aim of giving the world’s supply chain professionals easier access to live information about delays, holdups and congestion at critical points around the world. It displays real-time data and insights into the status of ports, border crossings and interstate transit corridors all across the globe, and is free and open to the public.

One if by Land

At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic’s arrival in the United States, closures and delays at ports and border crossings, as well as rest stops and welcome centers played havoc for supply chain professionals and logistics providers. Border crossings in particular, which were already notoriously difficult for logistics providers to predict, were especially impacted by COVID-related delays

Ecolab, a FourKites customer and one of the world’s largest producers of antiseptic soap and hand sanitizer, was at the forefront of exploring new avenues for obtaining better data into how the pandemic was affecting their supply chain. This information would allow Ecolab, and companies like them, to more effectively meet customer demand even in the midst of a global crisis.

In March 2020, Ecolab approached FourKites with a request to look at cross-border closures in the European Union. In the early weeks of the pandemic, coronavirus-related delays were cascading through Italy, resulting in borders being closed abruptly and without prior warning. Ecolab wanted a table of shut down borders, so they could forecast the loads and the facilities that would be affected.

Working around the clock, FourKites’ team quickly built out a dashboard providing real-time insights into transit times at national border crossings around the world. We wanted to take the opportunity to use our data to benefit the industry as a whole, not just our customers or users. With the current crisis in mind, we chose to make this information public, rather than sequestering it within the FourKites platform, making it available to anyone who needed the information.

It was met with critical acclaim. The dashboard promised greater visibility into delays so companies could act proactively to plan and optimize their supply chain operations. State governments have also benefited from this, by more accurately understanding the flow of goods into their region so they can reroute supply convoys to address product shortages.

Two if by Sea

The border crossing dashboard was so popular that we quickly began looking for other areas where our data could make a difference. One of the first things that stood out was ports of entry for ocean-bound shipments.

As much as 90% of the world’s traded goods spend at least part of its life cycle on a ship at sea.  Especially with the recent blockage in the Suez Canal, it’s clearer than ever how important ocean-bound shipments are to the global economy, and how a single event or delay can quickly cause impacts felt all the way across the globe. For this reason, we chose to create a second dashboard featuring real-time insights into delays occurring at a different type of national border crossing: maritime ports of entry.

FourKites’ data on ocean shipments is extensive, allowing us to make powerful insights about the state of ocean freight around the world. Earlier this year, we announced the acquisition of Haven, Inc. allowing us to further expand our ocean-bound data set and improve the insights we are capable of providing. These deep reserves of ocean data allowed us to offer unparalleled insight into which of the world’ s more than 200 industrial ports were experiencing significant delays, and how that might affect cargo passing through those facilities.

It’s well-established at this point that better data trumps better algorithms when it comes to producing quality analytics and precise predictions. As our CEO, Matt Elenjickal, said in a recent podcast, “If you don’t have good data, then you don’t have data science.” And if you don’t have data science, then you don’t have machine learning, artificial intelligence, or any of those other fun buzzwords that everyone likes to toss around these days.

By pulling data directly from within the FourKites network, we knew the data we would be relying on was of the highest caliber right off the bat. This in turn allowed us to turn around a solution much faster than we would have if we had needed to pull everything from scratch. The ever-growing pool of FourKites data also means that the various modules that make up our Network Congestion Dashboard will be capable of delivering increasingly accurate insights over time, as more data enters the FourKites ecosystem.

Do we have plans to continue to expand these dashboards? Absolutely. Though we hope that the need for such insights will become less critical as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to retreat, in the meantime, we welcome anyone with a need to know about the state of delays at borders and ports of entry to make use of this information. After all, we are all in this together.

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