Census Bureau Contest Seeks Supply Chain Data Ideas

Supply Chain Challenge Looks for Better Ways to Capture 'Timely, Granular and Robust' Data
supply chain data
The growth of e-commerce has shifted the supply chain. (B4LLS/Getty Images)

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The shifting logistics challenges fueled by the growth of e-commerce are the catalyst for a national competition sponsored by the U.S. Census Bureau that seeks innovative ways to produce new or improved supply chain information.

Called the Supply Chain Challenge, the three-part initiative will seek new and better ways to capture “more timely, granular and robust supply chain data, including information on manufacturing, imports and exports, transportation and delivery of goods, and other key components of global supply chains,” the Census Bureau said. The agency is seeking ideas from “any U.S.-based entities or individuals,” and said it aims to enhance its ability to measure supply chains, including manufacturing, imports/exports, transportation and delivery of goods.

The first phase of the initiative launched last year when a call for contestants was issued. In May, 11 winners were chosen with proposals including use of satellite imagery, development of standardized internet business documents using Electronic Data Interchange for business transactions, creation of impact dashboards, pairing of hardware/software products, enabling computers to perform natural language processing analysis, and partnerships with local governments and academia.

The overall goal of the initiative is for the Census Bureau to improve the time it takes to provide supply chain data by moving closer to real-time information. Central to that goal, it said, is improving information quality that is more detailed with better metrics that encompass a wider view of both the U.S. and global supply chains.

The second phase asks participants to build implementation road maps that demonstrate feasibility of their plans, along with an investment outline for the Census Bureau. Participants are encouraged to propose out-of-the-box ways to obtain data beyond the traditional collection of survey information. Currently, the bureau measures supply chain information through surveys of U.S. businesses and official records.

The Census Bureau has been holding webinars to help participants learn about how the agency works, legal and privacy constraints, restrictions on vendors and other constraints that could impact the feasibility of road maps. Sessions include expert speakers who take questions.

Information is available at https://coil.census.gov/statventures/. Submissions for Phase 2 will be accepted from Oct. 13 to Nov. 9.

“We believe there are opportunities to capture and integrate new sources of data to produce more timely and granular information about our nation’s transportation and supply chain infrastructure as well as the flow of goods and materials through the global supply chain,” a competition statement said.

StatVentures, a Census Bureau unit created to seek technological innovations from outside the federal government, is handling the competition. “With the advent of e-commerce, changes in logistics processes and technologies and adoption of new types of data streams, we’ve identified the need to explore additional data sources and measurement techniques to supplement or evolve current products and methodologies,” StatVentures stated.

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Up to $350,000 in prizes will be awarded to up to eight winners/teams, who will receive an invitation to continue in the last challenge contest segment.

During the final phase, slated for next year, participants will be asked to move from a road map concept to a demonstration prototype that shows how their concepts would actually work. These will be tested in real-world scenarios and evaluated on their ability to serve the Census Bureau’s mission and goals. Winning proposals could receive federal funding and be adopted by the Census Bureau.