This report, authored by the Transportation Research Board in 2011, documents the results of a study to develop specifications for content and structure of a national freight data architecture that serves the needs of public and private decision makers at the national, state, regional, and local levels. The national freight data architecture is the manner in which data elements are organized and integrated for freight transportation-related applications or business processes. The data architecture includes the necessary set of tools that describe related functions or roles, components where those roles reside or apply, and data flows that connect roles and components at different domain and aggregation levels.
From the documentation and information gathered during the research, the research team identified the following list of lessons learned that, together, provide a statement of value for the national freight data architecture:
- Understand the different business processes that affect freight transportation at different levels of coverage and resolution.
- Understand the supply chain, which should help transportation planners to identify strategies for improving freight transportation infrastructure.
- Recognize the role that different public-sector and private-sector stakeholders play on freight transportation.
- Recognize the need for standards to assist in data exchange.
- Coordinate systematic development of reference datasets (e.g., comprehensive commodity code crosswalk tables).
- Develop systematic inventory of freight transportation data sources.
- Develop systematic inventory of user and data needs that are prerequisites for the development of freight data management systems.
- Use as a reference for the identification of locations where there may be freight data redundancy and inefficiencies.
- Use as a reference for requesting funding allocations in the public and private sectors.
- Use as a reference for the development of outreach, professional development, and training materials.
In practice, the value of the national freight data architecture is also a function of the costs associated with its implementation. Quantifiable data about expected benefits and costs are currently not available (benefit-cost analyses need to occur both at the beginning and at different phases of implementation of the national freight data architecture). However, it is clear from the documentation and information gathered during the research that the "do-nothing" alternative (i.e., not implementing the national freight data architecture) is costly, ineffective, and unsustainable. Therefore, the research team's recommendation is to pursue the national freight data architecture following a scalable implementation path in which the national freight data architecture starts with one application at one or two levels of decisionmaking and then adds applications and levels of decisionmaking as needed or according to a predetermined implementation plan until, eventually, reaching the maximum net value.
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