Expanding overseas to sell your goods and services can be daunting, with a seemingly limitless number of markets to target. Yet, just as Big Data is creating smarter healthcare solutions and predictive machines, trade data can be a powerful tool in searching the globe for the right customer.
A good place to start this quest for global insight is by researching what the federal government has in the way of trade data. Who knows, maybe one of the many trade agencies has just that nugget of intel you’ve been looking for.
However, the challenge is that these agencies publish a lot of information, and with the Open Data Initiative at full tilt, more data becomes available every day. Here is a guide for small businesses looking to navigate the wealth of information that’s out there, to more effectively target overseas customers and grow their market.
Open data, in the context of the U.S. government, refers to information that all levels of government generate on a daily basis and is freely available in a “machine-readable” form. That means any software developer can build websites and mobile apps that automatically access open data at no cost. In fact, developers are encouraged to use and reuse the data however they see fit to enhance their online offerings. Think about all the weather apps that use weather data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to bring you your daily forecast.
This has tremendous implications: any trade organization, chamber of commerce, or company that facilitates international business can use open data to help their members export. A U.S. firm no longer has to search for data on the myriad of government sites — the data can be served directly to them on sites like TradeUp.
Many Kinds of Open Trade Data
Trade data actually includes many different kinds of information that can help you export and may be something discrete, such as export statistics or tariff rates. But data isn’t limited to just hard numbers. Many agencies sponsor events, such as conferences and webinars, that you may want to participate in. The data we’re concerned about in this case includes the subject matter (what), the where, the when, and the how much.
You can think about trade leads in a similar manner: what is the business opportunity, where is it, when is it occurring, how much is involved, and so on. Agencies that publish open data for trade events and trade leads are providing obvious blocks of data.
The “data” becomes broader still when you consider dynamic information such as market research or compliance regulations. In these cases, the data contains a large amount of prose. Nevertheless, it may also include relevant categories, such as a topic area, geographic region, industry or trade issue. As such, the “data” is comprised of the free-form prose and the more rigid categories the information falls under.
Don’t Look for Data, Enable It To Find You
Open data lets you find information about trade more easily because it’s available in more places. You are less likely to be in the dark about a particular aspect of trade and you won’t have to guess where to find it — it will find you.
For example, if you have started working with a freight forwarder, a trade Web site could give you information not only on freight forwarding, but also on related information culled from open trade data — such as the basics on Incoterms, upcoming events about international logistics, or videos about certificates of origin.
To take it one step further, imagine a mobile app where you fill out a profile that comprises information about your business, your export “maturity,” and the countries you’re interested in exporting to. The app then feeds you a constant stream of market research, contracting and partnership opportunities, and compliance updates related to your specific interests — all aggregated from different, authoritative government sources.
The Big Reveal
While the data is out there, it’s not always clear where to find it. The Trade Promotion Coordinating Committee, charged with coordinating U.S. government export promotion and financing activities, is made up of 20 agencies that share a common goal – help U.S. companies increase exports of their products and services. Because these many agencies publish different types of trade data, it’s no fun slogging through site after site trying to find the right agency that has the specific piece of information you need.
Enter open data: as these agencies open their trade data, third-party sites and mobile apps republish the same information. The sites also aggregate and publish related data from other authoritative sources, such as trade associations.
Who’s Got What: Get Data Now!
International Trade Administration (ITA)
The ITA, which oversees the Department of Commerce’s (DOC) global operations, has ten sets of trade data open to the public. You could go through ITA’s website to access this information, but you may find it easier to join an online trade community like WebPort Global. WebPort Global integrates ITA’s market research, trade events and trade news, along with other trade information.
The Census Bureau, also within the DOC, has eleven data sets available. Their statistics on U.S. exports and imports are particularly valuable, but it may be difficult to find exactly what you’re looking for among all of the numbers and lists. Mobile apps like ThinkGlobal’s Export Resources integrate some of the Census information with ITA’s data to bring users a customized experience.
The State Department has several RSS feeds with important information about the state of the world. The feeds include country Fact Sheets, Travel Warnings, and cultural information such as Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor reports. Use your own RSS reader to subscribe to these feeds and get a daily does of updates about the countries you care about.
Treasury publishes multiple screening lists (names of individuals/organizations you might not be allowed to do business with) such as the Specially Designated Nationals. Unfortunately, only six of the eleven lists that business owners must be aware of are published. Nevertheless, ITA has consolidated these six lists with the additional lists from the DOC’s Bureau of Industry and the State Department to create one Consolidated Screening List.
This is where open data really shines. Companies that you work with to sell your products overseas — such as shipping, logistics or ecommerce companies — can easily integrate the Consolidated Screening List into their business process. They can automatically check the parties in your transaction against all of the lists. Obviously, you save time and money. But the big benefit is that you are less likely to unlawfully do business overseas all because three agencies opened up their data.
If you’re not finding the information you want, other than going directly to an agency’s Web site, don’t hesitate to contact the Agency directly. Remember they are obligated to open up public data and they absolutely need guidance from U.S. businesses to figure out what to open next. Help them help you succeed by making more trade data freely and easily available.
Stuart Ridgway helps organizations find ways to maximize value from the scores of data they generate, accumulate, and repatriate everyday. Read more at stuartridgway.com.