Moving right along – insights and innovations on freight and logistics

When the toilet paper disappeared from supermarket shelves a bright light was shone on the integral importance of the transportation of goods to keep the country moving. Freight is an industry that does not readily make the media headlines or day to day conversations. In fact, it is not until there is a disruption like the unprecedented Covid pandemic that we realise that this is an industry we cannot afford to take for granted.

From the supply of goods to supermarket shelves and ensuring access to health and pharmaceutical products, to providing raw materials needed to keep construction and manufacturing going, an effective and efficient transportation of goods enables, supports, and underpins our economy.

Around the country, Governments have responded to the Covid-driven challenges and changes to free up freight. Measures implemented include lifting curfews on deliveries to waiving some of the complex interstate transport permits and ensuring truck drivers could navigate borders and get on with bringing goods into and around our vast nation.

Collaboration between the industry and all levels of government has been key to cutting red tape, enhancing agility, and embedding resilience with many in the industry seeing now as an opportunity to further improve and grow the sector.

While infrastructure like the building of rail, roads, and ports are integral components of the freight industry, these must be backed by an efficient, effective, and integrated system that delivers on the ultimate outcome – certainty. Certainty that the goods will arrive at the port, that they will be moved to the loading bay, transferred to carriers, and reach their ultimate destination ‘on time’.

At the centre of certainty sits one of the most valuable assets to an efficient freight movement, data, and as British mathematician Clive Humby coined ‘data is the new oil’. While Humby may have been leveraging data to create retail giant Tesco’s hugely successful customer loyalty program, the significant economic value of data is recognised globally; see the Economist 2017 report “The world’s most valuable resource is no longer oil, but data”.

For the freight sector it is data is indispensable, with every truck and train driver carrying a portable GPS tracker in the form of their mobile phone, allowing precise real-time tracking of goods and when and where they are delivered. Development of a national data hub as well as advances in electronic vehicles and automation have the potential to not only eliminate degrees of uncertainty but also enable predictability.

Freight follows people and as the demographics of Sydney evolve, so too must the freight and logistics systems to service the newly growing population centres in sufficient quantity and quickly enough to meet demand. This means freight needs to become part of the planning process, taking into account the community’s and individual’s needs, from loading docks in shopping centres and business parks, to new housing developments having suitable truck parking, unloading and access to deliver pallets or parcels.

Come 2036 there will be a twenty eight per cent increase in freight movement across NSW, in Sydney the increase will be an astonishing fifty per cent. Now is the time to capitalise on the new found recognition of the critical importance of freight and logistics, to make the changes necessary to improve supply chains with a focus on adaptability, co-ordination and collaboration between the public and private sectors, along with smarter and greater use of the increasing data available.

Sydney Business Chamber held an online forum with Paul Graham, Woolworths Group, Susie Harwood, Transport for NSW, Marika Calfas, NSW Ports and Dr Neil Temperley, Future Cities Data & Technology Strategy, on 15 October 2020.

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