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Prime Mover Magazine


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Michael Kilgariff

Technology Behind the Wheel

July 2018

With all the ‘hype’ that can sometimes surround discussions about the application of technology in the transport and logistics sector, it’s important to break down some of the ‘myths’ that persist around the application of technology in supply chains, and highlight the practical benefits that greater interface with technology can deliver for freight logistics operators and consumers alike.

This was the purpose of the inaugural ALC Supply Chain Technology Summit, held in Melbourne on 10 May 2018.

Throughout a very full day of debate and discussion, over 120 Summit participants had the opportunity to learn from and put questions to leading Australian and international technology researchers, regulatory and policy-making bodies, designers and providers of technology systems and industry participants representing all parts of the supply chain. The Summit revealed a clear industry consensus that data is the ‘new oil’, and we must make a determined effort to ensure that industry practices and regulatory settings are primed to take advantage of the opportunities technology and data offers for improved supply chain efficiency and safety performance.

The Summit included sessions specifically focussed on the application of technology in the heavy vehicle sector, in terms of the vehicles themselves, transparency in the movement of freight, and the health and safety of drivers.

Understandably, the use of telemetry was a significant focus throughout the Summit. Although there is widespread consensus as to the benefits of telematics equipment from both a safety and efficiency perspective, there remains a concern across the industry that current regulatory structures are preventing these from being realised.

In particular, it was noted that too often industry participants are still trying to mimic paper-based systems in electronic form, rather than grasping the opportunity technology presents to implement new, streamlined systems that produce an efficiency dividend for business operators. There was a recognition that more needs to be done to promote the benefits of telematics for smaller operators. It was noted that continuing resistance among many is based on a perception that the cost is prohibitive. Yet, the experience of those who have made the switch from manual processes to electronic systems has been an overall reduction in business costs.

It was also noted that generational change would drive change within the industry, as younger participants who are more familiar and more comfortable with technology as an aspect of their day-to-day lives also seek to realise its bene ts in their work and business activities.

However, there remains a fundamental problem relating to interoperability, with Summit attendees citing their own experiences in dealing with systems that did not ‘talk’ to each other, thereby limiting, and potentially eliminating, efficiency gains.

This underscores the need for immediate efforts on the part of industry and government to develop a single data standard for use in Australia, which can be incorporated into any global standard that may be developed.

In essence, industry needs a system that allows freight chain participants to obtain visible real time information immediately, with the goal to have a fully interoperable environment operating in much the same way that ATMs do, allowing customers to use ATMs operated by any bank to withdraw money from their own account. Of course, technology is only as effective as the data it relies upon to operate, and several Summit presenters stressed that industry needs to be doing more at the operational level to ensure that accurate information is being fed into data chains. The safety, efficiency and productivity bene ts that can  ow from connected and autonomous, as well as electric vehicles were another signi cant focus during the Summit. It was recognised that industry needs to engage proactively with governments now, to ensure Australia can meet its target of having an end-to-end regulatory regime in place by late 2020 permitting the operation of autonomous vehicles on Australian roads.

Several presenters also made the point that the industry is not faced with an ‘either/or’ choice in terms of a human or automated workforce, but must focus on the ‘handover space’ between automated and human tasks.

However, this does mean there must be an urgent focus on equipping the industry’s workforce with the skills needed for the supply chains of the future. As part of this effort, it will be important to ensure that vocational education programs incorporate training in areas such as digital analytics and programming. Not only will this help workers deal with some of the challenges presented by increasing levels of automation, but will also help to recruit a more diverse workforce that can help change the industry’s profile and make it a more attractive career option for those looking to build their future careers.

Michael Kilgariff
Managing Director Australian Logistics Council

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