Hadi Ghaderi and the business of transport technology
Dr Ghaderi will be taking part in iMOVE Conference 2022, taking place in Sydney on 14 and 15 November. He is a panel member on the session, University Q&A: some of our best minds tackle your thorny transport questions.
By training, Hadi Ghaderi is industrial engineer, but currently he is a Senior Lecturer in Logistics & Supply Chain Management in the Business School at Swinburne University of Technology.
He’s currently leading a program on supply chain analytics at Swinburne Data Science Research Institute. He’s interested in the nexus of supply chain management, freight transport, and digital transformation. Not only developing technologies, but also the how and why of technologies will contribute to organisational success and competitive advantage
I take it Hadi that your interest, your work, is more in terms of actual implementation rather than theoretical?
Yes. What we do probably is a bit unique to colleagues at other institutions. Our work is not just developing the technologies or implementing technologies, but also we are interested in the why and how of technology in an organisation because there’s a lot of evidence out there that a large number of digital transformations fail to deliver their objectives. An example of such deep exploratory works include the concrete supply chain and data sharing project.
The reason for that failure rate most of the time is that organisations focus on the technology itself, but they don’t see how this particular technology fits their organisation in terms of strategy, culture and existing systems, and most importantly, how a new technology will interact with their supply chain partners.
While as an industrial researcher I am interested in the why and how of the digital transformation, our projects also involve development of technologies in the Intelligent Transport Systems, Internet of Things, and big data domains. Furthermore, our team is involved in implementation and trial of technologies to further improve their usability and performance.
Going back to the beginning of your academic path, where was it you started and what did you study back in undergrad days and onwards?
I did my Bachelor’s degree in Iran and then I did my first Master’s in Malaysia, my second Master’s in Belgium and then I moved to Australia in 2012, where I joined the University of Tasmania. There I did my PhD, at the Australian Maritime College’s National Centre for Ports and Shipping where I was working on intermodal transport systems.
In summary, I started with engineering background, then on to transport and logistics, and then trying to merge these two, creating some synergies between engineering, economics and management science. That’s where the multidisciplinary nature of my work probably is rooted as well.
That leads to my next question. Obviously there’s a close link between engineering and transport, but where was it in the process that you made the decision to move from engineering or within engineering to a transport-related field?
I am still involved on both sides. However, my interest in transport started from studying and researching supply chain management and there was one quote that I would like to refer to that inspired me. Martin Christopher, a noted thinker in supply chains, said:
Individual businesses no longer compete as stand-alone entities, but rather as supply chains. We are now entering the era of ‘network competition’ where the prizes will go to those organisations who can better structure, co-ordinate and manage the relationships with their partners in a network committed to better, faster and closer relationships with their final customers.
When I encountered his thinking, and this quote, is the point at which I became interested in supply chains. Later on, I realised there’s a lot of synergies between supply chain management and the transport and mobility sector. That’s actually where the interest in mobility and transport was shaped because traditionally decisions around freight and personal mobility have been taken in isolation of each other, but in reality, both freight and mobility use the same system, the same infrastructure.
This is where I became very, very interested in the uncovered synergies that exist between transport, supply chain, and the mobility sector.
I think in all these things, the notion and importance of connectivity cannot be understated, can it?
Absolutely. Connectivity and resource sharing, information sharing, knowing who does what where, is very important. I always use this example, that 10 years ago if you drove in the City of Melbourne, most of the vehicles on the roads were passenger vehicles. These days, a growing number of vehicles are white vans moving goods around the city.
However, from an infrastructure planning and investment point of view, we’re not fully incorporating the freight share into this decision-making, or at least we do it separately. We make decisions for personal mobility and we make decisions for freight transport, whereas both systems are using the same infrastructure. They really should not be treated, analysed, planned, etc., separately.
I’d also add that currently it’s difficult to surmise just what all the vehicles on the roads are, or what they are doing. Are they privately-owned passenger vehicles being used for personal mobility purposes, or are they delivering goods as a courier, are they used for both simultaneously? That’s a complexity, but I think it’s where synergy exists for future decision-making.
It’s hard to compare because generally speaking I think in terms of personal mobility, there has been a lot of good work, especially systems that exist within our public transport, for example customer data derived from Myki or Opal, so there’s a lot of data available for better understanding people’s needs and behaviours.
When it comes to freight, I think globally there are issues with freight data. Australia, as you are aware, the Department of Infrastructure has been leading the National Freight Data Hub, which is fantastic. It’s probably one of the best initiatives to understand how freight is moved where it’s moving, and how is being moved. It’s hard to say how we are doing in comparison to other countries because still the whole landscape is under-developed.
But I think we are slowly understanding the value of data in managing freight transport systems. There’s a lot of work happening, especially at iMOVE. I liked something you wrote a few years ago now, Where’s my box? The case for improved supply chain visibility. Now! The first step is to acknowledge there’s a need for this, and things are happening.
Let’s leave the real world for a minute and turn to the world of hypotheticals. In your field, which is freight and supply chains, you are the Emperor of Australia. You have unlimited power and an unlimited budget and the ability to fix something with all of that power and money. What would you do?
It’s a very difficult question to answer, but I think there are two areas I’d look at. One is related to sustainability, which is a more common challenge for everyone. Business and governments around the world would like to minimise the environmental and social impacts of freight transport.
Second, something that is becoming more demanding these days is the need for enhanced supply chain visibility. I think if there was a solution for it, a full supply chain visibility platform that everyone knows where everything is, could create significant productivity improvements and resilience for supply chains and other transport systems. A full supply chain visibility idea would be very interesting, but I’m not sure how possible it is because of the costs associated with information capturing.
But of course as Emperor you could make this happen, Hadi! Moving on, and downgrading your hypothetical powers, this time you’re the Mayor of Melbourne. You have a tight budget and timeframe. In this scenario what change would you like to make that could be done cheaply, quickly, and effectively?
I think probably enhanced freight data activity for… let’s put it this way, because initially my response was more into Iran and that’s freight data capturing and accessibility between partners.
In the context of City of Melbourne the metropolitan area, having systems that capture and share data around last-mile delivery and urban freight activity would be of interest, to see how this data will allow minimising the environmental and social footprint of last-mile delivery and urban freight activity as the result of increasing resource optimisation.
I can’t think of a city in which that wouldn’t be a good thing!
Yes, indeed! It’s currently because the urban freight is a very fragmented activity. We have organisations who are very advanced digitally and very large. They have digital maturity and capability. Then we have a large number of couriers that just simply are not at that level of digital maturity. When you don’t have data, or even not aware of data you can have, and how such data could help you, there is very little opportunity to create synergy and optimisation.
Besides the first idea of urban freight data capturing and sharing, another fun thing, it would be interesting to see how we can use the tram system for urban freight and last-mile delivery as well.
We’re doing a similar project in Sydney at the moment with Transport for NSW, Co-modality: Making use of public transport to carry freight. so yes, interesting idea. OK, back to the real world. Of the work you’ve done so far and it could be anywhere, what is the project, or projects, you’ve been most proud of to date?
I left back home when I was very young, so probably haven’t done anything of research significance factor, but there are three projects I’d mention.
Two of them with iMOVE. The first one, the Digitisation in transport and freight: Lessons for Australia project that we did with the Department of Infrastructure. Given the scope of it, the short timeframe, the need for it, we produced a very high-quality work, which was around understanding Australia’s global position in terms of transport and freight digitalisation. We also provided recommendations on which areas require improvement and further care. The final report for the project is available at World best practice digitisation in transport/freight: And Australia?
The second work that we are doing right now, and progressing very well, again with iMOVE, is the Low-cost IoT-based solution for tracking and monitoring of freight project. In this we’re developing an IoT-based solution for condition monitoring of sensitive and valuable freight consignments. With this project we’re interested in developing it beyond a research project and engaging with its future customers and users.
Basically, the solution will allow shippers or logistics companies to see in real-time, information about the location and the condition in which the product is transported, including humidity, temperature, and vibration. This is also contributing to the initial discussion I had around visibility. Solutions like this will improve supply chain visibility, are important for supply chain traceability and for developing the chain of custody in terms of who’s responsible in each individual stage of the supply chain.
The third one, which is not iMOVE-funded, is our Mobile 5G IoT Solution for Data Driven Road Asset Maintenance in Brimbank Council, funded by the Australian 5G Innovation Initiative. We’re equipping a large fleet of waste collection trucks with advanced with advanced IoT sensors and 5G technologies. This will enable the trucks to simultaneously report on issues related to road condition and maintenance as they pick-up waste collection. All of which provides a real-time platform for the councils to provide better and proactive service to the community. This is something we are very proud of!
You’ve got a bit of breadth into what you studied and researched so far. Is there something that you haven’t touched on yet that you’d like to do some work in?
Nothing in particular, but an area that I’m becoming very interested and I’m working a lot recently with partners such as IVECO, is around the low and zero-emission vehicles. There’s a lot of uncertainty around the introduction and deployment of these new technologies in the freight and transport industry. These include the cost of ownership, policy and regulatory aspects around this, the weight and charging facilities, and the supporting infrastructure.
This is something I’m quite interested in and I’ve been spending quite a lot time around this, to further understand what these technologies actually mean for an operator, for a user, for a customer, and even for government to support the wide-scale adoption in the industry as we are moving towards a low-carbon economy.
And to wrap up Hadi, in the next three to five years what is it that you’re most excited about and you think has the most chance of cutting through and being implemented in the area of supply chain and freight?
of this transition, we have recognised and acknowledged the importance of freight transport to achieve this goal, as the lifeline of economy. A great example of such initiative is our work with iMOVE and Australian Meat Processor Corporation (AMPC) on clean fuels, lower emissions in red meat processing transport.
I believe, this is a huge achievement that everyone’s acknowledging the need for and therefore I think the sustainability aspect, especially the environmental sustainability aspect of freight transport, will be on the table.
The second topic that I think is also very important is related to the workforce shortage and development in transport and logistics. This is an issue that a lot of organisations are facing now, and perhaps we’re going to see even potentially a wider gap as a result of introduction of new digital technologies. There’s a strong sense that change is coming much faster than the speed at which we’re preparing for it.
The question remains open on what’s going to happen to the current workforce and how we should prepare for the next generation of the workforce supporting transport and freight digitalisation.