Matt Stockwell: Freight data to the hub
Matt has championed freight data in Transport for NSW launching the Transport for NSW Freight Data Hub, publication of world-leading telematics data and guided the strategic requirements of for freight data.
Communication is crucial to getting the word out about what’s happening in mobility. And Matt Stockwell, formerly Acting Associate Director of Freight Strategy at Transport for NSW, knows that all too well. Much of his role has been helping others make sense of the data – from the big picture to the finer details. And Transport for NSW’s online Freight Data Hub is turning heads!
Matt is currently working for the National Freight Data Hub team based in Canberra.
What is the freight challenge?
The freight task extends from containers arriving on ships, to pallets moved through distribution centres, and shopping bags delivered to your front door. Much of this freight supply chain is a 24-hour operation, seven days a week. Freight facilitates our everyday lives but historically it has felt like an invisible thread. Empty shelves in our supermarkets during COVID-19 has certainly raised its profile.
The macro challenges for freight are a rising population, infrastructure pinch-points, and global competition.
Working collaboratively government and industry ensure our freight network supply chains are efficient to ensure the goods in our shops and our exports are competitively priced. The goal is to ensure freight policy and the freight network facilitates the safe, productive and sustainable movement of goods. These goods are moved across multimodal networks spanning geographical borders in trains, trucks, ships and airplanes.
What’s the Transport for NSW Freight Data Hub all about?
After listening to and engaging with our freight customers, we launched the Freight Data Hub in December 2019. It is one of the most popular freight pages with our stakeholders measured by unique views. The Hub has enabled our partners to find datasets. For example it has facilitated industry strategic investment decisions, understanding of operational movements at Port Botany and road network planning.
The Hub provides the evidence base to measure the five objectives in the NSW Freight and Ports Plan 2018-2023 which are to increase investment, efficiency, capacity, safety and sustainability.
The purpose of publishing data on the Hub is to socialise aggregated and anonymised data. This might also be historical or samples of data depending on the information. The Hub acts as a shop window to datasets, some users will be able to self-serve from the data available and other users have sought out a deeper dive into the data. None of this was possible prior to the Hub.
In consultation with industry, we’ll continue to make new visualisations available.
Since the Hub was launched, there has been enthusiastic reviews from industry and our peers across all three tiers of governments. If you have feedback to improve Transport for NSW’s understanding of how the data is being used and data sets you would like to see published, please get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org.
What are the challenges with an online freight data hub?
Freight data throws up different challenges to other Transport for NSW datasets. For example, public transport data through Opal cards gives an excellent understanding of the origin and destination of our customers, as well as the number of trips and time of day. Journey planner apps from Google to TripView allow customers to easily navigate the network in real time. All this data informs policy, network planning and operational decisions.
The primary challenge with freight data is to understand the art of the possible, prioritise what is doable and then source the data. The challenge is a curatorial exercise. The strategically key datasets require a lot of shoe leather, trust with stakeholders and a deep understanding of freight.
This is not the first time government has sought data. Understanding the motivations for sharing data and the levers that are available is important. While some data can be paid for other data might be supplied voluntarily utilising the ‘shop window front’ the data hub enables. Some data might be supplied for preferential policy treatment such as train or truck access and other data supplied for investment such as to remove a particular pinch point. For some datasets government might need to regulate to ensure supply chains run smoothly.
Sharing data will be an ongoing dialogue where the main benefits accrue in the medium to long-term time horizon. More data and richer datasets will have complementary force multipliers on each other.
We are on the start of this journey. For freight, the level of granular data which is needed at a local, state and federal government level, and in many jurisdictions internationally, isn’t currently there to facilitate the best freight outcomes. I’m optimistic that this will change.
What are some of the successes of the hub?
There have been a number of concrete successes and it is fair to say the Hub has surpassed our expectations.
We published Transport Certification Australian (TCA) telematics data in an interactive map last year. This has raised the profile of telematics within government and sparked over a dozen telematics projects. These include origin and destination movements for key freight corridors, analysis of changing heavy vehicles movements due to COVID-19 and the bushfires, as well as analytics for local government and industry associations.
The Hub also hosts volumetric data provided by the Cargo Movement Coordination Centre at key trade gateways. This was a key goal of iMOVE’s Freight Data Requirements Study which was invaluable in providing the evidence base of our work. Volumetric data going back 25 years can be found for Port Botany, Port Kembla, and Kingsford-Smith Airport, as we know history doesn’t repeat itself, but it occasionally rhymes. This data set has been particularly invaluable to industry and my phone rings regularly with industry inquiries.
This year we have put Sydney Trains rail freight data into a cloud based platform to create new visualisations. This has been the culmination of many years of effort. The rich dataset will enable teams in Transport for NSW to create APIs to access the data and glean insights to facilitate evidence based policy and improved infrastructure decisions.
We’ve also laid some of the foundations for the building blocks on our journey towards creating a freight digital twin. The COVID-19 Incident Management Team created a near real-time interactive application on AnyTrip to enable operational decisions in a timely manner. A by-product of this effort can be seen on the public transport Travel Insights page.
Nearer real time freight data will facilitate operational interventions for faster response times to incidents. Over time this data will build up a historical reservoir of data to facilitate strategic data needs.
Why is the time right for NSW to have an online Freight Data Hub?
Broadly, there are four new factors driving the publication of freight data which has changed over the past five years:
- Higher expectations of data driven insights for evidence-based decision-making combined with the measuring and targeting of outcomes. This has driven governments’ hunger for more freight data
- Freight-relevant big datasets are being generated for example by telecommunication and mapping companies. As technology evolves and more individual products are tagged and traced, more big data will become available.
- Intuitive visualisation tools and cheap secure cloud-based data warehouses, enable higher quality insights into data to be generated faster at lower cost.
- Data skills are now baked into how all teams operate. With changed data expectations, there is increasing numeracy and statistics familiarity to interpret and explain data.
Data plays a key role in assisting innovation and supporting trials. By publishing new datasets and visualisations, Transport for NSW is sending an important signal to the market that we are interested to experiment and adapt.
The Hub should also be seen as a platform for industry. A platform to showcase data and drive high level insights by investing in making a portion of data publicly available. Transport for NSW is actively taking a lead in publishing datasets with the aim of building transparency, goodwill and trust. Industry will benefit by being able to pull out data and blend it with their own to improve decision making. Datasets when published will also be repurposed to new uses we haven’t considered.
What’s your strategy to break down the silos, or to put it another way, convince businesses that sharing their data is imperative in the 21st Century?
We are constantly engaging with industry and listening to their needs, while at the same time taking the temperature of data that can be shared. Building trust with industry on this journey is paramount and it extends from the truck and train operators to the technology companies and research institutions.
Historically, we’ve received some data from industry but the challenge has been to communicate back to industry how it was used. Currently we are using some industry data to update our Strategic Freight Forecasts model which shows the origin and destination of key commodities. The forecasts are produced by Transport for NSW’s Advanced Analytics and Insights team.
However, what we are progressing towards is a holistic supply chain picture and Advanced Analytics and Insights is working on the platforms and data standards to absorb large disparate datasets. Government will need to demonstrate tangible benefits of sharing data to earn the currency of trust and build momentum to strengthen its industry partnerships.
The government is always looking to understand how it can invest its finite resources most productively. Data will be one element in that decision-making and reporting process. Better data will lead to more robust outcomes. In three-to-five years’ time, we’ll look back to the pages on the Hub today and they will make up a small fraction of the total data.
Transport for NSW has played an important role in piecing together parts of the data jigsaw. However, to work towards a fuller picture it will be important to build connections and collaborations with other data partners.
How can Transport for NSW work with the National Freight Data Hub?
I’m particularly excited here as I will be joining the excellent team to assist in the work of the National Freight Data Hub.
The National Hub is an exciting development in the freight data ecosystem and at Transport we’ve lent heavily on their research, ideas and outcomes desired. The Transport for NSW Freight Data Hub has moved in a parallel direction and shares key datasets on the Data.gov.au site.
iMOVE played a key role in setting up the National Hub and we’ve leant on their research and expertise talking regularly to Ian Christensen, Managing Director at iMOVE.
Freight doesn’t respect borders and the National Hub offers an opportunity to set data standards and implement a platform which Transport for NSW will be able to utilise and benefit from. The Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics (BITRE) pages are also an invaluable resource which we link to.
To maximise the benefits of the National Hub, it will be crucial states and territories take the initiative to make available data. Together with industry, we can build out the freight picture and grasp this golden opportunity.