The Centre for Smart Warehousing and Logistics Systems (SWALOS) is taking over the Business and Society blog for the month of April. The Centre is newly established, and brings together researchers in warehousing and logistics operations looking to improve operations management and decision making. We’ll hear how their members are solving problems in the field, and the business and society implications of this work.
Dr Vaggelis Giannikas is the Director of SWALOS. We sat down with him to discuss his aspirations for the Centre, the importance of doing research with impact and the value of being an academic in driving real-world change.
What is your current role, and what was your path to it?
I’m currently an Associate Professor of Operations and Supply Chain Management within the Information, Decisions and Operations division of the School of Management. In my current role, I also direct our engineering & technology management portfolio of taught programmes within the school: the MSc in Innovation and Technology Management and the MSc in Engineering Business Management in collaboration with the Faculty of Engineering & Design. Prior to joining Bath, I spent 7 years at the Institute for Manufacturing of the University of Cambridge, first as a PhD student and then as a research associate, where I was also the associate director of the Cambridge Auto-ID lab. I’m originally Greek - I started my studies at the Department of Management Science and Technology at the Athens University of Economics and Business.
Can you tell us about your current research interests and recent work?
The majority of my work focuses on the application and evaluation of digital technologies in logistics, manufacturing and supply chain management. I like experimenting with new technologies and approaches to managing operations and assessing their potential benefits and limitations in real-life applications. For this reason, I always aim to work with industry in my research projects and disseminate my work back to them. I truly believe in the value and impact we – as academics – can bring to business and society. Recently, I’ve been amazed by how e-commerce has fundamentally changed the way we shop, and I’m looking at how consumer behaviour affects the sustainability of e-commerce from a logistics perspective. I’m also interested in what happens behind the scenes to enable fast and convenient online shopping, for example with warehousing technologies responsible for picking and managing our orders.
You recently established a new research centre – The Centre for Smart Warehousing and Logistics Systems. Why did you decide to set it up?
That’s correct and I’m really pleased that we were able to, and proud of what we’ve achieved so far! I started the Centre with the aim of strengthening and better promoting the really impactful work that has been going on within our School for the last few years. Within the centre, we produce business-focused research to solve logistical problems, with an emphasis on the use of technology. We focus on developing methods for improving operations management and decision making in warehousing and logistics applications. It’s a very ‘practical’ centre – we’re focused on answering questions that matter to people in the real world. What’s key for us is the impact of our work - not only on business and industry but also on society in general. That’s why we have researchers who work on “hot” societal topics such as disaster relief, vaccinations, healthcare appointment scheduling, sustainable modes of transport and so on. The Centre was established with an overarching goal or research question - which considers the role of smart and digital approaches in warehousing and logistics to produce impactful solutions for business and society - so all of our work aims to find answers to that.
What are you most proud of in your career?
I was lucky enough to skip a couple of steps in what’s considered a ‘normal’ academic career. For example, I never studied for a master’s degree and I was never appointed as a lecturer or assistant professor. These are the sort of things that perhaps made my parents feel proud back in the day and I suppose saved me some time too. But what I feel proud of now is seeing my students succeeding in whatever they put in their minds to and knowing that I helped them in whatever small way achieve that. I also like knowing that people’s lives got a little bit better because of my research, either because I made their job easier or faster or because I helped develop some service they used. Again, impact is very important to me!
Who has been the biggest influence in your career?
I have to admit that moving from management to engineering and then back, had a huge influence on me. Not because I realised that one world is better than the other but because I saw how well these two can work together if you spent time and energy to build a bridge that connects them. So I want to thank everyone who pushed me towards either direction as they actually helped me be who I am today!
What do you like best about being an academic?
Knowing that I can help other people while being intellectually challenged is perhaps the main reason I’ve stayed in academia. Our teaching and research enable us to drive real change at an individual level (when it comes to mentoring and teaching our students) and an organisational level (via our collaborations in research projects). Having to deal with new problems that people haven’t managed to solve before and creating new knowledge that I can then pass on to my students is so rewarding for me, I never seriously considered leaving and finding a career outside academia.
What sort of an impact do you hope your work has?
Some might think that logistics is one of those boring things that deal with boxes, pallets and trucks. Until recently, this was probably most people’s perception. But the recent pandemic has highlighted how important operations can be, especially logistics-related ones for pretty much everyone on this planet. Finding ways to contribute to this - even if it all happens under the radar - is the sort of impact I am after.