Delivering safer, more efficient cities
Technology giant Hitachi recently announced a staggering $1.25 billion ‘social innovation’ investment for the Australian market.
Detailing the move late last year, the company’s president and CEO, Toshiaki Higashihara, said Hitachi wants to “contribute to resolving issues faced by Australian society, and improving Australian’s quality of life, through social innovation and leveraging digital technologies”, with one of the focuses being the challenge of increasing urbanisation.
Clearly the company is taking the innovation journey very seriously indeed, and sees Australia as a proving ground for new technologies and strategies. To find out more about the plans, and where the intersection between the public sector and private enterprise lies, we spoke with Tony Whigham, Hitachi Data Systems’ government sales director for Australia and New Zealand. Based in Canberra, Whigham is a 25-year industry veteran, having held senior positions with Aruba Networks, Dimension Data, Teradata and Optus.
How can governments address the size and complexity of digital transformation projects?
The challenges are manifold. Firstly, ‘one size fits all’ doesn’t apply. While we can leverage experience and practices to a certain extent, the uniqueness in these agencies’ business processes complicates matters in finding a blueprint that is applicable to all.
Legacy systems in this context are a challenge but, at the same time, an opportunity for digital transformation. We need to take a step back and look at what really is the most valuable asset to an organisation. Data, whether it is legacy, current or created in the future, stands out as the key asset in any digitisation project, especially when we’re looking at complex public–private ecosystems as presented in smart city initiatives.
A key consideration for government agencies is how data can be given independence from its underlying systems and platforms, ie, abstraction. Industry-standard tools are available to ensure data abstraction is carried out in a secure and repeatable manner. Data is now free to be moved onto any systems and platforms the organisation chooses. The ability to leverage and adhere to open standards is a critical step forward to futureproofing the required level of system resilience and ongoing maintenance. The quality and integrity of the data should be the key objective to ensure the avoidance of rapid obsolescence.
What lessons can governments learn from the likes of Amazon or Google?
What really stands out when looking at these digital juggernauts is their agility. This links back to talent: the ability to attract and retain high-calibre people has a direct correlation to agility. Governments have already taken a leaf out of the books of the Apples, Amazons and Googles of the world. The ‘cloud first’ strategy is a good example of where governments are showing their eagerness to leverage the learnings and experiences of the technology leaders.
You have a particular interest in leveraging smart city technologies to improve public safety. What sort of technologies are we talking about?
What we have available today includes infrastructure and analytics for digital video management platforms (IP cameras and high-definition video); video analytics for any situation, including facial recognition, people counting and licence plate capture; Hitachi Visualization Suite for geospatial visualisation, evidence management and crime prediction; and cloud gateways to connect public and private infrastructure (eg, to connect privately owned CCTV cameras to city-wide surveillance systems).
In addition, we use Pentaho to integrate video analytics with business data sources to provide business and operational intelligence. An example would be using people counting cross-matched with scheduled attendees to show actual attendance versus planned. We continue to invest in smart city solutions leveraging the synergies with the wider Hitachi group. Our mission is to deliver and co-create IoT solutions that make cities in Australia and around the world safer, more efficient and more vibrant.
What are governments doing well, and where is there room for improvement?
Law enforcement agencies and communities around Australia are well ahead in leveraging IP video and high-definition video for security and public safety. In fact, experts say the Asia–Pacific region is leading the world by about five years. Because of our significant investment in next-gen CCTV infrastructure, we are ideally positioned to move to the next transformational stage of public safety, where video analytics are utilised to provide automation and proactive information through situational awareness. Functions such as intrusion detection, object detection, activity analysis and other analytics are used to create alerts to the command and control centre. This moves security from a reactive (and retrospective) operation to a proactive and real-time response function.
An even more advanced stage of this evolution is where video analytics, IoT sensors and multiple data feeds are harnessed to drive business outcomes such as customer experience, resource utilisation and improved work procedures. This takes the public safety concept from the physical security requirements to smart cities that make a real impact on people’s lives.
Can you give us an example of where this is being done well in Australia?
We work with public and private sector institutions on smart city initiatives. One particularly innovative example is Curtin University’s smart campus in Western Australia, where the public safety concept has been incepted to go above and beyond security. Curtin selected Hitachi as a partner to improve the quality of the student and teaching experience, improve asset utilisation and contribute to the community with data-driven insights.
What is Hitachi going to be doing with that $1.25 billion investment?
The idea is to become an innovation partner for the IoT era, creating shared value and bringing about positive change to the lives of individuals and the wider society. Urbanisation is one of the critical investment areas, addressing issues such as chronic traffic congestion in our major cities as well as increased demand from citizens for stronger security measures. It is clear that we need more public–private collaboration where government stakeholders and entrepreneurs share their data in order to come up with city-wide solutions.
A recent Hitachi Stakeholder Dialogue on Social Innovation, hosted by PwC, showed that while government agencies want to pursue innovation and value, we need to move beyond the narrowly defined tender process to focus on the broader, intangible benefits an idea will create. The dialogue participants also suggested that a lever which government can pull is incentivisation. This lever can influence the design of ideas, grants, sponsorship and tenders, primarily by making data available.
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