Smart city stakes getting higher

By David Braue
Tuesday, 05 April, 2016

Smart city stakes getting higher

The ‘smart city’ aspirations of major cities and regional areas got a reality check this week after Sydney was the only Australian city out of 50 named in Dell’s ranking of future-ready cities.

That ranking — which Dell based on analytics firm IHS analysis of each city’s human capital, infrastructure and commerce opportunities — suggests by omission that most Australian cities are falling short when it comes to positioning themselves for the long-term policy, technology and skills growth necessary to make them relevant in a fast-changing global economy.

Whatever import is given to the heavily US-skewed list — 26 of the top 50 cities were in that country — the fact that such rankings are being developed at all highlights the race between major economies that recognise the importance of innovation and growth in the emerging century.

Australian cities have been jumping on the bandwagon in recent years, with early IBM Smarter Cities Challenge participants such as Geraldton, Townsville and the Gold Coast undertaking smart-city analyses.

Cisco Systems — which last year identified South East Queensland as a smart-region leader and this year committed $653m (US$500m) to building smart-city capabilities in Berlin — recently joined Intel, IBM, Juniper Networks, GE and other sponsors for the Global Cities Team Challenge, an ongoing effort to promote smart-cities projects around the world.

Adelaide this year joined the race to implement a smart-cities transformation after NEC Australia committed itself to a partnership with the University of Adelaide that will channel much of that company’s global work on smart cities to the South Australian capital.

Adelaide is an ideal site for smart-city efforts, NEC Australia’s South Australia State Manager Milan Djuricic told GTR, because it is both large enough that new technologies can be implemented at scale and small enough that endemic organisational challenges won’t present major obstacles.

“It’s the right-sized city with the right level of maturity for getting innovation developed and implemented,” he explained. “You can work on these projects at the council or small-town level but it’s not at a meaningful scale; in a much larger city, there are too many hurdles and obstacles to get something implemented in a reasonable time frame.”

The smart-city partnership would provide new pathways for commercialising university research efforts in areas such as smarter public transport, better water management and public safety initiatives, Djuricic said, while naming cloud computing, big data analytics and the Internet of Things (IoT) as “core technologies that we see being critical to smart-city projects”.

NEC Australia will help implement an open-source software-defined network to coordinate the efforts of many sensors and analytical systems to be implemented across Adelaide, with some “very quick-win smart-city technologies” — for example, e-ink based parking signs that can be easily updated to reflect changing traffic and parking conditions — expected to “definitely” be implemented by the mid to late part of this year.

“South Australia is very heavily urbanised,” Djuricic said, “so doing these kinds of developments and implementing these kinds of technologies really benefits the public because such a large portion of the SA public is in Adelaide.”

Driving such high-visibility, large-scale transformation might be a key part of improving the smart-city credentials of Australia’s leading cities and regional centres, but it’s not the only level of government focused on transformation.

With their smaller scope and more intimate relationships with citizens, local governments are uniquely positioned to drive small changes through digital transformation — and a recent benchmarking study by Local Government Professionals (LGP) NSW has set up a leaderboard that will track their progress in this regard annually.

The local council scorecard, created by LGP NSW along with PwC Australia, takes a more operational than aspirational world view but nonetheless reflects progress against a range of measures that relate to transformation.

For example, the latest survey found that 20% of members’ finance resources are dedicated to business-insight activities, up from 16% two years ago. Some 62% of councils now have a formal IT strategy — up from 43% two years ago — and 28% of councils rank analytics and business intelligence tools as a priority (up from 17% two years ago).

Such benchmarking was crucial in informing debates around council amalgamation and service-focused transformation, according to LGP NSW CEO Annalisa Haskell, who noted that adoption of the model in New Zealand and Western Australia had validated the importance of ongoing comparative benchmarking. “The collection and analysis of this data could not come at a more timely moment in our evolution,” she said in a statement.

“With submissions from proposed merging councils now being considered by the NSW State Government, backing up assertions with hard data is even more crucial. This will ensure that moving forward, all local councils will have key information to operate with maximum efficiency and effectiveness, and to measure the impact of any future changes — whether initiated by council or imposed.”

Reforms encompassing city sustainability and technological change are poised to become an election issue, with Labor’s Anthony Albanese — Shadow Minister for Cities — laying down a “national agenda for more productive, sustainable and liveable cities” in late 2014. The strategy was recently lambasted by sitting Assistant Minister for Cities and Digital Transformation Angus Taylor, whose work with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull — himself a long-time advocate of smarter cities — is likely to see the topic brought up as a key aspirational goal in this year’s election.

As it should: whether related to smart cities or simply to digital transformation, recent Gartner research into government CIO priorities suggests that the pace of government change is only going to accelerate. APAC government CIOs see digitalisation as a much higher priority than those in North America, the firm reports — with the 44% of business processes in government bodies now undergoing digital change expected to jump to 80% within five years.

Image courtesy ITU.

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