Western Parkland City councils join smart city ecosystem

Peclet Technology Pty Ltd
Monday, 07 September, 2020

Western Parkland City councils have joined an ecosystem of 11 other Australian councils to accelerate their smart city initiatives.

There are many examples of Australian councils embarking on smart city journeys, but many of them meeting with mixed success — from vertical/siloed solutions to complex, time-consuming and expensive initiatives — before being able to demonstrate any tangible outcomes and benefits to their stakeholders and the community.

Smart city initiatives don’t have to be complex, time consuming or expensive. Take, for example, the Southern Grampians Shire Council, which didn’t have the luxury of spending hundreds of thousands of dollars before demonstrating value to its community. The council has been frugal in its approach and spent a fraction of what some councils have spent for similar projects, but nonetheless was one of the first regional councils to deliver an end-to-end smart city solution back in 2018.

Southern Grampians’ solution is based on a LoRaWAN network and sensors, open source platform The Things Network, and the Opendatasoft open data portal. Within just a few weeks the Council was able to make hyper-local weather data available to local farmers by installing 10 weather stations across the council area and by publishing the data on its user-friendly connect Greater Hamilton (connectGH) platform. Initial use cases also included smart parking sensors installed in Hamilton town centre, with associated real-time maps on connectGH.

Eurobodalla Shire Council is another great example of a regional council that has been able to progress quicker than most larger cities and with minimal spending. Its smart city solution is based on a LoRaWAN network, Ubidots IoT platform and Opendatasoft for data sharing. The range of use cases it has been able to implement is impressive: smart bins and smart parking pilots in Batemans Bay, people counting in the public library, GPS tracking of council vehicles, traffic counting on the Princess Highway and at various boat ramps, flood monitoring, and even flying fox counting! The data it is collecting about the Princess Highway is made available to Transport for NSW and has been instrumental in right-sizing the new bridge at the entrance to Batemans Bay. With flood monitoring the council is able to send early warnings to local businesses that might be affected.

A screenshot of the connectgh website

The connectGH website

Interestingly, some larger councils such as the City of Greater Geelong have looked at these solutions and realised that — despite their larger size and potentially larger ICT budget — there was no reason why they should over complicate their smart city architecture when turnkey solutions such as Ubidots and Opendatasoft would make their life easy and accelerate delivery. According to Peclet’s CTO, Hassan Gabru, “All our components are on scalable AWS infrastructure, so there is no limit on the number of users and size of operations it can support. Huge cities like Paris and Mexico City are using Opendatasoft, and the City of Melbourne is also using Opendatasoft for their IoT and 5G tested.”

Collaboration leads to better outcomes

Another key success factor for smart city initiatives is collaboration between councils. This is about councils sharing experience, ICT platforms and data, and even bringing together ICT funding to afford better solutions.

Geelong and Ballarat understood this early. When Geelong became an early adopter of Opendatasoft for its Geelong Data Exchange platform, it did not take long for neighbour Ballarat to decide to share the same platform for the Ballarat Data Exchange. Although the two data portals have a different look and feel in line with the respective councils’ branding, both portals are underpinned by Opendatasoft with appropriate security controls to keep certain datasets private. Sharing the same platform is providing economies of scale on licensing costs and giving them access to greater functionalities… and ultimately providing a better user experience to community members, who are now able to seamlessly search and visualise datasets across a broader geographical area.

More recently, the Western Parkland City councils — comprising Blue Mountains, Camden, Campbelltown, Fairfield, Hawkesbury, Liverpool, Penrith and Wollondilly — is another impressive example of councils collaborating together. Recently awarded a grant from the Smart City Smart Suburb program for their sensor network project, one of the key risks would have been for these councils to follow different technological directions and end up with a complex architecture. But this did not materialise, and Western Parkland can be proud of being one of the largest (if not the largest) Australian group of councils to take such a coordinated approach in shaping its smart city architecture.

According to Sharlene Van Leerdam from Campbelltown City Council, “It did not take us long to reach consensus on selecting Ubidots and Opendatasoft as it is giving each council the flexibility to have their own secured environment and branding while providing us the ability to easily share data between us, with our business partners (e.g. Sydney Water, UoW and UNSW) and with our community. Plus it allows us to roll up datasets from eight councils into one centralised view on our Western Parkland City parent site.

“We also loved that our community can create a login to build their own maps or charts, allowing them to upskill and be innovative. Sharing the same platform also gives us access to leading technology at an affordable price, and also the ability to share components like dashboards that we are going to develop, hence minimising our implementation effort,” she said.

“The opportunity to partner with Peclet to solve easily accessible data was brought forward to the councils via the City Deal Digital Commitments Industry Engagement, which allowed companies to pitch their solution. I am super-excited to be leading this initiative.”

Open data is a benefits multiplier

One of the requirements for the lucky councils awarded a grant from the Smart City Smart Suburb program is to open up their data. Unfortunately, too many councils see the open data requirement as a constraint rather than an opportunity. Many councils have taken a first step by publishing some static datasets, or some spatial or financial data for transparency purpose.

While this is a great first step, successful open data portals are the ones that bring it all together, i.e. IoT real-time data, static data, spatial data, financial data and so on, all in one place. This is because open data users have different needs and are interested in different things — engineers might need geospatial data, economists might be interested in how funding has been spent, while tech start-ups may require IoT data to come up with the next great innovation.

Some, such as Randwick City Council, even took open data to the next level and developed open data multi-channels. Instead of keeping data just for its internal needs, the data is also made available on digital signage on the beach. IoT data is mashed-up with other open data sources such as lifeguard feeds, Environment NSW’s Ocean Bulletin and Transport for NSW data. The benefits to end users is massive, as it is improving the safety and experience of thousands of beach goers 365 days per year. Such an innovative approach would no doubt benefit many other coastal councils across Australia.

A digital sign on the beach boardward at Randwick, displaying weather information

A Randwick City Council digital sign

Three ingredients for success

In summary, the key ingredients for successful smart city initiatives are keep it simple, collaborate with your neighbours and share your data. At Peclet, our vision is to build an ecosystem where councils can collaborate and share data, but also share platforms and value-add components such as data visualisations — if we develop a great dashboard for one council­, it is made available to all others as open source. This way, councils can invest in new ideas rather than paying for what has already been done elsewhere.

Our approach is also to provide councils with easy-to-use, turnkey solutions that give them the level of autonomy they want. When Ballarat signed up with Opendatasoft, it did all the configuration itself and produced one of the best open data portals in Australia.

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