The future of Australia’s smart cities

Paul Brescia for Innovation Intelligence • Jun 12, 2020



Innovation Intelligence sat down with Craig Lawton, IoT & Smart Cities Specialist for ANZ Public Sector, Amazon Web Services, for a five minute Q&A on how Australia can embrace the possibilities of interconnected cities.

How has thinking changed around smart cities in Australia in the past five years?

The advent of cloud computing has enabled organisations of all sizes to create smart city platforms. As a result of this, quality of life is enhanced by improving existing, and adding new, services, for citizens, businesses and visitors. For example, city councils can now build digital solutions to integrate and analyse data, or connect sensors using Internet on Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), and data analytics technologies. Previously these projects required significant capital expenditure, however using cloud-based solutions, can now be spun up or down easily, and scaled quickly.

We’ve also observed growth in the partner and startup ecosystems in the last two years. Independent software vendors (ISVs) and solutions providers are utilising AWS technologies to build meaningful citizen services for cities.

Take the City of Newcastle for example. One of its main challenges transforming itself into a technology hub and retaining the number of young workers living in the city and contributing to the economy.

AWS partner, WSP Digital, worked with the City of Newcastle to build the Smart City Intelligent Platform hosted on the Cloud. That enabled the City of Newcastle to more easily integrate, consolidate, and manage data from IoT devices, systems, and citywide data sources. They could then share data with businesses across the city and empower them to innovate with rich sources of information which was not previously available. The aim was to create a smarter and more innovative local region, and to maximise opportunities in sectors including technology, advanced manufacturing, the digital economy and the creative industries.

What are the roles for the public and private sector when creating smart cities? How can both better work together when planning?

The role of the public sector is to enable smart cities to grow, innovate, create jobs and provide timely services to citizens. Their key roles include enhancing the technology, security, and connectivity of traditional cities; providing required infrastructure, and setting expectations, and standards, within the private sector.

Companies within the private sector are innovating with new technologies including video analytics and IoT, while also building a digital “bridge” to support traditional engineering demands in transport and utilities, for example.

Outside of the private sector, collaboration is occurring in education and start-up incubation hubs, which will support long-term economic growth. For example, AWS Educate is a global initiative that provides students and educators with the resources they need to experiment with, and learn cloud technologies.

AWS sees an opportunity to enable future Australian businesses to get started. AWS Activate, another global initiative for born-in-the-cloud start-ups, allows these businesses to use the cloud to scale through access a global marketplace. Some great examples include ParKam (a computer-vision smart-parking vendor) and GorillaStack (a solution for automating your AWS cloud and optimising cost).

Both private and public sectors understand the centrality and importance of data to a smart city. It is therefore imperative that governments clarify and define standards for data management including, ownership, sharing, interoperability, and public access. This allows societies to respond to real-world challenges, including transport congestion, environmental protection, emergencies and urban planning.

What are some examples of cities around the world that you feel Australia could, or should, emulate?

I find it exciting to see what’s happening in our own backyard. Noosa City Council migrated their system of record, TechnologyOne, to Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) on AWS Cloud and that has enabled them to digitally transform their business, moving away from investing in servers and data centres to focus on their customer outcomes. This has saved them 3-4 million dollars and those savings are ongoing.

Civic Analytica’s Open Community Data Exchange Platform is used by City of Darwin and a growing ecosystem of local public and private sector organisations to help the Council and other organisations collaborate with data to make better decisions and foster innovation. The platform leverages the security, scalability and collaborative capabilities provided for by AWS services to extract value from data as a community, create digital skills and develop a data culture.

AWS Partner National Narrowband Network Company (NNNCo) are a fully integrated solutions provider working with major utilities, cities and other enterprise customers and partners across a broad range of use cases. These include the City of Gold Coast, Newcastle City Council, Energy Queensland, Hunter Water, Goanna Ag and Livingstone Shire Council with whom they are working to provide low power wide area and IoT network coverage ith a platform for aggregation and sharing of data. NNNCo also recently won a bid with Agriculture Victoria to build IoT connectivity for regional areas to drive investment, create jobs, and stimulate economic growth. NNNCo see key advantages in using AWS Services including the maturity of the ecosystem, affordable pricing of the services, availability of burstable instances, easy integration, and having a presence in Sydney.

Outside of Australia, cities like Amsterdam and Toronto are exploring how to entice leading organisations to collaborate with and identify an agreed set of principles and guidelines on how they can share data with each other. The term for this is a Civic Data Trust and there are also several initiatives like this happening within Australia.

What can be achieved in the short term to improve liveability for residents, and accessibility?

In the immediate, there are proven opportunities in waste management, air quality control, parking services and improved citizen engagement systems (such as Amazon Alexa, and payment gateways for examples).

We see customers deploying smart solutions through IoT-network providers (and AWS partners) such as Meshed, an Australian-based IoT network and integrator company that helps connect cities, communities, and industries with IoT sensors. These can be used to monitor: the number of people in a particular area, weather conditions and air quality for example.

Other partners like Bigmate are leveraging AWS technology to understand how full bins are to quickly optimise efficiency for the collection of rubbish, and keep cities clean for citizens. They are also pioneering a leading edge computer-vision solution to monitor safety, rapidly deploy thermal sensors for employees in essential services, and also bushfire monitoring and live streaming from helicopters.

Another sector we’ve seen quick impact in are areas such as parking, and how parking is used across cities. Parking is a revenue generator for cities, and also it is important to ensure there enough carparks available for citizens. AWS partner ParKam, an innovative computer-vision-based parking solution, deploys smart parking technology using cloud-based AI and ML to process images which then notifies drivers of available parking spaces. It can even perform turn-by-turn navigation to empty spaces. ParKam has been deployed in Curtin University for 6000 carparks, and adopted by city councils across Australia.

What conversations need to take place for Australia to maximise the potential of its cities, and who needs to come to the table?

Discussions on building a foundation in cities’ digital capabilities that includes, funding, governance, infrastructure, digital talent and capability are a necessary first step. A digital foundation should align with a cities long term goals and strategy. This enables a city to transform themselves and take full advantage of digital technology for improving: insights from data, citizen engagement and economic development. Discussions around how to fund projects in a way that shares the responsibility across multiple levels of government, and that also avoids large upfront capital expenditure where its not needed, are also important.

At AWS, we have a saying about one-way or two-way doors. A one-way door is a decision you make that is difficult to reverse. For example, if you’re thinking about building a highway or a hospital, it’s essential to undertake a deeper analysis and make sure it’s the right decision and properly scoped.

A two-way door is the opposite, meaning decisions made are reversible and the solution or platform built can be scaled up or down depending on market conditions, or deployed in alternative ways depending on citizen demand, offering increased flexibility and agility. We’ve noticed the two-way door concept is being adopted by digital businesses today, especially those who can play a role in building up smart cities or offering services that impact smart cities.

By clearly articulating the difference between one-way and two-way doors, and enabling an organisation to execute on two-way door initiatives, cities can set themselves up to respond rapidly to their customers’ needs, to new technology and to changed circumstances.

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