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A roadmap for Australian smart cities


Australia’s cities are celebrated as fine places to inhabit, with our capitals regularly jostling with each other for top spots on worldwide liveability lists. However, the sprawl of a few large centres puts pressure on everything: roads and transportation; housing, offices and cultural hubs; energy, water and overall sustainability; convenience; safety and, ultimately, liveability.

To do some more talk about how Australia can pick up the pace of the walk, panels exploring smart cities were convened at the GE-CSIRO Digital Industrial Series conference. “Smart cities go beyond liveability: they can also help to enhance productivity and improve energy and water use,” said GE’s Suzana Ristevski, VP of Strategy and Growth for GE Australia, New Zealand and PNG, who moderated the panels. “But you can’t innovate on your own. We need to collaborate.”

GE Reports takes a high-speed train around a few of the ideas shared by the smart-city panellists.

GE-CSIRO Smart Cities Panel Brisbane

Neil Horrocks, Andrew Chappell, Cat Matson, Niall Mai and Suzana Ristevski in Brisbane. Photo: Jane Nicholls

Cities are getting smarter—it’s our legislative system system that needs schooling.

Niall Mai, VP Engineering and Technology, Daintree Networks

“Smart cities are happening, but in a very disjointed way. How do we take lots of disjointed solutions and combine it into a more strategic smart city, where there’s collaboration and where we’re getting leverage off those different elements? Players like Amazon’s AWS and GE with Predix, are providing some potentially really good platforms for collecting that data, for collaboration and for developing software solutions to get a much stronger leverage on that. But the conversation needs to be taken to a higher political level.”

Jay Grant, managing director, Consolidated Land and Rail Australia (CLARA)

“To get smart cities right, we have to get cities right in general. Unfortunately the level of government that deals with most of this interface is local government. The agenda needs to be driven at a much higher level. McKinsey says the spend on infrastructure alone in the next 30 years is going to be … about $57 trillion worldwide …  about $1 trillion of that in Australia. The opportunity is immense, the quantum is immense. There is no set decision-making apparatus that deals with smart-city technology.”

Martin Kennedy, strategy leader, GE

“There would be about 31 different councils to deal with across urban Melbourne, each operating with different politics and different electoral cycles. We need to elevate conversation to the next level up to simplify things.”

Put on your visionary goggles and let’s all climb aboard the collaboration carpet.

Cat Matson, chief digital officer, City of Brisbane

“Complexity of the collaboration needed is one of the barriers but it’s also one of the reasons we need to change the way we go about business. I’m working with CitySmart on how we get a cluster of buildings to monitor their efficiencies, and gamifying that to create a bit of internal competition in the precinct … to bring that to life we’re going to need stakeholders who are willing to contribute at a very high level but not see any return for a really long time. It’s bigger than the cash flow.”

Fang Chen, Group Leader/Senior Principal Researcher, Analytics, Data61

“We need to come to play all together, not to emphasise one way or the other … [to] create this cohesive, holistic view of how cities should be run… I would love to see three or four major cities and take a few items that all the cities share, then start from those to build some kind of platform which can be replicated across different cities, to get industry, government and all the players on board, so that they can co-invest together.”

Neil Horrocks, CEO, CitySmart

“A big challenge is that because it takes so long, the stakeholders involved change. The people change and their motivations and interest in the projects change, and that creates all sorts of difficulties in trying to persist in your message over the longer term and to keep all of your partners as part of the project.”

Andrew Chappell, project director, urban regeneration, Lendlease

“My role is to identify places to roll out new projects. We are falling behind as a nation, on many fronts. In North America and Europe, they’re utilising initiatives such as innovation districts as catalysts for smart cities. This has been going on for over a decade, and we’re yet to see one in Australia.”

Cat Matson, City of Brisbane

“We haven’t yet had a robust enough conversation in this country about where our data goes, how it gets used, and what it means for the value of life that we so highly treasure. Who knows what happens in 20, 30, 40 years’ time, when I’ve freely shared all that data and it’s all in some data bank and hey presto, we’ve changed the laws, and what I was doing 20 years ago is no longer OK. How do we distribute the data, how do we house it, how do we classify it, what parts do we monetise, what parts of it do we keep closed?”

Paul Graham, CSIRO Energy Flagship

“Data has long been perceived to be a private asset. We’re working in cities where we have relatively small-scale IoT islands and they’re operating in a closed-loop network, under proprietary systems. We need to shift away from that to a more dynamic way of sharing data. What is the nexus between perceived higher quality of life or improved economic productivity versus sacrificing personal privacy?”  

Smart cities love greenfields … but old faithfuls can learn new tricks, too.

Jay Grant, CLARA

“Smart cities can’t be about tacking on whiz-bang bells and whistles to existing cities. It has to be about reimagining the built environment and the quality of life … in our city spaces. We can’t just have a platform for a lot of parking apps … we need to take it much much deeper than that. ‘Building cities from the internet up’ is a nice clear comment…

Nick Cleary, Infrastructure Corporation Australia (subsidiary to CLARA)

“We plan to reshape Australia by building a high-speed rail from Sydney to Melbourne, and along that corridor, we aim to build eight new smart, sustainable greenfield cities. Smart city: creating an environment that uses technology to enhance. The ultimate goal is to improve the liveability for the citizens within those communities. We have the opportunity to have a living lab, with a new greenfield smart city … put some scale around some of these technologies and enable them to be retrofitted back to our major cities.”

Niall Mai, Daintree Networks

“The concept of a smart city, smart building—or smart anything—is making it better and more modern… A smart building is connected, so not only are sensors turning on and off the lights, the data is going back somewhere. So instead of just the energy savings of the light not being on when no one’s in the room, you’re collecting data so that you know when that room’s occupied, when it’s not, which are your busiest rooms, or shopping-centre or warehouse aisles, and which are not. And the analytics you can do on that data start to do things beyond the energy efficiency and cost reduction. You can make operational improvements to that building.”

Neil Horrocks, CitySmart

“Greenfield sites are easier. But don’t discount cities like Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.  People point at Barcelona or London or Toronto or Boston, and say, aren’t they smart cities? There’s been a lot of stuff being done in Australia, too. Industries, councils and states are doing a lot of great things to make cities smart. They’re on the journey, and have been for a long time.”

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