There’s been a flurry of digital and data-driven transformation at local governments over the past 3 years in Australia, largely driven by in our opinion and in the following order:

  1. 2016 Smart Cities Plan (initiated by then Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull)
    Councils eligible for grants between A$250,0000 and A$5 million
    “Disruptive new technology in transport, communications and energy efficiency are becoming a reality—we will position our cities to take full advantage. We will leverage real time open data driven solutions and support investment in sectors commercialising new innovations to grow Australia’s economy.”
  2. Australian Federal and State Government Open Data Policies that have adopted the principle that data is open first, and restricted based on reasons of personal privacy.
  3. Keeping up with the times, in response demand for the provision of convenient digital services.

We think that local governments respond more strongly to legislative or policy initiatives rather than customer-demand for the following reasons:

  1. Instructions (from legislation) are clear and actionable.
  2. Customers are an amorphous concept to local government and it’s hard to respond to something that isn’t well defined or clearly represented.
  3. There isn’t much competition and variance in services offered amongst councils (given they mostly all respond to the same legislative requirements)

So what are some of the key opportunities for local government innovation?

Typically the goal of most councils sound something like the following “to provide vibrant communities and places where people and can work, live play and businesses can prosper etc.”

In achieving this thematic goal here are the areas we have observed where opportunities lie:

  1. Planning - Understanding and predicting future capacity requirements and behaviours to drive smarter investments in infrastructure and development approvals. This may include people movement data sourced from telecommunications companies.

    Usage of augmented reality for city planning and consultations on development applications.
  2. Customer engagement and service - Enablement of digital customer engagement  channels and connected services.  Councils are starting to develop online forms and portals for the lodgement of requests and release apps to allow the public to report problems or find services.
  3. Procurement - More streamlined invoice to pay options through digitisation of invoices (PDF’s with embedded XML/JSON data payloads) that can be directly imported into finance / ERP systems for processing. The EU has adopted the PEPPOL digital invoice standard for government procurement.
  4. Connect Assets - Leverage IoT & 5G to build connected / smart assets e.g. sensors that notify when maintenance of public toilets is required
  5. Predictive Natural Resource & Disaster Management - Usage of broad public and private data to predict and actively manage natural resources (water management) and disaster management (An example is Data61’s Spark Bushfire Prediction algorithm)
  6. Automated Data Collection - Usage of computer vision for data collection, e.g. taking photos of assets periodically to determine if maintenance is required or images of cars to determine if they have parked longer than they are allowed to.

So if there are so many opportunities what are the key challenges standing between us and a smart cities future?

  • Not currently customer centric: The concept of a customer for a local council is quite broad, you can be a business or as a individual you can be a constituent, a renter, a rate payer, seeking development approval, accessing services such as waste, library or health and even receiving an infringement. Council’s have strong master data management property data which is received from the land titles offices over customer master data management. Councils have better knowledge of the number of pets over the number of people that live within their area.
  • Analogue: Councils deal mostly with the provision of physical services and assets. Local Government Areas (LGA’s) can be geographically very large meaning the scale of assets and data needing to be managed can be considerable.
  • Decision by council (literally): Although councils have CEO’s they are run by councillors that elected officials with a high degree of public scrutiny, so culturally it’s not a place where a lot of experimentation / failure can be conducted and tolerated.

What capabilities are required to achieve Australia’s Smart Cities Future?

  • Focus on end-to-end customer experiences - Although we have seen a lot of discussion around customer centricity at local councils, we are still seeing service-specific process centric design. e.g. Designing an online application specifically for waste collection. There is little understanding of the need to develop a master customer journey that is service agnostic, this will reduce customer confusion and create standardisation across service provision, lowering costs.
  • Streamline single point of entry for customers & the creation of a convenient non-proprietary customer ID (e.g. mobile phone number, email and social login). Please don’t make me punch in my council rate account number to log in!
  • Creation of a modern integration and workflow backbone support by in-house development teams that are able to quickly and cheaply implement new end-to-end processes (API’s and microservices rather than webservices and orchestration.)
  • IoT enablement - The ability to manage and communicate with tens if not hundreds of thousands of devices across a large geographical area.
  • Data & AI capabilities - Not many local councils have data warehouses, but a central analytics capability is required if councils are to take advantage of connected assets. Strong data management (inc privacy and information security) capabilities will be required to protect personal privacy while releasing open data to serve the public interest.
  • Cloud transition -  The vast majority of local councils are still operate predominantly on-premise IT infrastructures. This is in part due historical nervousness over the security of cloud and the cycle of technology investment / adoption.

The following are a two local government innovation examples that demonstrate out of the box thinking.

Case Study 1: Innisfil Transport

Innisfil Transport.jpg

The Town of Innisfil and Uber came together to bring on-demand, affordable, and safe transportation to the town's community, in Canada’s first ridesharing and transit partnership. Instead of establishing a dedicated bus service (which in many cases would be empty), the town subsidised Uber fares for residents delivering an on-demand experience at lower overall cost.

"Rather than place a bus on the road to serve just a few residents, we're moving ahead with a better service that can transport people from all across our town to wherever they need to go."

—Gord Wauchope, Innisfil Mayor

Case Study 2: School Speed Test (http://schoolspeedtest.org/)

Test My School.jpg

In 2013, the US government planned to roll out high speed internet to all schools however did not know what percentage of schools had high speed internet. Instead of creating legislation that required all schools to measure and report on internet speeds an organisation called Education Superhighway created a website where teachers and students could test and report on their schools. Education SuperHighway  partnered with 30 states and gathered more than 800,000 school speed tests.

What these two examples highlight is the importance of Public, Private & Community collaboration to solve problems.

This involves;

  • Understanding what the public wants by engaging them much more deeply and seeking feedback from them more frequently than current council complaints management process and election cycles.
  • A willingness for leadership to endorse creative solutions that blur the traditional boundaries of how public services are provided.

Both the opportunities and technology is present for local councils to innovate, all that’s required now is for local councils to get over their “no one got fired for hiring IBM” mentality and focus on value driven experimentation.

Image sourc: Smart City In a box: https://www.eeworldonline.com/smart-city-in-a-box-infographic/

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