Recently I attended the annual Smart Cities Week Australia event in Sydney. This event brought together smart cities experts from around the world, as well as several leading Australian Smart Cities including Melbourne, Brisbane, Sunshine Coast, Central Coast and Newcastle. It was an excellent, informative event providing many important insights regarding the evolution of Smart Cities.

Highlights included an eloquent, engaging and passionate presentation by Mayor Eugene Grant from Seat Pleasant, MD in the US, explaining how they are developing a citizen-centric smart city, focused on social justice, equity and inclusion. Mayor Grant offered the following as some of the reasons why they decided to invest in becoming a smart city:

  • Rising stakeholder expectations
  • Accountability and transparency
  • Resource and financial constraints

Citizens are holding councils accountable for their actions. Everything council does has to be about the citizen.

Another excellent overseas speaker was Zac Bookman, Co-founder & CEO of OpenGov from San Francisco, who explained his mission to “power more effective and accountable government:

“It’s not about the tech. It’s about culture and leadership”. It’s about having the courage to make smart decisions. If there’s not leadership behind it, it’s not getting done”

Closer to home, Victor Dominello, Minister for Customer Service, NSW Government, gave an interesting and informative presentation discussing the importance of Cyber, including the governance of data and privacy. Minister Dominello explained that NSW Government is the first government in Australia to formally adopt an IoT policy.

To follow, here are 10 of my key takeaways from the event:

1. Smart Cities in 2019 is about Data. The need for analytics within Councils, to better understand the data and improve service delivery, is growing rapidly. Consequently data demand is growing, with greater sophistication in insights. Yet, as Bernadette Stone, CIO, City of Brisbane, commented:

“AI isn’t magic - it can’t fix underlying problems in your dataset”.

Smart city leaders also need to avoid “overconfidence bias” – they need to “un-know and un-learn” to look at things afresh. Adam Beck, Executive Director of Smart Cities Council A/NZ, commented on the current gap between data and decisions: “the data shows you don’t build commuter car parks..”

2. More communication is needed - to educate and inform citizens around the benefits of Smart initiatives (“what does it mean to me?”). It was suggested that we position Smart Cities as more of a citizen-centric “Shared Services Hub” for the community. If we can put more quality time into people’s lives, in a smart environment, then we’ve got a smart city. Interestingly, it was noted that “Smart Cities” terminology turns off smaller/rural regions - for them its more about “Smart Communities”.

3. Cyber: purpose, privacy, ethics and governance. According to Victor Dominello: “Cyber is critical. Cyber and privacy must be at the forefront. It’s about Cyber security, privacy, transparency and ethics. That builds trust”. A Smart City needs to be properly regulated, to allay community concerns about data privacy. (“Privacy is mine to give, it’s not for anyone else to take”). As Michelle Fitzgerald, CDO, City of Melbourne, observed:

“a key theme has been building trust, with citizens and within Council”.

Councils are the stewards of the data, the community are the owners, the stakeholders.

4. Government is about people, and culture and alignment. We just can’t treat Smart Cities initiatives as an IT project. It’s all about people. It’s not about the tech, it’s about culture and leadership. Tech is just an enabler (a means to an end). Often, city leaders are not getting strategic advice, and therefore are unable to make informed decisions. We need to power a more effective and accountable government. Zac Bookman suggested that it’s about instilling a culture of performance reporting and outcomes, not just data (“There’s no [financial] line item that says waste, fraud and abuse”).

5. Communities care about value (return on tax dollar), economic vibrancy, and safety/security. As Neil Glentworth from Community Data observed: “If we were truly using data [effectively], rates wouldn’t be going up above the CPI and service delivery would be improving”. A smart City is one that takes into account access, quality and cost (Is it cost effective? Do I have access. What’s the quality like?). So, how do we bring the decision-making and the data-governance architectures together? Khal Asfour, Major of Canterbury Bankstown City Council, posed the question:

“How do we create an “Information Insights Platform”, using data to make better decisions?”

6. Social justice, equity and inclusion - “Everything we do is about the people we serve”, explained Mayor Grant. Ensuring every member of society is not left out. There’s a massive digital divide appearing, and 5G, for example, is only going to make it worse. A smart city is as much about connectivity as it is about data. This echoes the sentiment I heard at the recent Colorado Smart Symposium in Denver, at which we learned of the growing social divide due to lack of broadband access (for more on this, see my recent article "Smart Cities: From Hype to Action")

7. Social Media and ‘Entitlement’: Council works for the people. Not the person. We need to manage resources for the benefit of everyone in the community, not one individual. What’s changed is that social media can be mobilised to create community outrage - sometimes the objections need to be overridden for the greater good.

8. Change is the new normal – “We have an infrastructure gap and population growth. And it’s not going away”, explained Romilly Madew, CEO Infrastructure Australia. We need to bring people on a journey, so they understand the benefits. For example, electrification of public transport fleets is coming – this requires more integration between energy and transport sectors. “The past is increasingly less relevant as a guide for the future”, observed Professor Margaret Maile Pett, Executive Director, Innovation and Entrepreneurship Unit at UTS. Past strategies, like building more roads, are no longer effective – it’s like loosening your belt to solve obesity.

9. Vendor issues. Throughout the conference, we heard a strong and consistent message to vendors: don’t speak to Councils unless you care about the people/the community. The IT industry has a proud history of moving onto the next problem before it's finished solving the last one. Vendors drive cities to silos (lack of standards, sharing, processing, etc). Scott Waters, CEO, City of Darwin, suggested vendors need to provide an integrated solution:

“Buying a widget /one off tech doesn’t work”

Also, cities can’t outsource accountability (to vendors) – they need to be all in together. Bernadette Stone recommended vendors don’t approach councils with “generic rubbish [we] can get off the internet”. Vendors need to do their research, listen and don’t assume council has missed something – they [vendors] need to have a partnering culture. Vendors need to stop pushing product. Also, it’s important that contracts with vendors are very clear about data security and privacy.

10. Finally, Day 2 offered up several excellent Smart City Case Studies, including:

  • Idaho National Laboratory, USA: Bus fleet electrification digital experiences platform using AlohaCloud by AppFusions - providing Smart Cities experiences that bring together the data, apps, and people (citizens, city-workers, government officials, administrators) for more efficient communications, transparency, IT operations
  • Sunshine Coast Council, QLD: the first local government in Australia to offset 100% of its electricity consumption with energy from a renewable source. Also providing free public wifi and trialling autonomous shuttle buses
  • City of Melbourne, VIC: Census of Land Use & Employment - Data about businesses and jobs is linked to property and building data
  • Seat Pleasant, MD, USA: In-home and Health Monitoring System
  • Moreton Bay, QLD: Using council vehicles (e.g. garbage trucks) to scan the roads (dash cams) for poor road conditions e.g. potholes
  • City of Melton, VIC: Real time data capture of mobile phone location data, for analytics on usage of facilities and parking
  • Christchurch, NZ: Smart Lighting - converting all street lights in the city to energy-efficient LED lighting
  • Canterbury Bankstown, NSW: AI cameras for illegal dumping
  • Ipswich, QLD: Building smart connected enabled communities - 250 houses per day

It is worth acknowledging several councils who were honoured in the Smart Cities Week awards, for leadership in smart cities initiatives. These included City of Melbourne, Wyndham City Council, Southern Grampians Shire Council and City of Canterbury Bankstown. More details can be found here.

In closing, here are some of the more interesting questions posed during the conference, for smart cities leaders to reflect on:

  • What is the ‘end-state’ of a Smart City?
  • Do Smart Cities want to be “Data-driven Cities”, or “Informed Democracies”?
  • Do we need a 4th Industrial Revolution? Or a 2nd enlightenment?
  • “There’s a massive digital divide appearing, and 5G is only going to make it worse” – Agree?
  • “The IT industry has a proud history of moving onto the next problem before it has finished solving the last one” – Agree?
  • "The past is increasingly less relevant as a guide for the future” - Thoughts?

Recommended Reading:

ISO 37106 - international standard for smart cities certification:

National Infrastructure Audit - Executive Summary:

“The Age of Surveillance Capitalism” (Shoshona Zuboff):

Mountains in the Mind (Robert Macfarlane):

#SmartCities #SmartCitiesWeek #DigitalTransformation