Smart City Lessons From Western Australia

The city of Perth, Australia, is embracing intelligent infrastructure and rolling out a number of high-tech programs. We caught up with John Atkins at the Government of Western Australia to discover what other citizens could learn from his work and the work of his colleagues.

Jeremy Coward

May 31, 2017

7 Min Read
Perth, Australia, skyline

As the Government of Western Australia's (WA) representative in the UK and Europe, John Atkins' role is to raise the profile and knowledge of Western Australian trade and investment opportunities available to their markets.

His objectives include expanding trading markets for a range of Western Australian commodities, manufactured goods and services.

“I encourage investment in the Western Australian economy,” Atkins says, “promoting our infrastructure, defense, agriculture, innovation, technology, scientific activities, including big data and the application of the Internet of things, in WA.”

How is Perth embracing intelligent infrastructure and smart city technology?

 “Perth is focused on Connected Communities — 'Digital Cities' — unified through digitalization made possible by the Internet of Things, which increasingly includes device-to-device communications, whether this is through the Internet or sensors and other small cell devices.

“We are advocating for connectivity and open source sharing of knowledge and big data in Perth by applying the principles of science and innovation to meet the future city demands.

“What I am talking about encompasses urban planning and social policy but through public sector innovation and technology working together with industry and academia — from the central city right across our massive state.”

What are Perth's biggest challenges in this area?

“There are general challenges for all cities worldwide but for Perth the challenges revolve around legacy IT systems, security, government policy, digital infrastructure funding and cultural change.

“Disruptive change is happening very fast all over the world and one of the major challenges is to keep up with the dynamic changes and provide the talent and skills to meet demand.

“Other challenges include the need for openness to learn from each other and share city data, to engage the market and all stakeholders, and to continuously improve and share the learning with secure big data management. Governance is a challenge for us all.

“By collecting data from infrastructure, cities can better understand the challenges, for example by identifying how and when people use public transport, where the congestion zones are and how overcrowding is affecting the service. The same applies to the health system, and these data sets can tell us what is needed and where.

“Machine-to-machine (M2M) efficiencies enabled by digital connectivity can drive efficiencies in services and optimize critical infrastructure through the use of data collection, analytics and utilization to identify shared benefits, coordinate resources, reduce costs and repetition, and simply deliver better services for the city communities.

“So in a nutshell the challenges are to collect the relevant data and be able to use it for the benefit for all to inform, analyze and act, to enhance quality of life, productivity and prosperity, economic development and environmental sustainability.”

Talk us through the cloud and analytics projects you're involved in with Perth and Western Australia.

“WA has traditionally relied on natural resources to create a new ecosystem, built on the back of future technologies and rapidly moving innovation and scientific advancement. In 2015, we launched the GOV NEXT ICT initiative which will help agencies to migrate into the cloud within a single government-wide network.

“WA's Innovation Minister Bill Marimon also launched the whole of government Digital WA Strategy in May this year, which gives the community of WA easier access to quality services right across a State that is 2.5 million square kilometers in size, accelerating digital transformation across the public sector.

“The Digital WA Strategy will help startups, entrepreneurs and existing companies to flourish as they use Government open data sources to produce new products and services to meet the evolving needs of the community.

“One of our most exciting IoT projects is the Square Kilometre Array, a radio astrology project combining scientists and engineers from more than 20 countries to be able to explore the universe 20 times faster than any telescope around the world today.

“Aside from answering questions which have puzzled scientists for generations, the project is also drawing attention simply because of the scale at which it operates. Once completed it will generate data at a rate more than ten times today's global Internet traffic, presenting a unique data collection, analysis and action challenge.”

Where else is Western Australia applying IoT and data analytics?

“Particular industries include resources and mining, robotics, building industry, Innovative Automated Vehicle Technology, agriculture and wine industries.

“Agriculture has been one of the pillars of our economy and society, representing our second-biggest export industry, behind mining and oil and gas. As the 'mining boom is followed by the dining boom' there is a huge opportunity for us to deliver through our world-class agricultural research.

“For example, in the wine growing industry the latest IoT technology being used is ,which provides an accurate single source of data for wine grape producers about their vineyard and vintage; analyzing and understanding vineyard business performance data online using new big data web-based tools.

“Meanwhile, the new Fiona Stanley Hospital uses 18 automated guided vehicles to deliver catering around the vast new facility. They are like friendly Daleks guided by a combination of GPS, proximity sensors, WiFi and powerful computing. They provide free-roaming food delivery, cutting-edge cooking and “fully traceable” food safety protocols.

“They can interrogate the hospital systems by WiFi to call a lift and program it to take their trolley to the right floor and deliver food across the campus.

“The 300kg AGVs will deliver up to 2,200 meals a day, directly towards without human intervention, once they leave the kitchen. When the robot docks with a food trolley, it is instructed where to go via a computer chip.

“The technology means food is not held too long and the time between cooking and delivery is significantly reduced. Patients can order their meals via a patient entertainment system that also delivers movies, TV, radio and news to the bed via a smart terminal.”

What advice would you give to CTOs and city managers working on similar projects?

“They must talk with and actually work with government, academic and industry all in the same room. We do this very well in Perth because we have already seen the impact and economic benefit this brings.

“In July 2016 we held an Innovation Summit in Perth which brought together the leading minds across the innovation and technology space to openly discuss the future and specific strategies for investment and infrastructure, collaboration and research within industry sectors working with academia and talent and skills attraction and provision, as well as cultural and promotional aspects.

“The resulting innovation strategy, launched this month, focuses on four pillars on which WA's innovation future will be built: Talent and Skills; Investment and Infrastructure; Culture and Collaboration; and Marketing and Promotion.”

“Major companies such as Accenture are building data analytics centers in Perth because they have access to the big data being produced through WA's supercomputer and the environment is open and inclusive.

“German technology conglomerate Siemens AG has also committed to an A$20 million investment in a new state of the art service center in Perth, where cloud based analytics are being utilized to optimize plant and equipment performance. This example includes a new A$5 million Specialised Test-bed for electric motors.

“The government also supports the future of the industry — providing the Western Australian Innovator of the Year Awards to encourage startups as well as launching a major Innovation Package in May this year worth A$20 million to foster growth in partnerships between business, universities and the research sectors.”

What direction do you see Perth's smart city efforts going in years to come?

“The newly established industry and research collaboration centre at Curtin University, Perth sits are the heart of many of these IoT activities.

“The Woodside Plant of the Future Project is one of the projects, which links world-class process plant design with artificial intelligence, data analytics and advanced sensors and control systems to drive environmentally compliant, safe and cost efficient production of remote resources.

There's also SKA, which will require high-performance computing capacity to process the equivalent of all the data previously created on the World Wide Web every hour, and also the Smart Campus Project, which addresses urban challenges, to increase security, improve energy utilization and resource efficiently and lower operating costs.

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