Issues around technical standards, data sharing, and application interoperability require the government's attention if Australia wants to effectively grow smart infrastructure and smart cities using the Internet of Things (IoT), according to not-for-profit body IoT Alliance Australia (IoTAA).
Estimates by the IoTAA using industry data indicate that the wide-scale use of internet-connected devices could drive up to AU$120 billion of new economic activity in Australia in less than a decade. The main industries to benefit from the deployment of IoT are logistics, public health, retail, transportation, and worksite automation, according to the alliance.
But establishing an interoperable and secure framework for open data sharing across all levels of government and industry is an urgent step that needs to be taken to ensure smart cities can be built efficiently and with maximum impact, the IoTAA believes.
"The key will be to build structures that allow us to not have to reinvent very complex things in each city ... the degree of understanding and knowledge in cities is, as you know, highly variable and we can't afford to have cities learn by osmosis. We need to accelerate that process," IoTAA CEO Frank Zeichner said during a public hearing on Tuesday about the Australian government's role in the development of cities.
"I see a government role in building that, and setting goals and standards, and helping build and facilitate exemplars and things that can be copied and reused."
Looking ahead, he said citizens can play a greater role in the collection and sharing of data, and subsequently contribute on an ongoing basis to the development of sustainable and productive cities.
Zeichner called this the "Uberising of citizens", who are an "unrealised resource" in the IoT ecosystem.
He assured that citizens would be willing to share data -- such as that obtained from electricity, gas, and water meters installed on their properties -- with city councils as long as they get something in return, such as a discount on utility bills.
"Water industries are trying to grapple with fit-for-purpose water and the fact that we use 1 percent of the water for drinking and the rest is [used to hose] down the garden. People don't even know how they use that, and before we can change how we do that ... people need to know how they're actually using it. So we have to use data to inform to change behaviour," Zeichner said during the public hearing.
"Fitbits are classic. It changes your behaviour. It's unbelievably inaccurate, but still changes your behaviour."
Smart city solutions will emerge from the effective and judicious use of data, but a trust framework for data sharing needs to be established first, according to Zeichner.
Greater intelligence can be drawn when datasets are combined with other datasets, according to the IoTAA, but at the moment the datasets are scattered across government departments and companies.
"Maybe there's a commercial model for reusing [data], but it's not available, and that's madness," Zeichner said during the hearing.
The IoTAA's suggestion, moving forward, is for the federal government to help fund state-based data sharing infrastructure and policies, as opposed to funding city-based projects directly, which is currently the case under the government's AU$50 million smart cities program.
Michael Comninos, IoTAA chair of Smart Cities and Built Environment, suggested cities could be tasked with addressing challenges that they are specifically impacted by through the use of IoT, and the solutions they came up with, once validated, can then be deployed in other cities. Zeichner also noted that the solutions can be commercialised in other countries.
"Every part of the country could specialise in something that relates to their unique challenges. It might be population growth in western Sydney; it might be dealing with the topics and sensitive environmental conditions up in the [Great] Barrier Reef; it could be dealing with poor soil and salinity in Western Australia. The beauty of IoT is that you can deploy these solutions to any of the problems once you have clarity on what the problem is," Comninos said during the hearing.
"What usually happens in Australian cities is it takes months and months and months to try something and it takes years and years and years to work out it's not working. If you have this data asset ... and you have Internet of Things sensors that can be deployed to add data to that data pool or data warehouse, you start to have a new currency to make decisions."
The value of open data is also being discussed in the context of banking and healthcare. For example, the federal government earlier this year said it is looking into introducing an open banking regime by July 2018 that would see Australian banks opening up customer data to customers and third parties such as competing banks, startups, and other financial institutions. This was following recommendations from the Australian House of Representatives Standing Committee on Economics.
In its Review of the Four Major Banks: First Report, the committee suggested that the Australian Securities and Investments Commission be charged with developing a binding framework to facilitate this sharing of data, making use of APIs, and ensuring that appropriate privacy safeguards are in place to allow such a practice.
The Australian government's e-health record system, My Health Record, recently received the green light from the Council of Australian Governments Health Council to automatically sign citizens up to the service, which will enable all healthcare providers to contribute to and use health information on behalf of their patients. They will also be able to communicate with other healthcare providers on the clinical status of joint patients via the digital platform.
According to the strategy, Safe, seamless, and secure: Evolving health and care to meet the needs of modern Australia, the interoperability of clinical data is essential to high-quality, sustainable healthcare, with My Health Record allowing the collection of citizen's data to share in real-time between providers.
However, there is currently no overarching standard in place to govern the sharing of data, with a public consultation on draft interoperability standards to determine an agreed vision and roadmap for implementation of interoperability expected to occur by the end of 2018.