House of Reps committee recommends smart infrastructure task force

The government should appoint a national task force to look into deploying IT systems for smart cities, transport, communications, energy, health, water, and natural disaster prediction, the committee said.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

An Australian House of Representatives committee inquiry has recommended that a Smart Infrastructure Task Force be developed to coordinate, plan, develop, maintain, and optimise infrastructure and national policy on IT.

Making use of new technologies and systems could boost the nation's economy; enable smart cities; enhance communications, public transport, energy, health, and water; increase productivity; improve quality of life; and better predict the effects of natural disasters, the committee said.

The Smart ICT Report on the inquiry into the role of smart ICT in the design and planning of infrastructure, tabled on Tuesday by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Infrastructure, Transport, and Cities, found that using smart IT systems is critical to the economy.

"The more evidence that was received about the role of smart ICT in infrastructure, the more the committee recognised the possibilities inherent in new technologies and systems. These technologies, if used effectively, have the capacity to transform the design, construction, and management of infrastructure assets; the management and use of existing assets; and the operation of transport, communications, energy, and utility systems," the report says.

"These technologies are transformational, with the capacity to increase the productivity of the Australian economy. In order to achieve this, however, governments and industry must be aware of the potential of smart ICT, and must invest in the technologies, skills, and systems to make the transformation a reality."

The committee labelled as its "central recommendation" the establishment of the Smart Infrastructure Task Force, to be based on the model used in the United Kingdom.

"The committee recommends that the Australian government leads the formation of a suitably qualified and resourced Smart Infrastructure Task Force, led by Infrastructure Australia, on the model of the UK BIM Task Group, representing governments at all levels, academia, and industry to provide for the coordination and implementation of smart ICT in the design, planning, and development of infrastructure, and in the maintenance and optimisation of existing infrastructure," the report says.

"The Task Force will act as a coordinator and conduit for the development and implementation of policy nationally, including the development of industry and product standards and training and education. The Task Force will have responsibility for the development of a national strategy to accelerate the adoption of new technologies and innovations; and engage Australia with international experience and global best practice."

This task force should also develop protocols and mechanisms for the release or sale of infrastructure data for both the government and the private sector, develop metadata standards, and form an objects library for asset classification.

The House of Representatives committee called on the government to deem public safety communications as critical infrastructure, and provide support for their research, development, implementation, and national coordination. It added that the government should likewise continue supporting the research, development, implementation, and national coordination of disaster planning and emergency response systems.

In regards to developing smart emergency response systems, however, the committee stopped short of extending its vision into examining how this could be done -- despite recognising that private companies have already developed systems for predicting the effect of floods and fires, for instance.

"It is not possible for the committee to consider all the many variables in the deployment of such technologies to emergency management and disaster planning and remediation," the report says.

"The evidence presented to the committee, however, makes it clear that smart ICT has an important role to play in the development of systems which will allow better planning for and responses to emergencies and disasters.

"The capacity to anticipate the impacts of flood and fire through modelling of scenarios, to map the predicted and actual course of events, to create systems which allow access to granular data in real time, and determine the allocation of resources in minutes, is already a reality. What is required is the coordinated development and dissemination of technology and systems."

It did, however, urge the government to take a "holistic approach" when developing its public safety communications systems to account for existing communications infrastructure.

In addition, the committee made six other recommendations, including that the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development, the Department of Communications, and Geoscience Australia build smart ICT capacity in collaboration with private sector companies "where appropriate", and share knowledge gained through this exercise with local and state governments.

The National Archives of Australia should develop a strategy for the entire government for collecting, managing, storing, and securing any data associated with the planning, design, management, and operation of smart infrastructure, the committee said.

As such, the use of open data -- which the government last month said could generate up to AU$25 billion per year for the economy -- was encouraged.

"Open data allows researchers and entrepreneurs to interrogate data from diverse sources, finding innovative solutions to new problems -- often in ways unforeseen ... the information potentially available to researchers and business is a solution looking for a problem to solve. The committee supports the concept of open data as a default."

It did, however, recognise that open data has security and privacy limitations.

"Security is a critical consideration. Infrastructure needs to be protected, as does the infrastructure related data itself. This should be a primary consideration in the development of all infrastructure related smart ICT and in the release of data.

"Asset and data protection should be part of the development of every infrastructure project."

The remaining recommendations were for all major infrastructure projects exceeding AU$50 million either fully or partially funded by the government provide the highest level of detail of building information modelling, with tendering processes to be encouraged; the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development to look into leveraging existing smart IT assets rather than replacing or upgrading them; the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) to assist the federal government to combine with state and territory governments to devise a nationwide system for designing and planning infrastructure, especially in regards to public transport, utilities, and land management; and for Infrastructure Australia to use smart IT infrastructure to save money in the short term.

The report also lauded the usage of new technologies and applications, such as the Internet of Things (IoT), machine learning, geospatial technology, building information modelling, and mobile laser scanning, saying they could improve quality of life in regional and remote areas.

The City of Melbourne had in September told the House of Representatives committee that it had already established a "smart city" office for research into using the IoT for integrated parking, design, mapping, modelling, data-based public tools, and asset management.

"We work with industry, the [Melbourne] university, and community centres to encourage experimentation and a generation of ideas and solutions to infrastructure management issues," City of Melbourne representative Austin Ley told the committee.

"Our priority areas are open data; engagement with, and the involvement of, external plans; development of urban spaces which are IT enabled; high-bandwidth connectivity -- both wired and wireless; using IT to enhance performance; and responding to both positive and negative disruptive impacts."

Both Singapore and Hong Kong have for years been focused on using the IoT to transform themselves into smart regions.

The Australian government unveiled its AU$1.1 billion National Innovation and Science Agenda in December to encourage technological innovation and entrepreneurship, incentivise risk taking, and promote science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in schools.

"Australia is falling behind on measures of commercialisation and collaboration, consistently ranking last or second last among OECD countries for business-research collaboration," Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said at the time.

Turnbull earlier on Tuesday unveiled the Innovation and Science Australia board, which has been tasked with putting technological innovation at the centre of government policy making.

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