Smart Cities Council ANZ calls for greater clarity in government's program guidelines

Advocacy body Smart Cities Council ANZ is calling for greater clarity in the final Smart Cities and Suburbs Program guidelines, as well as the launch of a leadership incubator program and a smart project exchange platform.
Written by Tas Bindi, Contributor

In response to the federal government's draft guidelines for its Smart Cities and Suburbs Program, Smart Cities Council Australia New Zealand (SCCANZ) has called for greater clarity around what constitutes as "innovative" and for the government to present outcomes that are more tangible than "improving liveability".

The council, which launched in Australia and New Zealand mid-2016, insisted that greater "transparency", "specificity", and stronger wording is needed to drive accountability, incentivise collaborative participation, and boost the efficacy of the AU$50 million Smart Cities and Suburbs Program.

Phrases such as "improving liveability" and "building smart city and smart technology capability" have been deemed too vague by SCCANZ. The requirement for projects to be a "new solution" or for an existing smart technology to be deployed in an "innovative way" is also considered ambiguous by the council.

"For smart cities, it is important, just like any core function or service within government, that a clear plan or strategy is in place for how the city, town, or region will prepare for smart city investment -- being clear on its goals, objectives, metrics, enablers, resources, operational standards, risks, governance, and leadership requirements," the council said in its submission paper.

SCCANZ is also encouraging the government to create a "Smart Cities Leadership Incubator" and "Smart Cities Project Exchange", which it believes will "accelerate action".

The government's draft guidelines briefly mention that there will be a structured incubation program taking place this year to "help build organisational capability, facilitate collaboration and partnerships, and support the development of innovative smart technology proposals". However, further details were not disclosed.

SCCANZ proposes a leadership incubator program that coaches and mentors participants on the use of smart cities standards, performance indicators, collaborative governance processes, solutions roadmapping, and performance monitoring and reporting.

In addition, the council said there is an opportunity for the government to collect data from project applicants on local issues, opportunities, trends, gaps, and investment interests via a project exchange platform. The platform would operate like an online marketplace and open data would encourage the market to innovate and address challenges identified by applicants, SCCANZ said.

"We see the Smart Cities Project Exchange as a critical market-building opportunity, whereby government can seek out partnerships for their projects, attract potential investors, report on their project's performance, and build a culture of information exchange and peer learning," said Adam Beck, founding executive director at SCCANZ. "We have been involved in similar national smart cities funding programs around the world, and our experience shows that without smart leadership, we can't have smart cities."

The government is somewhat already headed in that direction. For instance, the Gov.au Marketplace, inspired by an initiative that's been successfully executed in the UK, was launched to make it easier for the private sector to do business with the government. On the marketplace, the government presents opportunities to collaborate, describing what it is that it's looking to solve and what datasets are available to help come up with a solution.

In December 2016, NSW Minister for Innovation and Better Regulation Victor Dominello mentioned that he will be pushing for open data initiatives in 2017. He alluded to the creation of a data marketplace in 2017, describing it as "big and bold and nothing the country has seen before". The details of the initiative are yet to be revealed.

On Monday, Australian Assistant Minister for Cities and Digital Transformation Angus Taylor announced he is travelling to the Netherlands and the UK to secure their governments' support in the delivery of Australia's AU$50 million Smart Cities and Suburbs Program.

The minister will be updated on smart city developments in the Netherlands and the UK by government, business, and tech sector representatives.

The visit is also expected to help support the delivery of the Western Sydney city deal announced in October 2016. The deal aims to deliver almost 100,000 jobs, more housing, and improved transport for outer Western Sydney in the first city deal for New South Wales.

Taylor noted that the UK began doing city deals in its regional cities in 2011 and that a lot can be learned from its experience.

"The UK has adopted new approaches to building smart cities -- funding partnerships with the private sector, increasing housing supply through higher density development near railway stations and integration of industry, particularly tertiary education, into early stage planning for city growth," Taylor said in a statement.

Taylor added that the Australian federal government is looking to apply new financing models to city infrastructure planning that were already developed in the UK.

Meanwhile, Shadow Minister for the Digital Economy Ed Husic has heavily criticised Taylor for being "missing in action" and "silent, with no answer for how to correct the growing list of tech fails" including the Census debacle, the Centrelink auto-debt collection glitch, and the ATO's internal systems outage.

"It's become painfully clear that the Turnbull government cannot be trusted to manage the necessary upgrades to Australia's essential government services," Husic said in a statement.

"We should be using technology to make services faster and more efficient for Australians, but the Turnbull government lurches from disaster to disaster when it comes to digital transformation."

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