Reinventing city services in the digital age

Mon, 2018-06-18 07:13 -- Adam Beck

Cutting-edge companies may tell their customers “there’s an app for that” but city-level governments in Australia have been slow to embrace digital technologies.

In many cases, it’s not simply a case of “there’s a form for that” – but “there are 17 forms for that”.

This is despite 85 per cent of people expecting government services to be as good as those they receive from private companies.

That’s just one finding from the Smart Cities Readiness Guide, which provides governments with a collaborative and comprehensive framework for the smart city.

Digital may be an afterthought in some councils, but a handful of forward-thinking cities are reinventing the way they provide services to their citizens.

They are going digital.

And in doing so, they are saving money and reducing costs, boosting citizen engagement and satisfaction, enhancing employee productivity and carving out a new competitive space in the global knowledge economy.


Digital strategy supports a start-up ecosystem in Rockhampton

Rockhampton Region Council is one of the first Australian cities to use high technology to reinvent itself in the digital age – growing its economy and improving liveability into the bargain.

Council’s ‘Smart Way Forward Strategy’ has rolled out a range of smart cities initiatives, including free WiFi in public spaces, smart lighting and billboards, and a new ‘digital museum’ for tourists.

Council has also transformed the basement of its heritage-listed Customs House into a coworking space and “ecosystem” for start-ups. The stunning sandstone building, dubbed SmartHub, is now bursting with high-technology.

But the real success of SmartHub is in its ability to connect people. Budding entrepreneurs work with seasoned mentors, gaining access to on-the-spot training, advice and a thriving network of other business brains.

Drew Stevenson, Manager of Corporate & Technology at Rockhampton Regional Council, says the digital economy is giving his community “a new focus on the jobs of tomorrow, innovation, tourism and supporting the community with more efficient services”.

“For our economy to grow, we need our local businesses and start-ups to understand and gear themselves towards engaging with national and international markets.

“We are using real-time data created by the Internet of Things and other technology infrastructure to help improve public services, grow employment, get the most out of our resources and provide a city where residents want work, live and play.”

Rockhampton’s work is just one example.


Diversity drives digital innovation in Wyndham City

Wyndham City is one of the fastest growing in Australia, with a diverse and young community – one which actively prefers online engagement to traditional methods, says Dr Adam Mowlam.

Adam manages Wyndham City’s Smart Cities Office, and he says his organisation is determined to be “courageous and innovative in how we inform, educate, learn and deliberate with our community about complex issues impacting the future of Wyndham”.

Wyndham City is already using digital tools to engage better with the community.

“Traditional online channels, such as Council’s website and social media platforms, are complemented with our online engagement portal, The Loop, our bespoke ‘Report an Issue’ app and a digitised presentation of our four-year city plan, which helps the community to better engage and interact with us,” Adam explains.

Wyndham City’s innovative approach doesn’t stop there.

“We are deploying innovative technologies that are more appropriate, engaging and informative ways to convey complex information and receive more qualitative feedback,” Adam says.

The CityLens project, for example, uses mixed reality headsets to view computerised 3D plans of future developments.

“Engaging with decision-makers, investors and the community regarding new developments can be difficult using 2D blueprints and GIS maps. Mixed reality provides a more immersive and compelling engagement platform.

“Through the addition of capabilities such as eye tracking and embedded surveys, even more high-quality feedback can be gathered and analysed.”


Smart technology connects the community in Queanbeyan-Palerang

Meanwhile, the Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council is currently working on a digital strategy that encompasses “virtual reality, 3D modelling and mobile engagement”, says Martin Darcy, Council’s Service Manager for Business and Innovation.

Covering an area of more than 5,300 square kilometres between the Australian Capital Territory and the Great Dividing Range, Council is challenged by geographical and connectivity issues, Martin adds.

But its digital engagement strategy is already bearing fruit.

Your Voice QPRC, for example, is the “home” of all community engagement and consultation exercises undertaken by Council.

“Our digital platform supports surveys, polls, interactive mapping, forums, brainstorming and more,” Martin explains.

“More than 1300 people are now registered on the site and we engage regularly with users. The site has assisted us in closing the loop with our engagement activities and gives us quick access to engaged residents.


Digital technology transforms targets into agents on Sydney’s Northern Beaches

Northern Beaches Council is also looking at a range of digital tools and data analytics to foster higher quality communication and engagement.

Helen Lever, the General Manager who oversees community engagement at the Council, says her team’s focus is to develop digital tools that expand the opportunities for residents to “be at the centre of Council considerations, not just as targets, but as agents.”

“We are actively exploring emerging technology that will support Northern Beaches Council to continue to progress participatory – as opposed to merely representative – democracy,” Ms Lever said.

Download the Smart Cities Readiness Guide to find out how digital technology can transform your city into one that is liveable, workable and sustainable.