Smart Cities Week 2018: Technology is the vehicle, not the end game

Australia’s focus on innovation is now so strong, it hosted its first Smart Cities Week in October. Astrolabe Group was proud to be in the room to support this event.

There was a genuine sense of commitment over several days of discussion in Sydney to sharing our ideas and experiences, to get communities further into their future.

There is momentum in the sector and for me, there were four key messages that kept emerging over the course of the event.

Four Key Messages from Smart Cities Week 2018:

  • Firstly, that we must consider people as our primary focus. Technology can achieve many great things but as exciting as it is, it should not drive smart city policy. Often conversations can get side-tracked into what is the most cutting edge, futuristic technology. But, in many instances we are not using these tools to anywhere near their capacity and there is a danger of viewing the technology as the end in itself. We need to remain mindful that the best technology enables the delivery of what people need to live well and feel connected.
  • Next, that we should be planning for the future user as well as ensuring the needs of current users are met. Pre-empting how those future users might need smart spaces to behave raises a key question “are we involving the right people in the planning process?” This is particularly true for large scale, infrastructure solutions. For example, new highways and motorways may meet our current need but will they meet those of future generations and take into account new transport modes such as autonomous vehicles? The answer may need us to rethink our approach, including how we engage with future users.
  • Following on from this was the opportunities presented by data. There is a lot of information available to inform how we plan, design, implement and improve products and services.  But how do we extract valuable insights from this mountain of data? And how do we ensure that the quality of the data we use is high and representative in order to improve everyone’s experiences in the places they work and live.
  • The fourth strong theme was that collaborative governance is vital. Disconnected government service delivery is a major impediment to smart city progress. The three tiers of government in Australia can have different policies and priorities which can result in actions that do not complement each other. The conference heard there needs to be a shift, to ensure that governance is more connected and responds to the needs of a place with the output delivered co-ordinated to achieve the best possible outcome.

Finally, a take away I think liberates all policy makers is that we need to start trying things now! The future will not arrive at a given point in time on a given date. It will not be the result of a quantum leap for any one place or city but by working on innovative approaches during which governments, researchers and industry collaborate to create better places by putting people first.

We need to make start testing, trailing and experimenting, not wait for a vision of what an ideal smart city should look like to arrive first. The solutions can come from within Australia as much as anywhere else in the world and Smart Cities Week gave us more confidence than ever that working together we can be leaders in this space.