How to make sure your smart technology project gets off the ground

Posted 19 June 2017

Smart technologyIn an age of smart everything, cities are working to become more liveable, sustainable and productive places. But unless it’s supported by communities and policies, things won’t progress far. 

That’s the lesson Brook Dixon, managing director of Delos Delta, hopes to impart during his keynote address at the upcoming ACT Water Matters Conference in Canberra. He will be discussing perspective changes required to build more vibrant and connected cities. 

The smart city movement has been gaining momentum for the past five years or so, but Australia is still in the early days, said Dixon.

“Places such as Barcelona and New York have been leading the way, and Australia has only come on board in a big way in the past 12 months or so,” he said. 

Water management and digital water initiatives should be a large part of any smart city proposal.

“These days, there are two staples in life: water and wifi,” Dixon said. 

“However, to a certain extent, people still struggle to understand the full possibility of applying new smart technology and policies to the way we manage, supply and use our water. Obviously, it’s fundamental to our existence, so there’s many ways of using water and combining it with digital technology to do interesting things.”

But smart technology does not a smart city make, Dixon said. There are many factors at play.

“I think people get caught up at ‘smart’ and think it’s all about technology, but I like to think it’s about people and how we combine smart thinking, smart partnerships and smart governance with smart technology to deliver better outcomes for our communities,” he said.

According to him, a successful smart water initiative has two key components. 

First, it has to be a collaborative process between the implementers and the community it will serve. Not only does this involve key stakeholders early in the process, but it gives all parties an opportunity to start a dialogue about the sticky issue of how data is being gathered, how it’s managed and protected, and what it will be used for. 

“One of the biggest mistakes I see in the smart city sector is too often people have a set idea about what an asset, service or product should be, but then other stakeholders have something quite different in mind,” he said.  

“Having those conversations with the community means you can better understand what their concerns are and how a digital solution can be applied to address issues of high priority.”

The second thing is to use digital platforms to conduct this communication so it can be a two-way street.

“When you’re developing policies for cities, or planning ordinances and new developments, leveraging digital communication is a really powerful way of engaging with a broader cross-section of people to unlock their creativity and allow them to feel empowered and part of the process,” Dixon said. 

This can apply to something as small as installing smart meters on houses, or as large as a multi-million dollar infrastructure project. 

“I think people are starting to understand that you can’t just throw technology at a city and expect that good things will happen,” he said.

Cities will need to be proactive about changing policy and regulations to keep pace and close the gap. Additionally, he said some utilities might encounter barriers thrown up by legacy systems. However, “often the barriers come from business processes, culture or regulations”, he said.

“There are heaps of people who work in this space – engineers, programmers, digital experts – who can connect anything to anything. More focus and effort should be applied to the culture and institutional side of things because that’s where people really struggle to get up to speed.”

Once these challenges are addressed, Dixon said the potential applications are almost endless: smart network management, insights into water use, demand forecasting, environmental monitoring of catchments and waterways, irrigation and soil moisture monitoring for agriculture and arboretums, and water quality monitoring for aquaculture are just a few examples. 

Even small-scale actions, such as the placement of public water fountains, can be better informed by use of data including pedestrian flows, urban environmental conditions and types of activity by citizens. 

“Smart water solutions really open up huge possibilities, and I can’t wait to see it being applied in cities and towns across Australia in greater depth and broadness.”

Brook Dixon will deliver the keynote address on big-picture ideas for smart cities at the upcoming ACT Water Matters Conference in Canberra. To learn more and to register, click here.