The hidden backbone of the 30-minute city
Australia’s cities are experiencing rapid growth, which will require a high level of strategic infrastructure management in the coming years.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Melbourne is Australia’s fastest growing city, having expanded by 92,000 people (2.2 percent) in 2014/15. Australia’s other capital cities, including Darwin (1.9 percent), Sydney (1.7 percent), Perth and Brisbane (1.6 percent), are also growing significantly.
As Australia’s cities expand there is increasing focus to plan for the future by developing smarter cities that maintain liveability while establishing an economy of innovation.
In April, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull unveiled an ambitious funding plan to build ‘30-minute cities’, where residents can access essential work, school and lifestyle services within a half-hour commute. Turnbull’s plan is not just about making life easier for city-dwellers – it focuses on improving how cities are planned and built, and how we work and live.
Spain is a country ahead of the curve in implementing smart cities. Valdespartera, in north-east Spain, has embraced smart city technology to promote sustainable living, which includes the optimisation of water, energy and waste collection by using data and connectivity.
Australia can follow Spain by implementing smart cities that manage our carbon footprint and make cities safer. But what will it take to achieve this goal?
Challenges for growing cities
For growing cities, service continuity and citizen safety are challenges. Although city managers may want to improve their citizens’ quality of life, a city is only as good as its underlying physical infrastructure, such as transport, power, water and safety systems.
Liveable cities that enrich people’s lives are responsive with highly available services, accessible in an easily digested format.
This level of responsiveness requires real-time control over the city and its systems, incorporating its physical assets, the service workforce, the changing environment, and the movement and behaviour of citizens.
To achieve real-time actionable decisions, visibility of the current city situation is required. This visibility must be coupled with the ability to enable the service workforce to act upon systems in order to control fluid situations.
The value of the physical infrastructure relies on real-time control in order to maximise payback from initial investments. Real-time control systems feed data to dashboards and to resource planning, asset management, and reporting systems in order to enable efficient decisions.
“Liveable cities that enrich people’s lives are responsive with highly available services, accessible in an easily digested format.
Traditional city spending patterns demonstrate that attention is often paid to IT-centric actions while operational technology is overlooked, but both need to integrate for strategies to benefit multiple departments.
Most cities already own control systems dedicated to specific tasks, such as power monitoring and traffic control. However, separate plants often deploy systems from vendors that do not communicate to each other.
A city may also own a portfolio of buildings, each with its own proprietary building management system. These systems often lack sufficient networking capabilities, making it impossible to access them remotely, and to consolidate data.
Thanks to technological advancements, these legacy systems represent a potential source of advantage for cities capable of analysing and relating data from these individual ‘silos’ of systems. A real-time platform is what enables infrastructure operators to gather important data and convert it into information that helps to avoid situations that disrupt services.
Examining the challenges
Several issues need to be addressed to improve city services.
Issue: Overall situational awareness.
Cause: Stand-alone procurement mindset. Many cities lack a common operational platform purchasing strategy. Over time each department runs purchasing operations independently of the others.
Issue: Inability to unify and coordinate teams with shared data.
Cause: Siloed systems with limited interoperability. To meet expectations for resilience and energy efficiency, teams increasingly need to share data.
Issue: Lack of synergy with citizen and visitor behaviour.
Cause: Lack of real-time data optimised for different users. The city’s population is an integral part of how it functions, while culture and behaviour directly impact performance.
Issue: Transitioning workforce.
Cause: Baby Boomer retirement and Millennials demanding new flexibility. The number of highly experienced operations, maintenance, process workers who will retire in the next decade is significant, while Millennials are motivated differently, challenging infrastructure employers to rethink retention strategies.
Enabling flexible operational teams
Addressing these issues requires a multifaceted approach. Technology, process and people have to converge to allow operational teams to perform in a more flexible manner. Workers need to be empowered to make decisions, which is enabled through access to more information, knowledge and experiences.
Urbanisation is driving technology growth within operational systems. Increasingly, cities need to leverage staff across a broader range of competencies and functions through collaboration.
Within the context of flexible operational teams, success is largely dependent upon this type of situational management. Teams require enabling systems and processes to implement decisions, enabling them to respond to real-time situations.
Flexible operational teams proactively receive and review trends and succeed in moving to a predictive rather than reactive model. Predictive models allow flexible teams to look ahead and influence potentially problematic and disruptive situations.
To achieve these outcomes the knowledge of ‘best practices’ must move from the workers’ knowledge into innovative systems to enhance consistency.
Advanced operational systems provide operators with the ability to capture data, validate its reliability, and make it available to the system for processing into information.
Analytics, machine learning and pattern recognition transform data into actionable information in its relevant context.
An operator also requires the wisdom to decide what to do and the judgement to make decisions based on the circumstances. Today, most operators rely on experience to inform them of the best course of action, or wait for direction from senior staff, impeding agile actions.
An advanced operational platform that incorporates workflow and knowledge management alleviates this issue. It provides instant access to the combined experience of the city’s staff, and offers operators scenarios that can be enacted along with the pros and cons of each.
Strategic planning for real-time platforms
Cities have the opportunity to specify a real-time strategy, enabled by a platform that incorporates predictive models and knowledge management. This platform should readily interface to other systems, such as asset management systems.
Cities should seek opportunities to consolidate classes of similar infrastructure onto a common platform. Recommendations for capturing the benefits of real-time controls include:
- Technical sustainability. Most cities that purchase systems want to avoid being locked in to a proprietary solution from a single vendor; instead emphasis should be on interoperability. If the data can be captured so can the benefits.
- Scalability. Each component should be scalable as the city upgrades systems, and adds decision support information and business process automation.
- Trustworthiness is a composite of system availability and event accuracy. It is achieved through a combination of methods for handling hardware and operating system availability, application availability, information availability and accuracy.
- Trustworthiness. Appropriate system architecture ensures network traffic is minimised, and functions are processed where required.
- Appoint a CTO. City managers will likely benefit from appointing a CTO to coordinate operational technology strategy across multiple departments.
- Funding models. Existing funding models may be an impediment to investment in shared platforms – it may be necessary to create a shared services model.
- Importance of real-time platforms. Real-time platforms have been understated as a core component of the smart infrastructure that underpins smart cities.
Flexible operational teams provide capabilities that enable cities to achieve urban efficiency. This requires a fundamental shift away from traditional, inflexible operational processes to new operational experiences that provide agility and flexibility, ultimately improving the quality of life of citizens..
A strategic approach to real-time platforms eliminates the wasted effort and increased cost of siloed control systems. Such an approach enables unification across assets, applications and systems. Each existing system continues to run, but they become aligned with information and visualisation models.
Our future cities
Living in a sustainable and safe city is a basic expectation. The world’s resources are finite and, with cities accounting for 75 percent of global energy consumption, conserving usage is a priority.
With smart city technology, Australia will be able to monitor exactly where resources are being used and optimise this use, creating a healthier and more productive country.
Implementation of smart cities will enable more effective management of our carbon footprint and may even establish a legacy of 30-minute cities for future generations.
Preeti Bajaj is the vice-president of Strategy and Transformation at Schneider Electric in Australia. This article also appears in the October/November edition of Facility Management magazine.