Perth mayor drills down on big data

City is fourth in Australia to win IBM Smarter Cities Challenge award

Lord Mayor of Perth, Lisa Scaffidi (center) and the IBM Smarter Cities Challenge team for Perth. Credit: IBM

Lord Mayor of Perth, Lisa Scaffidi (center) and the IBM Smarter Cities Challenge team for Perth. Credit: IBM

The Lord Mayor of Perth has embraced big data to help the city better plan for population growth and make smarter infrastructure decisions.

“Big data can contain so much data and messages for a city that is growing as fast as we are,” Lord Mayor of Perth, Lisa Scaffidi, told Computerworld Australia.

“If we grab that data and use it smartly, I think we can actually be ahead of some of the changes that we might face into the future.”

The city recently won a US$500,000 grant from IBM as part of the vendor’s Smarter Cities Challenge. Perth is the fourth Australian city to win the grant.

As part of the initiative, six officials from IBM have spent the last three weeks exploring the use and integration of data in Perth. The IBM team is expected to report to the mayor this Friday morning with recommendations, said Scaffidi.

The mayor said she expects to “no doubt hear about the issues they faced, but also the tools that they’ve now applied to create the systems that will enhance the ongoing efficiency and the performance into the future".

Scaffidi said she hopes the project will make the city’s existing data more accessible and shareable among various government agencies. The city will develop platforms “so that real-time and essential services knowledge can certainly be better utilised, particularly with a focus on traffic, transport, water and energy", she said.

The rapid growth of Perth, as well as the implementation of a precinct renewal and several big other big projects, has produced a massive amount of data, Scaffidi said. But this data has in the past been disjointed and difficult to access, she said.

“We have all of that data, but because we tend to be a bit silo-like in how we operate, when we’ve needed to get that data from other agencies, it’s been archived and locked.”

With more accessible data, Perth will be able to find and address infrastructure weak points before they become major problems, the mayor said.

“Recently, we’ve had an issue with ageing infrastructure with some pipeline breakages,” she said. “If we’d had better knowledge of how old some of that pipeline was under our roads, we could have better planned for replacement.”

Scaffidi said she hopes to dramatically shorten the time it takes for the city to respond to problems.

“The new storage and sharing capability is going to enable this to be within a couple of working days, whereas before it might have taken a week or more for this information to be accessed – with the emphasis being on the ‘or more’.”

Scaffidi said she first learned about the IBM Smarter Cities Challenge a couple years ago at the World Cities Summit in Singapore. The city applied for the IBM grant, and in March this year IBM announced Perth as one of 16 winning recipients worldwide for 2014.

Revamping the taxi

Separate to the big data initiative, Scaffidi said she hopes to improve the Perth’s taxi services by embracing Uber and similar taxi-booking apps.

“I’m very, very undeniably a strong supporter of Uber from first-hand experience,” she said.

The existing taxi industry led by Cabcharge has fought against cab-booking apps, which effectively circumvent the traditional taxi dispatcher.

The state of Victoria recently took up new rules favouring such apps by allowing people to buy taxi licenses without having to pay monthly fees to taxi networks. Scaffidi indicated she supports Western Australia reworking its own taxi laws.

“Our old industry sees value in the taxi plates, and so I’m suggesting to our state government they need to assist the older taxi industry here in transitioning because the new Uber technology is just too impressive to sensibly fight against. And I think a smart government would assist plate owners in the transition process over an agreed phase-out period.”

“While that is a real cost to our government and the taxpayer, you can’t fight against innovation that is so dramatic. You just have to grasp it and move forward with it.”

Adam Bender covers telco and enterprise tech issues for Computerworld and is the author of dystopian sci-fi novels We, The Watched and Divided We Fall. Follow him on Twitter: @WatchAdam

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU, or take part in the Computerworld conversation on LinkedIn: Computerworld Australia

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