When the City of Hobart set a goal to become Australia’s most socially, environmentally and economically inclusive city in early 2018, it was unsure exactly how it would get there.

But it knew whatever solution it landed on had to retain and reflect the values of the community.

“We wanted to retain what is uniquely Hobartian,” Director of City Innovation Peter Carr tells IoTHub.com.au.

“Inclusivity really plays to the social norms that infuse the community down here.

“Looking at that, from the services that we offer as a city but also the asset portfolio that we have, it was obvious that there were some significant transformation programs we needed to undertake across our energy, communications, transport and lighting asset portfolios.”



Moving down a smart city path was identified as a possible direction early on, however Council was unconvinced.

“We weren't super keen on the concept of smart city just because it's been a very marketing-led approach,” says Carr.

“We were never really interested in going out and just doing smart lighting or smart bins or smart this or that.”



Instead, the City embarked on a 15-month public consultation to define a “range of innovative service programs best suited to our unique city.”

“We had four community forums at our Town Hall, we did surveys, we had guest speakers, we had a draft strategy, and an action plan that we put out for consultation, and then we came back and we changed it,” Carr says.

Through that process, the City identified technical, privacy and ethical concerns raised by the community, along with a desire to tailor the outcome to the city’s lifestyle and culture.

“We didn’t want to become another Singapore, Hong Kong or even one of the big mainland Australian cities,” Carr says.

“That set the model for us, and towards the end of 2019, we ended up with our final program of work, which we've called Connected Hobart.”



Connected Hobart is documented through a framework and separate action plan.

The framework provides definitions for the important components of Connected Hobart and the intent behind each significant decision made.

“The framework is a document which basically says, 'This is the way we will consider all potential solutions to the challenges that we face as a city in this space',” says Carr.

“We felt we needed a decision-making framework that we could use to address problems but also to filter just the vast number of unsolicited approaches we were getting in this space.”

The action plan is the framework in practice, setting out 62 distinct projects over the next five years to help the City achieve its end state and vision.

While this is a large number of projects, Carr counters that “much of the underlying technology is common across all the problems” that the City is experiencing.

“By having a framework to work in, we're able to solve multiple problems at once,” Carr says.

“We're very much now into year one of a five year delivery phase. We're putting stuff in the ground and we're building new services.”

Adding sensors to assets


Local councils are custodians for a range of community assets. They’re responsible not only for maintaining those assets, but also for finding new uses for them.

At its most fundamental level, councils are really just portfolio managers. Just as superannuation funds manage portfolios of investments, councils really just managed portfolios of assets. - Peter Carr

“Councils follow fairly well-entrenched asset management guidelines. At their most basic, you run an asset through its useful life and then you have to replace it, but before that you might upgrade it. From a statutory perspective, we're required to upgrade and renew our assets at certain levels.”

Under Connected Hobart, applying sensors to existing assets is a “key priority”.

“If I look at our program, there's very few new assets that get deployed in a smart city unless it's a really greenfield site,” Carr says.

“It’s really looking at how we can improve existing assets, not just to extend their useful life, but also to deliver new services.”



Equipping some assets with sensors is relatively straightforward. “You're literally strapping something onto something else,” says Carr.

He cites environmental monitoring as an example of this (and you can read more on the City of Hobart’s environmental monitoring work here.)

“If you look at some of the other asset portfolios, it becomes a bit trickier when you're looking to integrate different things into existing lighting networks or into existing parking technologies,” Carr continues. 

For example, if you're trying to overlay modern IoT into legacy boomgate systems, the suppliers of those technologies just aren't at a level where they've got the integration skills to help you out, plus they're not making any money out of it so that can be a challenge. "Our biggest challenges have been working with existing suppliers to help us do the necessary upgrades or to get new data feeds to then allow us to change the services that we want to."


An ethical approach

In keeping with concerns raised in the consultation phase, City of Hobart is bringing an ethical mindset to its approach to Connected Hobart.

“We wanted to develop a specific program called Connected Ethics where we would define what an ethical city meant to us and then continually engage the community in that conversation,” Carr says.

“So much of what we're doing is about information, and when it comes to information you can very quickly get into a privacy discussion.”



Collecting and utilising information about assets is a more straightforward conversation than information about people. However, it’s the people-based information that is considered most useful by city planners.

“The traffic and transport data that's possible now with a lot of smart technologies and IoT technologies is phenomenal,” Carr says.

“A lot of it's been around for a long time, but utilising that through data science is driving a real uptick in the space.

“If you think about some of the more progressive applications of video analytics and AI, the planners really want that, because they get real time views of travel paths, crowded footpaths by time of day, destination-origin information.

“That space is one where we're also trying to be really careful and ethical in our approach.”

Validating Hobart’s approach



The approach taken by City of Hobart shares a number of elements that PwC considers foundational to the success of a smart city approach.

“To be successful, smart cities must be able to deliver a range of benefits to residents and businesses,” says PwC in a recent report.

“Integrated cities derive value from data, which must be governed and managed securely, with consent and anonymity.”

PwC also shares the mindset that smart cities are more than point solutions addressing specific use cases like waste management.

Currently, many smart cities are really just isolated smart projects: services that are valuable - such as LED street lights or pothole reporting - but without an integrated ecosystem, these point services lack the granular data and sources that lead to exponential value growth.

“When initiatives are connected, and data shared between them, more sophisticated systems become feasible.”

After COVID-19

While the concept of smart cities has been around for a number of years, and there are a growing number of examples both in Australia and abroad, the pace of adoption has not necessarily matched the hype.

But progress on smart cities is expected to change dramatically in the wake of 2020’s COVID-19 crisis, at least if Huawei Australia’s CTO David Soldani is correct.

“Those of us here who have been arguing for years about the need for smart cities will understand that very well indeed, for years we have been talking to our political leaders of all persuasions about the need for smart cities and for years we have seen very little concrete progress,” Soldani wrote, coinciding with a smart city conference presentation.

“Politicians have generally listened politely and occasionally thrown some money at some small-scale smart city trials – which ends up generating some media interest but then nothing substantial materialises - but policy makers soon move onto other issues which resonate more loudly with the public.

“However, the COVID-19 pandemic has done what decades of lobbying could have never achieved, it has absolutely shown our political classes and our general public the power of technology in coping with this crisis.

“So, albeit in extremely regrettable circumstances, we now have the opportunity to demonstrate that the kind of technology used in a state-of-the-art smart city would actually bring tremendous benefits in a future situation similar to that we are experiencing now.”

A number of other councils from across Australia were also contacted to be part of this story, but were unable to comment, either due to more immediate priorities in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, or owing to nascent progress on early initiatives.

Read more articles like this in our special coverage of how Downer, Airservices Australia, Coles and others are using IoT to connect Australia’s energy, environmental, transport, government, construction and property, and retail sectors.