Cities policy key to digital economy

James Riley
Editorial Director

In the fast evolving digital economy, smarter cities policy will drive the nation’s ability to both innovate and compete in global markets, as well as provide the platform for economic growth.

Whether they are metropolitan or regional, cities are already the essential engines for economic output. But the opportunities in the digital economy should put cities at the centre of economic planning.

Tech giant Nokia has called for a rethink of Australian cities policy, and urged a greater degree of cooperation and collaboration between the levels of government to develop a more sophisticated approach to cities’ digital infrastructure.

Warren Lemmens: The Nokia Oceania CTO says cities are the underpinning of the digital economy

In its just-released A new world of cities and the future of Australia, the company says Australia has a specific opportunity, but needs to better define the role of the city, and then to build more sophisticated policy that leverages emerging technology.

And here’s the thing. Cities can’t be treated simply as municipalities anymore. They are not simply a vehicle for pooling resources to pay for the delivery of municipal services. Cities have become economic drivers, with a more complex variety of stakeholders.

Creating common digital infrastructure and complimentary data policies will be an essential enabler of Australia’s innovation agenda and of future. It will take concentrated political and industry attention across all levels of government to achieve this.

One of the report’s authors, Nokia’s Oceania chief technology officer Warren Lemmens says there is great enthusiasm for refining cities policy in concentrated hotspots across the country, but Australia lacked a cohesive national framework.

The report highlights the risks of Australia failing to develop a more sophisticated approach to smarter cities that actively contribute to the digital economy.

Using examples from successful programs around the world, the Nokia report identifies a clear opportunity for Australia to define and develop better policies.

“What we could see elsewhere in the world is that cities were not just attaching themselves to this question of urbanisation, but more the recognition that cities had a fundamental role in underpinning the functions of the digital economy,” Mr Lemmens said.

The country that has made the most profound strides in cities policy development has been in the UK – where these city-focused digital policies have been pursued vigorously for more than a decade.

But Mr Lemmens says every advanced economy has made cities policy a priority. Where Australian policy-makers had fallen, he says, is that they still take a piecemeal, “stovepipe” view of the world, where specific programs target a particular geography or a particular industry or service delivery function.

“In Australia and New Zealand there is this focus on a series of project-based initiatives, which are all fine in terms of skilling up the cities, but they won’t really lead to the fundamental underpinnings that you need for the future around the digital economy,” he said.

Programs like City Deals or the Smart Cities and Suburbs miss the point by delivering a set of policies or ambitions to a single geography, rather than seeking to create platform infrastructure and coordinated national policy that will deliver benefit across ‘cities’.

It is vital that Australia fully understands the huge technology-driven shift underway, where networked data is now fundamental to the design and management of all kinds of infrastructure and services, raising new possibilities for users, businesses and for the national economy.

Nokia has put forward a six-point framework for Australia to better develop its smarter cities capacity:

  • Eliminate technology ‘stovepipes’ that separate the device, data and application environments
  • Establish a standard City Digital Platform that empowers the cities to define, resource and implement the required infrastructure and systems
  • Build a national movement around digital innovation, building on current momentum with a focus on connected data
  • Establish a new collaborative dynamic between business, government, academia and startups on cities initiatives momentum
  • Drive new ‘personalisation’ initiatives as part of cities programs, in order to create experiences and relationships that attract and retain the best and brightest talent
  • Facilitate public-private partnerships for city innovation

“Right now we have various positive policy initiatives – including the Federal Government’s Smart Cities and Suburbs program – and while leading city examples are emerging across Australia, there is a concern that momentum will be slow because every city has to invent and invest in its own digital IoT platform,” Mr Lemmens said.

“The opportunity is there for governments to identify a tangible framework for smarter cities implementation, focused around the standard City Digital Platform to quickly build for Australia’s digital future and a rising place in the global economic picture,” he said.

Warren Lemmens is a keynote speaker at the Intelligent Communities Forum in Melbourne on March 16, of which Nokia is a sponsor.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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