Crunching the Numbers - A Smart Cities & Suburbs Funding Analysis

August 26, 2020

It’s been almost 3 years since the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications announced the first smart cities and suburbs fund for $27m which was followed on by a second round of funding for $21m a year later. Thus 3 years and $48m in funding later there has been a total of 81 smart city projects implemented across the whole of Australia. I’ve taken the liberty to put some of my banking background to some use and have crunched the numbers below.

There were a couple of surprising call outs that the numbers revealed. The first was that local councils topped up the funding of the projects by 12% over the minimum 50-50 co-contribution which signals that there is definitely a local council appetite for these smart city investments, regardless of federal funding. Secondly, it looked like the NT hit well above its weight class in it’s share of funding, interestingly though a further drill down revealed that 78% ($5,000,000) of their total funding was directed into the single “Switching on Darwin” mega project. 

That’s the raw numbers done, which really only tell a single story at face value, when talking about smart cities and smart city projects it’s quite difficult to quantify impact. A lot of these projects involve new technologies that can be difficult to measure. We do however know what the local councils themselves define as ‘success’ from a survey run by the federal government, seen on the right.

Measures of Success

Summary of Smart Cities, Towns and Regions in Australia Survey

It’s great to see that our local councils have community satisfaction at top of mind. The Ministry has made public details of all the different funded projects with details of each projects focus area, the type, and the technologies implemented for almost all the 81 funded projects here.

Again.. I’ve done the grunt work and have scraped all that data because I thought it could be interesting to see how they compared with these success measures. See below -

I won't dwell too much into the results above because a lot of it is self explanatory however there is one really interesting recurring smart cities theme that keeps popping up. Customer engagement and satisfaction. ‘Customer Engagement/Satisfaction’ was at the top of the success metrics from the federal government survey and it was also the most common project type. So why is community engagement with smart cities still so incredibly low? I have a hypothesis that is driven by just looking at the graph of technologies implemented, we observe that there's such a large skew towards ‘invisible tech’ and technologies that people don’t directly engage with. I’ll end that train of thought there because I’ve written about this before here.

Now that we’ve analysed all the numbers and words that can be put into a pretty graph I can finally get into what this article is supposed to be about… what can we actually learn from the 81 smart projects implemented? 

From reading about all the projects and what the local councils cited as their own learnings, it seems like the most successful projects were able to engage the community in the planning phase. Another theme that worked well was being able to pilot the technology before larger roll outs. I will call out one huge limitation in the publicly available data though and it’s the lack of impact reporting on the specific projects and any quantifiable metrics on how and the amount of people that have benefited from the smart projects, which would have been fantastic to see. I have a feeling with the open data trend taking over councils around the globe we could potentially see more of these engagement and impact statistics in any future projects. 

Thanks for reading and I hope you’ve found my analysis at least interesting, I would love to engage in any conversation or with different opinions than my own that I’ve expressed above so please feel free to comment on wherever I post this or message me personally.

Adrian Brossard
Head of Smart Cities
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