I wanted to let you know how excited and enlivened I am to have joined you as the association’s first fulltime CEO. You may already know that I’ve spent the past three years heading up Internet Australia, the NFP peak body representing the interests of internet users.
Many of my friends and colleagues have remarked on how this new role is such a natural extension of the work I’ve been doing promoting the need for #BetterBroadband. Connectivity is the cornerstone of smart communities. Innovation cannot occur without it, and innovation is key to creating more intelligent cities and enriching their communities.
ASCA has already done a great deal of work in this emerging field and I am indebted to the board, and especially our President Michael Whereat, for the opportunity to help maintain the momentum.
As I’ve been contemplating starting my new role I’ve taken the opportunity to discuss with people what really makes communities smart. The answer, of course, is smart people. Technology will underpin the future as we become an increasingly connected world, but technology alone will not provide all the answers. Indeed it will be the smart use of technology that will make the difference. We learned from the so-called ‘dot com’ era that creating new products is pointless if they fail to satisfy a genuine need and therefore nobody wants them.
ASCA is focused on smart communities rather than smart cities. That appeals to me. Communities can encompass regional areas that include more than one city. Conversely, large cities invariably contain discrete and identifiable communities. I once ran a community television station. It quickly became clear that within a large city like Sydney, for instance, there are numerous communities.
Geography sometimes determines a community as do cultural ties for example. Understanding what people want from their community is clearly important. So as we consider how we make our communities smart we need to keep firmly in mind that the purpose is about better serving the needs of the people that make communities.
A fundamental question is how we move further along the pathway to smart communities and who should decide what that means. Clearly there’s a case for professionally managed community engagement – something that’s increasingly being adopted by government and industry. Who knows better what matters than the people who’ll live and work in tomorrow’s smart communities?
Even the term ‘smart’ is up for grabs it seems. The New York based Intelligent Communities Forum, as in its name, prefers the term intelligent. Either way it’s about making things better. It’s about making our communities more liveable, more sustainable and more technologically empowered. In my view it’s also about putting people first – viewing things from a local perspective while also drawing on international experience.
It’s not just about big cities either. Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, where I lived for two years while running Seven’s regional TV network, is in fact a community of communities. I have relatives living in the NSW town of Young. There are no traffic lights in Young, nor are any needed. But the people of Young and the businesses there are quick to bemoan the lack of connectivity – both mobile phones and broadband. They, too, deserve to see the benefits of being part of a smart community.
While there’s already a good deal of energy at local government level we’ll need the states and Canberra on board if we are to be world leaders. The Federal Government’s initiatives led by Assistant Minister for Cities and Digital Transformation Angus Taylor will provide additional momentum and the Opposition, too, is doubtless developing its policies – so we need to be gearing up to ensure we take full advantage of opportunities to press our case as we approach the next federal elections.
Much of my focus as the CEO of Internet Australia has been advocating for a bipartisan approach to the creation of the NBN. I’ve cited the Snowy Mountains Scheme as an example of a project that succeeded with support from both sides of politics. In the case of smart communities what’s required, it seems to me, amounts to the ultimate ‘unity ticket’. We need politicians from all parties and from every level of government to come together on this one.
Australia is well placed to be among the leaders in developing the policies and practices that will lead to smart communities. ASCA’s board and members hold significant roles in organizations committed to creating smart communities for the benefit of every Australian. So I’m very delighted to be joining you and look forward to meeting you.
Last week the executive met and discussed arrangements for the upcoming AGM. I urge you to attend this year as we will outline some important changes, including a move to become an incorporated association. We will also focus on ways to broaden the skills mix on the board and to encourage great diversity of membership, especially in respect to gender balance.
Author: Laurie Patton, ASCA CEO