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Smart cities: using data to shape our urban environments

Rebecca Merrett | May 2, 2014
Organisations in Australia and overseas provide insights into how they are using information to build more intelligent cities.

Scarce resources, an ever-growing population, natural disasters and many other factors mean we need to be smart about the way we manage the environments we live in.

CIO Australia spoke to several organisations in Australia and abroad to get insights into how they are tapping into advanced analytic tools, data modelling, the Internet of Things and machine-to-machine communications to help build smarter, data-driven cities.

Creating smart transport systems
Port Botany's rail freight operation was experiencing capacity and congestion issues so the organisation considered investing in new infrastructure.

A team at National ICT Australia (NICTA) collected real-time data from trains and shipping containers and interviewed various stakeholders to build a computer model of trains coming in and out of Port Botany. They were able to use clever scheduling to show the rail line didn't need to be upgraded for another 10 or 20 years, saving hundreds of millions of dollars.

"This is an area of say 300 hectares, and it can move up to 1 million containers per year. We have a forecast of 3 million containers until 2030. So the first reaction from everybody would be 'we have to build new infrastructure'. That means $100 million just for new infrastructure because you would also have to build new railways, new terminals, etc," says Thomas Vitsounis, project leader, total port logistics at NICTA.

"We said 'let's see how we can make it 2 million with the infrastructure as it is'. So we need to change the layout, we need to change the operational rules, we need to change the flow of goods in and out, etc."

The team also changed the length of the train carriages, and looked at each interaction within the supply chain from the loading of the containers through to train schedules to better optimise the whole network.

"Looking at the whole system in something as complex as a port can yield important insights. The state-of-the-art model we developed [showing] how all the parts interact showed that the rail infrastructure does not appear to be the main bottleneck. That is very forward thinking of the port [workers] to ask us to analyse the system in this way," says Dean Economou, technology strategist at NICTA.

"The conventional techniques for analysis just don't reveal the subtlety in the interactions. Now it's actually possible to get visibility of the entire supply chain, whereas before that was quite difficult.

"You know where stuff is and you can see two stages up the supply chain if there's a delay. Because you know what's happening further up the chain, you can actually adapt your own situation."

The NICTA team is also working on optimising Canberra's bus network because there's a shortage of bus drivers and services to support growing demand, particularly on weekends.


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