Despite the economic challenges brought on by the end of the mining boom, Western Australia continues grow, especially where infrastructure is concerned.
The Western Australian Government will spend $2.7 billion on state roads and $1.34 billion over the next four years for Perth METRONET stage one projects, as outlined in the 2017-18 State Budget.
The Mitchell Freeway, Armadale Road and Wanneroo Road are all undergoing upgrades to increase capacity and improve accessibility for the city’s residents and the growing outer suburbs. The $1.12 billion NorthLink WA is another major investment in the city’s future growth.
Subsequently, Perth is in a significant period of change. With that large-scale upgrade of existing roads and public transport facilities, and construction of new infrastructure comes road closures, traffic delays, disruption, congestion and inconvenience to the public.
Lisa Dykes, State Manager – Western Australia for geographic information systems solutions provider Esri Australia, says the traffic delays, congestion and overlapping of works have been the bane of the city’s residents, and often contribute to a negative perception of the city as it moves to accommodate its growing population.
“I’ve been in Perth for two and a half years and I’ve seen all sorts of road construction, developments and major infrastructure underway that have backed up traffic and caused delays to the public,” she says.
Likewise, reactive repairs and maintenance by utilities and service providers will cause disruption when works are required, even more so when separate maintenance or construction jobs are undertaken one after the other.
A water utility, for instance, could dig up a road one week and then a power firm digs up the same patch of road two weeks later.
“Every time a utility needs to undertake works in the city, it then has to pay for the excavation and resealing of road. Often, City of Perth will be undertaking works there soon anyway,” Ms. Dykes says.
“What City of Perth realised is that in order for Perth to be a smart and productive city, and a world-class place for investment and for tourists to visit, it needs to have a feasible way of undertaking these projects more efficiently.”
The local government body identified the need for more coordination and collaboration between government agencies and utilities to help reduce the impact these developments were having on business, tourism and day-to-day activities in the city.
“They asked themselves: ‘what are the major aspects involved with capital works programs?’ We have the main utilities, gas, water and electricity, the City of Perth itself and Main Roads for Western Australia is responsible for the roads,” Ms. Dykes says.
The local government body then engaged with these service providers, namely ATCO Gas Australia, Main Roads Western Australia, Water Corporation and Western Power, to find a better way to deliver capital works projects without disrupting the public and city.
“With all of these companies on board, City of Perth then approached Esri Australia to help provide a technological solution,” Ms. Dykes says.
As a specialist in geographic infromation services and mapping technology, Esri Australia was already working with some of the Perth utilities and service providers City of Perth engaged for the project.
“They were all using the same technology, so it was matter of creating a platform that they could upload all of their separate information about their capital works projects across the city so that it is visual for everyone,” she says.
Esri Australia led a collaborative process to develop a map-based system that could help the relevant utilities and service providers prevent overlapping, clashes and reduce costs and disruption to the city on capital works projects.
The result is Smarter Planning Perth (SPP) – a shared digital platform that allows each stakeholder to upload data about their projects, which then automatically reveals overlaps and opportunities to efficiently coordinate schedules and share costs and resources on planned works.
“It’s visual information people can use all in one location. It’s a great way to visualise utility projects and it’s a smart map so it’s always updating,” Ms. Dykes explains.
When a utility uploads the information on a project, for instance, the system will detect if there’s a conflict with another service provider’s job. The system will then notify the stakeholders of the clash so they can either reschedule the works or even collaborate.
“By merging two agencies’ works, they can potentially share costs, particularly on the road works,” Ms. Dykes says. “SPP is really a great test for Perth to show it can be seen as an efficient and productive city. Anything where we can use technology to spend less money gets a lot of traction – it’s a simple idea, but one that uses really smart technology.”
All the information for the platform is contained in Esri Australia’s cloud, so there is no digital baggage involved for the various stakeholders.
The platform was officially launched in May, following a trial period involving the five Perth-based local government bodies, utilities and service providers.
“Within that short time, we found agencies had achieved some tangible cost savings, and more agencies and authorities started to join the platform,” says Ms. Dykes.
Pat Donovan, President of ATCO Gas Australia, says SPP has helped to build on the company’s collaborative approach to works around the Perth metropolitan area, and has proved beneficial in reducing disruption.
“We’ve already collaborated successfully with the Water Corporation to align works and minimise disruption to our customers and the broader community,” says Mr. Donovan. “This program has provided a fantastic opportunity to broaden these collaborative opportunities and we look forward to its continued evolution.”
Ms. Dykes says the project in question, in Subiaco, recorded a 30 per cent cost saving for ATCO Gas.
“We’ve seen tangible benefits come out of the pilot in Perth and the SSP platform has the potential to be a major productivity asset for other agencies across Australia,” she says, adding that Esri Australia has now rolled out a collaborative platform, called SmarterWX, in Queensland and New South Wales.
“It’s aimed at things like reducing congestion and every city out there is going to have similar issues,” she says, stating it also helped improve brand perception for the service providers thanks to fewer delays and disruptions to the general public.
Because of the adaptive nature of the mapping technology, Ms. Dykes says SPP has unlimited scope to include other stakeholders in the future and may have different uses in the future.
“We’re continuing to look at ways to improve it, including how to make it easier for stakeholders to receive information and reports. It’s a constantly evolving product that, as more and more people become involved, will be able to provide very detailed information on capital works projects.”
Ms. Dykes agrees SPP helps to serves as a pretext to establish Perth as a smart city and implement smart city concepts.
“It’s quite a simple idea and it’s a great example of how smart technology can be used efficiently if it’s clear and easily understood,” she says.
“We want to show there’s a lot of innovation within Perth, and that it is beginning to become a real smart city. We need to rebrand Perth from being just a mining town to an efficient and smart city.“