Like its British namesake, Newcastle was once a thriving industrial hub that brought coal, copper and steel to four corners of the globe. Although many of those heavy factories have been swept away by years of economic hardship, the NSW city’s reputation as ‘dirty, old, industrial’ reputation” has been harder to shake off.
It was for this reason, Newcastle adopted a smart city strategy two years ago and thus began its transformation into becoming a liveable, sustainable city underpinned by the best digital technology out there. Melbourne-based Amazon Web Service (AWS) partner WSP Digital is one significant contributor on this journey.
“Newcastle was in the right place at the right time,” explained Ron Cruickshank, WSP Digital sales director.
“One of their main challenges was that you have a lot of young people moving away to bigger cities in order to be in a more vibrant environment — where there are high-tech industries and environment and education centres. They wanted to transform the old industry into a technology centre.”
Underpinning this smart agenda was to be a data platform that would allow the local council, the City of Newcastle, to integrate, consolidate and manage data from internet of things (IoT) devices, systems and citywide sources.
To do this, the council last year held a public tender and selected WSP Digital to build the platform on AWS from a shortlist that contained technology giants like Cisco, Telstra and IBM, ARN understands.
Valued at $900,000, the two-year contract saw WSP Digital build what they described as an Intelligent Platform, a solution that automatically takes real-time readings from areas like soil moisture sensors in city parks and smart bins.
“For example, the IoT sensors are telling you the park is dry, but the Bureau of Meteorology is telling you it’s going to rain tomorrow, so therefore you don’t turn on the sprinklers. A key part of the platform is the integration, it pulls in information automatically from lots of different sensors.
“What this platform is trying to avoid is all these islands of data: that’s really key. It wants to pool all of these together. Another key component is to make that information available, view it all and graph it all.”
Now halfway through the deployment phase, WSP Digital is extending the solution to data points across smart lighting and car parks. In addition, the company is using tools such as Microsoft’s business analytics service Power BI and French company Opendatasoft to make the information open and “easy to access”.
“It fosters this idea of allowing that data to be available to start-ups and education providers. We have rich sources of data and you can’t predict what people are going to do with it,” Cruishank explained. “You make it available and people come up with ideas you probably never thought of.”
When asked about securing the data, Cruishank stressed that the provider has the security clearance certificate of ISO27001, which took “two years and $50,000” to achieve.
Looking forward, WSP hopes to deploy the solution to other cities across Australia. As the City of Newcastle co-owns the intellectual property with WSP Digital, the solution will serve as a hopeful revenue driver for both parties, while allowing data to be shared between different cities more easily.
Eleanor Dickinson attended the AWS Public Sector Summit in Canberra as a guest of Amazon Web Services.