Local Councils Need to Embrace Digital to Unlock Potential

By March 24, 2016Blog, Opinion

Around Australia, Local Councils have access to an abundance of technology and the subsequent data captured from it. Too often though, they fail to truly leverage this data mine for improving their delivery of services and boosting their online presence. Of all the local councils in broader Sydney, Penrith City Council offers by far the most advanced online presence of them all at this stage.

For the team at our Sydney-based digital agency, it highlights the huge opportunity for local councils and government led initiatives to accelerate their rate of digital and technology led innovation.

North Sydney Council is one of many local area councils in NSW that have in-ground street parking sensors and integrated payment systems. They detect through weight sensors underneath the ground how long a car has been stationed in a particular parking bay. The payment system (the street parking stand that you put coins or card into) is connected to the data coming from these sensors so the system as a whole can accurately assess whether a car has over stayed its legal welcome. Unfortunately for those who out stay their welcome, parking rangers have mobile devices that get notified of vehicles which are over staying their legal parking limit – ultimately leading to more fines for parking offenders.

On the plus side for the local area councils, it makes their ranger’s  jobs easier and more effective. Instead of scouting up and down the same routes every hour or so marking car tires with chalk to determine their length of stay, being notified of when a vehicle is occupying a space that it legally no longer is able to is so much easier than the manual work required to check each and every car in each and every parking bay all day everyday. At present though, this is as far down the innovation track as local area councils in Australia have come.

Now let’s imagine the potential future that a few smart investments designed to harness technology and data can provide that ultimately add value to local government areas and the communities living within them.

“This highlights the huge opportunity for local councils and government led initiatives to accelerate their rate of digital and technology led innovation.”

One of the biggest problems when entering and working within a local council domain is the difficulty in finding parking. Going further, managing around available parking is a headache that causes more stress for residents and visitors than is necessary – what if my parking runs out, when will it run out, what if there is a parking inspector nearby?

How does one address this challenge and opportunity through clever use of technology? Below, I’ll present an idea that would add great value to people interacting within local area councils in Australia.

Our Innovative Idea for North Sydney Council & Beyond

So we established earlier in this article that the infrastructure and data existed in the current setup (in ground sensors that connect and feed data to payment terminals) for street parking. With this in mind, the question becomes how can the data being captured be used in highly engaging and useful ways to improve the lives of residents and visitors within local council zones.

Our idea involves the creation of a public facing mobile application. We suggest a mobile app because of the smooth user experience a native mobile app offers to consumers. On top of this, smartphones are always with us so it makes the service easily and readily available for the public. The mobile app we envision would allow for a few essential and value adding features of functionality such as:

  1. The ability for users to easily see their position relative to their closest and various parking options.
  2. Notification messages informing users of suitable parking bays that are close by to them.
  3. The ability to filter the type of parking you are looking for (e.g. underground, street, 1 hour free etc).
  4. The ability to notify a user as to how much parking time they have left and when they have run out of parking time.
  5. The ability to see which parking spots are likely to become free based on how much time is left in the parking meter for that bay.

The data and technology to enable this public facing interaction and these desired functions is easily available. Meaning the key to unlocking this innovation is in carefully and cleverly crafting a user experience that pulls these sources of information together and presents it effectively to the end user.

To work, a connection needs to be developed between the raw data being captured by the ground sensors and a server that controls the flow of information to the mobile app the public member ultimately interacts with. Apps that rely on external data touchpoints are usually designed to pull in fresh data at regular intervals so as information gets updated (e.g. a parking bay has become free) the consumer gets the latest up to date information available at their fingertips.

Outlined is a basic system diagram to demonstrate how it all connects up:

Council Parking Solution - Leafcutter Digital Innovation

Our suggested idea and implementation would be a fantastic value add for local councils to provide their residents and visitors. Our goal is to inform and educate the right people to see the value and warrant the investment required.

If you work for a local area council or the Australian government or know someone who may find talking to our team in more detail interesting and useful, please get in touch or put them in touch.

We would love to help local councils and the broader Australian government embrace and utilise digital technology to lead innovations.