December 06, 2017 | By Caroline White


Want to be ahead of the game? We asked experts at Datacom what’s going to be big in local government organisations in the year ahead.

Firstly it is important to be aware of the exciting, ‘behind the scenes’ types of technology which make these solutions possible. Here are the ‘big four’ main types of tech, how they intertwine and the solutions they can provide.

1. Artificial intelligence (AI)


What is it?

AI, essentially intelligence displayed by machines rather than by humans or animals, is a word most people have heard of, even if just from cult movies such as The Terminator or The Matrix.

Why does AI matter to me?

It has become much more mainstream with many organisations worldwide starting to work out how they can use it to improve the bottom line. As well as being scalable, portable, adaptable and fairly cheap, the main benefit is that it frees humans up to do more important tasks. In fact PWC has estimated that AI could contribute an additional 26% to local economies by 2030.

It also allows organisations to cater to customer demands outside of working hours. In this busy, modern world, people want immediate support, personal service, and around the clock availability. AI can help with all of this so over the coming years we will slowly see a change from a service economy to an AI economy.

There are some really incredible uses for AI across the world. IBM Watson can tell you what your personality type is based on text or speech. Auckland University students are currently researching how this could be used to help with disabilities and mental health.

A machine has also managed to lip-read with 46.8 per cent accuracy after being trained from BBC footage. Machine learning, a technique involving AI where machines can learn by themselves without being programmed, was used to achieve this.

Within local government, uses haven’t been quite this spectacular, but there are still exciting developments:

  • Video analytics are already installed and operational in some cities. Not just for 24 hour surveillance but also for town planning such as roading infrastructure
  • Analytics of data and reports
  • A group of researchers from the US and the UK have used AI to predict natural disasters such as earthquakes
  • Customer service chat bots – they can be trained on the job with crowdsourced learning and be encouraged to be particularly proactive around popular topics. There are now multiple bots in local government worldwide including Enfield Council’s Amelia, their virtual assistant who was the first UK council chatbot when launched in June 2017. Datacom also developed an award-winning virtual assistant called Alex with IP Australia.

2. Internet of Things (IoT)

What is it?

IoT is the driving force behind smart cities, which was the buzzword of the 2017. Will Laugesen, IoT expert from Datacom, describes it as a ‘network of interconnected devices which can collect and transmit data’. IoT is now really affordable, even for organisations with the smallest budget and it is relatively easy to hook into existing systems and processes used, e.g. data collected from an ERP system.

Why does it matter to me?

There are so many benefits to IoT and it is being used frequently by councils worldwide already to solve issues within the community and to also give them some fantastic metrics on the people they serve.

Mark Macfarlane, Smart Cities expert at Datacom, says that 2018 will bring a strong growth in the collection of granular citizen data due to the increase in IoT smart city adoption. We will see a greater focus on the application of advanced analytics to look for citizenship behavioural patterns both within and between council jurisdictions.

The new focus for councils will be on how they understand this newly available data and how they can use smart city data to influence citizen behaviour and improve the citizen experience. Mayors throughout Australia have been trialling the GWI Smart City Matrix whereby councils can benchmark against each other to ensure they have the technological infrastructure in place to stay competitive in a changing economy

Top uses within local government:

  • Real-Time live data feeds for disaster prevention, such as water level monitoring
  • Automated road condition monitoring. Looking for potholes and other problems so they can be fixed before they cause issues
  • Automated underground infrastructure checking

3. Blockchain

What is it?

Blockchain has been around since 2008 and reached the public eye as the main technology behind cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin. It is essentially a ‘digital ledger of trusted transactions between multiple participants’ – dramatically increasing speed, efficiency and security in organisations with less reliance on intermediaries and manual record keeping and a reduction in costs. Transactions can nearly happen in real-time rather than taking days.

Why does it matter to me?

Deloitte says that governments in over 12 different countries including Canada, the UK, Brazil and China are developing block-chain based applications worldwide and this number is expected to rapidly grow. It is perfect for projects around open data and collaboration with other councils, third-party organisations and the community.

Top uses within local government:

  • Digital identity management to securely verify citizens when they use online services
  • Governments are exploring how blockchain can improve land registration in almost every continent worldwide. The registration or transfer of a land deed or title would be recorded on the ledger, making the process transparent and certain for everyone.
  • Voting is also an area currently going digital with pilots in New York, Texas, Denmark, Estonia, Ukraine, and South Korea and Australia in 2017. Blockchain makes the process cheaper, enhances security and increases the likelihood that people will vote as they can do it remotely. In Brazil they even have a web platform which allows citizens to participate in parliamentary debate and crowdsource legislation.

4. Autonomous Things

What is it?

A combination of AI and IoT, but a big enough deal in their own right, Autonomous Things incorporate any unmanned vehicle from Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) or drones, to autonomous cars to home robots.

Why does it matter to me?

Autonomous things have the ability to solve lots of common problems worldwide including traffic congestion, Co2 emissions and people having to enter unsafe environments. Auckland Transport has suggested that over half of Auckland’s traffic will be driverless by 2055.

Top uses within local government:

  • Processes such as building consents can be sped up by using drones to perform property inspections, particularly on tall or difficult buildings
  • Drones can be sent into unsafe environments to come back with critical information and an aerial view of the area
  • Drones can also be used to filming tourism videos to attract people to the region
  • Driverless vehicles are currently being piloted by multiple councils worldwide including in the UK last year where the local government in Milton Keynes collaborated with an outside agency to pilot a driverless car scheme and show citizens that it could be safe, convenient and reliable.

Interested in how some of these solutions could work for you? If you need some inspiration, email us at LGsales@datacom.co.nz or find out more about our local government products including some impressive case studies here.

Image: Creative Commons christmashat