Question: what does ‘Smart ICT’ mean to you? I really don’t know, and a Google search did not throw up any clear and consistent definition. This is a bit of a worry because the Australian Government has launched an entire inquiry into “The role of Smart ICT in the design and planning of Infrastructure” without defining what it means by ‘Smart ICT’.
The inquiry into smart infrastructure, by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Infrastructure and Communications, was launched in May. It was initiated by the minister for infrastructure and regional development, Warren Truss, in the wake of an earlier inquiry into infrastructure, planning and procurement which tabled its report in December 2014.
At first glance, the Smart ICT inquiry seemed like a — very timely — investigation into the potential for smart cities, smart roads and smart buildings, but the terms or reference make clear that it’s not; it’s about using ICT to find smarter ways of building infrastructure, which is not the same thing at all. “The role of smart information and communication technology (ICT) in the design and planning of infrastructure will be investigated in a new inquiry…” the terms of reference say.
However, this statement is somewhat contracted by the specifics in the ToR. “In particular the inquiry [should] identify innovative technology for the mapping, modelling, design and operation of infrastructure.” (my italics) It will also “Identify the new capabilities smart ICT will provide, … examine the productivity benefits of smart ICT … [and] consider means, including legislative and administrative action, by which government can promote this technology to increase economic productivity.”
So, potentially, the scope of the inquiry is massive and could embrace every aspect of a smart economy. That would be unrealistic, especially without a definition of ‘Smart ICT’.
Smart ICT defined
Well, here’s one that’s pretty good. It comes from NICTA and was quoted by The Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (ATSE) in its submission to the inquiry. Smart ICT is: “a range of tools and techniques that include advanced (ICT) such as data analytics, optimisation, modelling & software systems, networked sensors, and integration with mobile devices and new ways of gathering data, such as social media and crowd-sourcing.” In other words, pretty much everything you need to start building a smart factory, farm, or city.
ATSE has certainly taken the inquiry’s ToR to mean that it will examine smart infrastructure, not just smart ways to build infrastructure. It says: “The use of ICT to transform existing infrastructure systems into so-called smart or intelligent infrastructure will provide enormous opportunities for Australia,” and it goes on to detail how smart ICT could be applied to energy, health, transport, agriculture and cities.
Similarly, in its submission, IBM focusses much more on how to make infrastructure smart and on the benefits of smart infrastructure than on smarter ways to create infrastructure.
Telstra focusses on smart roads
Telstra in its submission makes a very clear distinction between smart ways of building infrastructure and the benefits of smart infrastructure, and it focusses solely on the latter.
“This submission addresses items b, c and g of the terms of reference, namely: b) Identifying the new capabilities smart ICT will provide; c) Examining the productivity benefits of smart ICT; g) Considering means, including legislative and administrative action, by which government can promote this technology to increase economic productivity.”
Telstra’s submission then narrows the focus further: “In particular, we consider the impact that smart ICT can have on the road system and how it can be used to reduce the requirements for vehicular traffic and road infrastructure.”
I could look at other examples, but these suffice. This is really two enquiries merged into one. Both are of great importance, but quite separate. Hopefully at some stage the distinction will be recognised before this enquiry runs its course and produces an outcome that leaves both these areas ill-served.