IBM Innovation Workshop

‘A view of Parramatta today and tomorrow’ - Dr Robert Lang, CEO, City of Parramatta Council
Sebel Parramatta - 20-21 October 2011

Thank you very much for coming here today, for agreeing to be part of the think tank that is helping to shape the Parramatta of the future – a city increasingly becoming the place of choice to live, work, play, invest and learn.

I’d also like to thank IBM for choosing Parramatta as one of the select few international locations to host these Innovation Workshops.

It is a sign that the hard work we have done so far to position Parramatta as a Smart City is starting to pay off.

I’d like to take a short amount of time to outline what action we have taken so far, and to stress Parramatta’s important leadership role in the future of not only the west, but in the future of Greater Sydney.

Firstly, it’s important to look back to our earliest colonial heritage and acknowledge that Parramatta has always been an innovator, a place of firsts… While the harbourside colony struggled to survive, Parramatta’s fertile ground provided the first successful farms that literally saved the colony.

Governor Macquarie – a visionary and innovator himself – recognised the value of our city and it became home to the first Government House and first banks.

While the harbour colony grew rapidly and haphazardly, a more planned and functional township of Parramatta flourished. It has continued to be a key growth sector in Greater Sydney, and indeed with the rapid urban development in the past century, Parramatta has developed an indisputable position as not only the capital of the west, but the true heart of Greater Sydney.

But we are not stuck in the past – we have our eyes firmly on the future… we simply acknowledge that we have a tradition to live up to , and that’s exactly what we are trying to do through programs such as our Smart Cities initiative. We are embracing digital innovations and technology that brings communities together and enhances our lives.

But before I tell you about this, let me paint a brief picture of the Parramatta of today.

Parramatta, with an output of $14 billion annually, is the biggest contributor - at 19% – to the $75 billion Greater Western Sydney economy.

Greater Western Sydney contributes almost 30% of the metropolitan gross regional product – and is already Australia’s third largest economy.

Its surging population is the big driver of growth in the region. It hit the 2 million mark last year so we’re well on the way to surpassing the 2.3 million expected to be living west of Parramatta by 2026.

We are a city of diversity, with more than 40% of our population born overseas and speaking a language other than English at home.

We are book-ended with two of the greatest knowledge facilities in the southern hemisphere. To the west, we have Westmead Hospital and the biomedical research precinct, the largest of its kind in the southern hemisphere.

To the east, we have the University of Western Sydney, which plans to dramatically expand its operations in coming years and continues to produce many of the thinkers and doers of the future.

The CBD is the home to the Attorney General’s department, Sydney Water and one of the county’s largest legal precincts, while major offices for the ATO, Commonwealth Bank, Deloittes and NSW Police call Parramatta home.

We are the site of major developments, with the large Eclipse Tower well under way, a massive Meriton development set to transform the river foreshore, and many other projects under development.

This rapid growth has forced us to evolve at a sharp pace. Parramatta has become the second CBD for Sydney and a wide range of new social and economic responsibilities have come with that. We are not the ‘Westie’ town we may have been reputed to be, but a city growing in prominence and responsibility.

This has provided City of Parramatta Council with a duel role to not only provide its traditional services, but to take a leadership role in helping position Parramatta on a broader stage… not just in Greater Sydney, but nationally – and even globally.

Parramatta is ready to be noticed. Parramatta is ready to cement its position as a must-do place to live, work, visit, invest and learn.

This brings me back to the Smart Cities initiative, which was a tangible way we could show Parramatta was willing to take a leading, innovator role.

It is about two years since we said we wanted to make Parramatta a ‘Smart City’.

And what do we mean by ‘Smart City’? It’s not about filling the public domain with a bunch of smart gadgets, though it may include some of that. It’s not actually all about technology, though we need technology to realise the goal.

No, what it is really about is connecting communities. It’s about providing systems and spaces for our city and its residents and visitors to interact.

It’s about looking at the ways digital technologies can help enhance the lives of the people in our community.

There were some quick and relatively easy ways we kick started this initiative in Parramatta. We introduced free wi-fi services in all of our libraries, aiming to provide a way for all people to access the internet, especially the disadvantaged who may not have expensive laptops, smart phones or internet access in their homes.

Then we laid the groundwork for a community partnership to work on ways we could improve our neighbourhoods through the application of digital technology.

We held Lord Mayoral roundtables and workshops to bring bright minds from business, education, science and the community together, as we’ve done here today in partnership with IBM.

These discussions gave birth to ParraConnect, a community-led initiative which aims to foster new digital initiatives in the local public sphere.

It is driven by an Advisory Committee, made up of Council and community representatives.

ParraConnect aims to bring people together to advance connective technologies that help create a better social, environmental and economic way of life for all.

We created a web portal which acts as an information exchange and place for ideas to flourish. I’d urge you to take a look at the site and leave your ideas at www.parraconnect.net.au.

Some of those ideas have started to take shape.

Last month we launched two revolutionary smart-phone applications. 

Parra Smart Parking is a free mobile application that offers live navigation to car spaces, using the smart phone GPS to display nearby car parks. 

Users can touch any of the locations to view car park details including up-to-the-minute occupancy rates.

The other application, named the Parra Shuttle Bus Tracker, allows users to view real-time tracking of Parramatta’s free shuttle bus.

We’ve claimed it as an Australian first and an example of Parramatta’s ability to not only fulfill its Smart City promise, but for the city to taking a leading position within Greater Sydney and beyond.

We’ve recognised that 24-hr, easy access to information through mobile technology is demanded now, and we are excited that we have been at the forefront by deploying applications such as these, and finding smart ways to improve our urban life.

Similarly, the real-time tracking of Parramatta’s popular shuttle bus will set a new standard in transport services.

The free bus service does a 10 minute loop around the city, and through this app, users will be able to see exactly where the bus is located in real time.

Returning to my earlier point, it’s not just about the clever apps, but it’s really about minimizing traffic congestion, encouraging the use of public transport and reducing our carbon footprint.

The Parra Smart Parking and Parra Shuttle Bus Tracker application is available for download, for free, on all android phones and will be made available on the iPhone and Blackberry and other popular devices shortly.

If you would like to take a look the apps can be downloaded from the ParrConnect website.

ParraConnect is also not far off launching a new smart card, Mobile Concierge and this iconic project will not only create jobs and provide economic benefits but also has the potential to dramatically change the way we do business.

Using an 8 kilobite ‘Smart Card’, people will be able to load it up with money to pre-order parking, borrow books from the library, use shopping vouchers and more

Businesses will be supplied with an android device which will allow customers to scan their cards and access loyalty points. They’ll also be able to access retail programs and small business applications.

The solution that we’re launching in Parramatta has already attracted interest nationally and internationally, which is a strong reflection of the demand for modern solutions that keep pace with business development.

These are just a few small steps on a bigger journey, and there will be no real end to this process. Technology will continue to change and develop, as will the needs of the community it serves.

What is important is that we continue to embrace change and foster opportunities such as this Innovation Workshop to build on what we have done, seek new ideas, new technologies, new ways of making life better for all.

The Smart City work we have done is part of a bigger picture of the story of Parramatta of the future.

We have also been working for almost two years to develop a blueprint for Brand Parramatta – finding a way for us to articulate what Parramatta is, while being aspirational about what we want to be.

We have developed a logo to express this, which you would have seen on your ‘Think Parramatta’ invitations and around the room… but a successful brand is much, much more than a logo.

We have put a lot of thought into what we want that logo to stand for, what Parramatta of the future will be.

Our manifesto for Parramatta’s competitive identity is that Parramatta is the heart of Greater Sydney and the central driving force of our nation’s most significant economic region.

Our city is a generator of growth and potential… we are proud of our city, our people and our history.

We are a community of creators. We are producers and makers of things that matter. We foster new ideas and new ways of doing things.

Parramatta is becoming a centre of excellence in research, education and enterprise, a home for big thinkers and change makers.

We are a city of diversity and we use this to shape our unique balance of lifestyle.

We are committed to partnering, to helping people share their experience and expertise with us to help us do business and learn with us.

And importantly, we are building sustainable city for the future to enjoy.

One of the key elements of that manifesto is our commitment to relationship building and partnerships.

We know Parramatta cannot and should not achieve all these goals alone. We are committed to encouraging our key stakeholders to joining with us in achieving these goals.

Likewise, we see ourselves as having a role to forge partnerships and relationships with all levels of government to help us achieve these goals…

There is no escaping the fact that the population shift and growth of Sydney will increasingly make Parramatta more and more relevant. It will not be possible or practical for everyone living in Greater Sydney to clog public transport or roads in a surge to get to the coastal CBD every day.

People will want to work in good jobs closer to home and Parramatta is fast becoming the logical solution to Sydney’s future employment and transport issues.

State and Federal governments would ignore Parramatta at their peril, and we are sending a strong message that we are willing to partner wherever possible to help create a future Parramatta where everyone can prosper.

I was encouraged to hear that the NSW Government has announced last week that it will support an Industry Taskforce to develop a Digital Economy Industry Action Plan for the State and has pledged $3 million over two years to support creative digital content projects.

We certainly hope our work in Parramatta will contribute to this Plan.

With all this groundwork laid, how do I see Parramatta in 2036? By then, the steps we have taken to create a digital infrastructure will have ensured that Parramatta is well established as one of the nation’s ‘smart cities’.

Through council’s ParraConnect initiative the City has learnt to embrace digital opportunities, helping businesses, community groups, government stakeholders and residents capitalise on the growth of connective technologies.

By 2036 it would’ve helped re-position Parramatta as a vibrant city on the move, a city that is sophisticated and capable.

Try and imagine the Parramatta of 2036. A place where there is free broadband services throughout the CBD, more people are working anywhere and anytime, 24/7, in their inner city residences, in cafes, or in city work places at night or day.

Visitors no longer need to take a walk down to one of our local bars to check out what or who is inside – through mobile applications, they already know what’s on the drinks menu and the age of most of the people inside.

Along our River cyclists should be able to apply for carbon credits just by logging onto a personal PC before the trip, a trip which can be easily satellite tracked and mapped out by a mobile phone application, which will also indicate the easiest route and location of bike-lockers and change rooms.

For those who choose to still drive, electric cars are the most popular choice for motorists and there are re-charge points for these vehicles at various locations across the City.

The current ratio of people travelling to Parramatta by public transport to those doing so by car, is now 40/60. In 25 years that ratio will be reversed, with two thirds of people travelling by public transport.

Parramatta is known for its innovation – a city of firsts where things happen, Inclusivity – a place where everyone is welcome, Discovery – where you can seek new experiences, and Creativity – the source of the City’s progression.

In 2036 the ‘Parramatta Experience’ has attracted more tourists keen to absorb the City’s energy and its connection with its rich heritage.

By 2036 new developments will have transformed the way the city looks, and these buildings will be designed as benchmark examples of environmental sustainability and functionality.

It’s not an impossible vision, and City of Parramatta Council is up for the challenge of working with all levels of government and stakeholders to get there.

In conclusion, I think it is important to highlight that Parramatta is not a town, it’s a city already. It’s not a Penrith or a Liverpool or one of the regional centres, it’s the 6th biggest CBD in the country and the only centre that can truly aspire to city status in the next 50 years.

I believe Parramatta is where all the economic development activity will be over the next decade and we’re in for a really exciting time.

It is why days like today are very important. It is a living example of partnerships in action, and a great opportunity for you all to be part of creating a successful future.

It is an opportunity for us to build on the work we have done so far, and find new ways we can apply that experience.

Once again, thank you for your participation, and I look forward to sharing ideas with you over the next two days.