Implementation considerations for Digital Geelong

Key issues have been identified in our Digital Strategy.

An effective creator of the partnerships needed for Digital Geelong

The range of interventions and recommendations outlined in Digital Geelong require partnership-working to achieve. The City will directly deliver its own contribution as identified. But its primary role will be as an advocate for digital with and for its community and local businesses and as a creator or enabler of the partnerships that are vital for delivery in all areas of importance to the strategy such as digital inclusion and skills development, business support and ensuring the area has the digital infrastructure and connectivity required: the hardware and software must match for this to work.

So it is crucial that CoGG build on its existing effective partnerships – or where needed build new ones – with the local private sector, with the community and voluntary/not for profit sectors, with other tiers of government, other councils, Regional Development Australia and with other part of the public sector providing services locally, in education and training, employability and business support and in social and healthcare. The work of not for profit organisations serving target groups for digital inclusion initiatives is for example crucial to success as will be the support of the local business chamber and other peer-to-peer business support groups.

All will need to coordinate their activities and investment in terms of support of this strategy. We see it as our role – and it is an appropriate role for elected local government to play with its democratic legitimacy, capacity, focus and determination – to help convene and co-ordinate these forces and secure their buy-in and contribution, so as to obtain the maximum benefit for, and impact on our local community and business.

Recommendation 29: The City should create and chair a Geelong Digital Partnership involving all key forces required for the strategy

Partnership action on complementary fibre: a strategy for using existing publicly owned fibre capacity more broadly and imaginatively - ahead of and alongside NBN roll-out

This is a digital strategy not an NBN strategy in part because of the uncertainty of the roll-out of the NBN which has meant that delivery timetables have been missed and roll-out maps turned out to be misleading and speculative. In practice most mobile services mapping turns out to be inaccurate and unreliable too because they give best case scenarios and capacity rather than real time data on performance: no supplier draws attention to their service ‘black spots’ in Greater Geelong for example.

The positive aspect in the NBN situation is that it reminds us that a digital strategy needs to embrace all technologies and delivery systems. More positively, the uncertainty over the roll-out of the NBN needs to be filled by complementary action so that any broadband ‘supply gap’ is filled and the community is ‘broadband- ready’ and digitally enabled ahead of any such NBN roll-out. Such ‘filling-in’ action is entirely feasible and should be a priority. Digital Geelong proposes such action in relation to alternative supplies/suppliers of high speed broadband fibre connectivity. We propose action to identify alternatives whilst the NBN roll out is determined but also to complement any such roll -out.

A key option is ‘supply aggregation’. Fibre optic cabling, in some cases with NBN-level capacity and speeds, has already been laid down in the region by a number of publicly funded bodies or institutions. These include schools, TAFE, universities, some hospitals, the University (with its globally competitive AArnet), and some local governments (in many forms such as cable connecting new developments and Council offices and libraries).

Use of that capacity, whilst increasing, can grow further and more imaginatively. It must. It might be used not just to support the activities (and income) of the specific fibre owning organisations but also to help local business development and knowledge sharing or support the
achievement of community objectives. It can demonstrate what high speed broadband and the NBN can do ahead of roll-out, increasing the demand for high speed broadband.

More must be done to ensure that business, the public services and the community sector can take advantage of what is already available or deliverable, cost effectively and soon. This will require deliberation amongst partners, perhaps via the new Digital Partnership or via some kind of Memorandum of Understanding between key partners. CoGG should explore this ‘supply aggregation’ possibility with local partners who have fibre and who may wish to innovate and open up access in the way discussed. There needs to be an exercise to map and research those who have such fibre connectivity already – and may be willing to share.

CoGG should thus identify public organisations with high speed fibre (TAFE/Hospitals/universities (AARNet)) to explore opportunities for using/extending use of their facilities.

Though there are some vital barriers around child protection and privacy, greater cross-sector collaboration and wider usage can be achieved. The existing fibre network is under-used and the strategy stresses the opportunity, negotiated within the Geelong Digital Partnership, to support collaborations which will bring raised usage of that fibre and diversify its range of uses/users. Internationally, and in some parts of Australia, multi-purpose public service hubs are already being designed around existing fibre nodes – and we can do the same in Geelong.

The Digital Partnership could:

  • Work to identify/map the existing fibre available in the region in the various institutional locations

  • Explore how partners might increase and diversify their use of that fibre

  • Explore further collaborations across sectors

The Council and ICT Geelong should map all existing fibre networks in the area, working with the partners to the strategy

Demonstrated options seen in other cities

There are three other broad options to bridge the supply gap until the NBN is rolled-out:

  • Existing ISPs and demand aggregation

  • Expedite the NBN

  • Self -build

Existing ISPS and demand aggregation

There are already many high quality commercial providers of internet services and broadband connectivity in the region. Given the long time it will take to deploy the NBN, they will be considering how they should invest to meet demand. To help service providers make a business case for augmenting capacity, a useful tactic is to aggregate demand and to use government purchasing to provide what have been called ‘conditional anchor tenants’. A radical example would be a broad public sector broadband aggregation for example between councils (and other public agencies) in the region. Aggregating the demand of local government and perhaps other public service providers could purchase better connectivity from private sector ISPs/Telcos in the period until the NBN is ubiquitous, reducing costs and improving speeds/ services in the region.

This collective purchasing/demand aggregation is happening in the private sector too, with clusters of companies physically close to one another aggregating their purchasing power to access a higher speed fibre access (or some other service from an ISP) on an industrial estate or business park for example. Some such activity needs to be nurtured locally.

Finally, opportunities will arise for fibre and or wireless connectivity to be installed with new development and infrastructure: and the Council should prioritise this possibility in planning controls and discussions with developers.

Expedite the NBN?

Many councils and RDAs have spent a lot of their energy and effort on lobbying to get early release sites nominated in their respective patches. This should not stop.

The NBN roll-out may be influenced by demonstrating:

  • Plans for the deployment of complementary (or competing) infrastructure

  • Motivation within the community to take up the network (demand register)

  • Business models in place to exploit the NBN

  • Commitment from local government to subsidise the deployment cost (and other practical assistance)

  • Facilities access to complementary infrastructure, and

  • Key strategic digitally equipped properties (libraries and neighbourhood centres for example).

Self build - direct action

Finally, there is the direct approach to filling the supply gap by building capacity for one’s own network. In other countries, municipal fibre networks have been tried10. Some organisations in the region have already taken this path:

Some local councils have opportunistically installed fibre capacity and leased it to equally innovative ISPs -they have been laying down its own fibre network at the same time as new infrastructure is built – and have been leasing this to private sector ISPs. Some councils have sought to create local networks leveraged off strategic fibre links or add to local wireless and mobile capacity through collaboration with ISPs, commercial fibre providers or mobile providers.

As a coordinator of the urban renewal of Geelong, with a digital and talen attraction strategy to create the local tech eco system

Research, from global cities, shows that a modern ‘tech ecosystem’ is not just something to do with business support, regulation, skills availability or even digital infrastructure and co-working spaces. It is much more holistic and based on the kind of combination of urban renewal and digital innovation for which Geelong was praised by the Victorian Government inquiry into local economic development. It also requires a conscious talent attraction strategy.

Wireless systems, the cloud and flexible working practices and co-working spaces. It is much more holistic and based on the kind of combination of urban renewal and digital innovation for which Geelong was praised by the Victorian Government inquiry into local economic development. It also requires a conscious talent attraction strategy.

Wireless systems, the cloud and flexible working practices mean that major conglomerates no longer need huge offices for servers and staff – smaller units are just as viable. Vibrant, mixed-use communities are at the heart of the new tech industry vibe.

The exchange of information and ideas is central to any creative industry, and tech is no exception. Creative clusters allow innovation to thrive. But it is not just innovation within a single company that is productive, the innovation of whole industries and the wider creative community makes a difference.

This means the human interaction allowed by cities has become a key attraction in the search for workspaces by tech companies. Cafés, bars, shops, a good retail offer, great virtual connectivity and a variety of housing and low-cost office space provide the ‘social infrastructure’ and real estate foundation they seek. The growth in tech industries goes hand in hand with the urban renaissance of town centres, the densities of mixed uses they enable and the knowledge spill-overs they encourage.

Recognising this and reinforcing the attractions of the urban centre of Geelong are actually in the current debates an important part of a digital strategy. This is consistent with Geelong’s general approach to urban renewal but needs to be re-emphasised – and planning for the centre needs to encourage mixed uses and density to add to its economic potential. This will also reinforce retail viability in the centre.

Talent attraction and retention must also be a part of the strategy

Globally, the sweet-spot or ‘dream demographic’ for knowledge based companies is the 25-34 year olds. These are also the most mobile and they will determine which places grow; cities are in competition for them and Geelong will be competing with Melbourne for them. A community which doesn’t attract, welcome or retain these desirable workers likely has problems with innovative entrepreneurs of any age.

The education and skills they have, and their energy for innovation, are vital for growth. As the knowledge economy grows in significance so too does the importance of having such educated workers locally. The importance of education to economic success has increased dramatically in past two decades and globally the best educated cities grew over twice as fast as the others.

Places attractive to single well educated young people and increasingly women are likely to have an economic edge. Increasingly they want to live close to CBDs and centres. They have been called the ‘close-in’ generation.

They are influencing the locational decisions of companies. We are witnessing a virtuous cycle of worker preference and firm demand: embracing cityness: complexity; density; diversity; messy intersection of activities, the layering of the old and new, an integration rather than segregation of uses: a profound shift favouring innovation districts in cities rather than exurban incubators.

Simply put: the current generation of tech workers doesn’t want to toil in soulless Office Space complexes surrounded by moats of parking or in dispersed factories. The trend as Business Week says: ‘is to nurture living, breathing communities rather than sterile remote compounds or research silos. A new nexus between innovation and urbanism fitting new demography has emerged. . Place- making and economy shaping go together in the tech ecosystem in the digital era.

This means that going forward innovation and denser mixed use centres with cultural, recreational and retail amenities will attract highly educated, innovative, entrepreneurial individuals and benefit the area’s viability and success. CoGG needs to continue to nurture that new nexus between innovation and urbanism as part of its broader economic and digital strategy. Digital and urban vibe go together and reinforce each other: a perception consistent with CoGG’s overall economic, development and renewal strategy whose integrated, ’holistic’ approach was, as we have seen, praised by the Victorian Government inquiry into council-led economic development strategies.

A marketer of Geelong as a networked community and as 'The competitive edge' of Melbourne: conclusion or new beginning?

As the key strategy recommendations get implemented, Geelong, council, area and community will acquire the infrastructure, skills and reputation of, depending on choice, a ‘smart city’ or ‘intelligent community’. The branding of either is valuable and can be secured by Geelong in due course as the quality of the ‘Geelong Digital Product’ continues to improve.

The Intelligent Community Forum Indicators in particular provide a good framework for assessing progress not just in building digital capacity but in building prosperous local economies in the digital economy.

They are:

  • Broadband/ connectivity

  • Knowledge workers

  • Innovation

  • Digital Inclusion

  • Marketing and advocacy

This indicators identify the key criteria that enable a ‘virtuous cycle’ of positive change by interacting with one another.

So digital connectivity supports the growth of a knowledge workforce as well as creating the foundation of programs of digital inclusion. This then feeds a rising level of innovation as well as increasing demand further for connectivity (and skills). This dynamic momentum then becomes the core ‘value proposition in economic development marketing of a community or city. This is why Digital Geelong is not a marginal strategy for ‘geeks’ but a core strategy for CoGG.

And why the imperative to market this improving and fast changing product to key demographics and start-ups needs to be taken up by the Council, as change takes place on the ground.

Like businesses facing greater global competition, cities like Geelong, which are re-structuring, must communicate harder than ever /better than ever, their advantages and explain how they are maintaining or improving their position as great places to live, work and build a start-up. The story of Digital Geelong needs to be effectively told and shared with the wider world – particularly those in the public and private sectors we wish to see invest in this momentum and those talented people we wish to anchor in or attract to Geelong to take this story decisively forward. Given the communication skills of the current leadership of CoGG, the story will be excellently told.

At the same time, advocacy by the Council leadership and partners of Digital Geelong needs to have as much of a ‘within Geelong’ focus as an external one, as a new vision of the future of the community must be embraced by it.

We will expect the new Geelong Digital Partnership to have this community awareness raising campaign as an essential item on their agenda. This digital enthusiasm/inclusion campaign must be a priority, with specific partners being digital champions for their area, client or community group.

The local and regional media should be involved and partners should use all their communication channels for the broader campaign to engage and enthuse local communities about the opportunities of the digital economy, participating in e-democracy and the advantages of accessing services online.

Recommendation 30: Using the Intelligent Community Forum criteria as benchmarks, seek to establish Geelong as a global Top 21 Intelligent Community by 2019

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Page last updated: Tuesday, 20 August 2019