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LGAQ big data takes shape

Friday, 22 February 2019

I love it when a plan comes together.

The LGAQ still has a fair contingent of staff in north-west Queensland assisting councils with disaster recovery and our hearts remain with all those flood-affected communities in the north of the state.

But this week was all about big data and our analytics team, LG Sherlock. In fact, we have made great strides forward in this area over the first two months of 2019.

In January the LGAQ announced it had adopted the European General Data Protection Regulation gold standard for data ethics and integrity. This week, we made public the membership of an independent datawatch committee to advise on our efforts to meet that standard. The committee, chaired by the former editor-in-chief of The Courier-Mail, David Fagan, will meet within weeks to begin its work.

We are deadly serious about implementing the highest standards around the use of data and building trust with the broader community.

In that same vein, the LGAQ will be sending all our member councils a Master Data Sharing Agreement next week. This document has been in the works for six months. It was extensively workshopped with member councils and knocked into shape by the lawyers to get it to the point where it would pass muster. It’s a cornerstone for the sharing of data between councils and the LGAQ and supersedes what were previous, short-term project specific data agreements with councils.

Only a week ago, the LGAQ launched the Energy Detective, an LG Sherlock product driven by machine learning and artificial intelligence, identifying faulty or underperforming electricity using assets.

It is a first in Australia that promises to reduce the energy bills of Queensland councils, currently running at a collective $250 million annually. It’s a cracker.

Couple that with the tried and proven Electricity Tariff Review of Peak Services and councils (and their ratepayers) can save big, big bucks. There are already great examples of councils saving hundreds of thousands of dollars, Bundaberg and South Burnett councils come to mind.

The LG Sherlock chief, Brodie Ruttan and I spent much of this week at Gartner’s annual Data Analytics Summit in Sydney where we heard from 27 international speakers on the latest and greatest in AI and data analytics.

Why do that, you might ask. Because we absolutely believe this is the future for councils. We can help them make more wholistic, quicker and smarter decisions and save ratepayers untold amounts of money through using their data, and data from other sources, to improve processes. That is why we have set aside $15 million to invest in this space, of which $6 million has gone into developing LG Sherlock, our Data Lake, a working blockchain and the Energy Detective, the first of many really cool AI and machine learning tools to roll off the production line over the coming 12 months. A plant and equipment tool is next.

That is not all that is happening regarding our embrace of data analytics this year. By the end of March, the LGAQ will be out to tender on two game changing initiatives. The first is a state-wide network of IoT sensors linked by one or a combination of 5G, Lowran ,Li Fi or Sigfox telecommunications networks. This will help create environmental monitors, smart streets, smart poles, smart bins and intelligent transport systems enablement. The system will provide real-time insights to encourage faster, better and cheaper council decision making, while also ensuring citizens have better data on which to base personal decisions.

Best of all, we want the private sector to wholly or mainly fund this network through quid pro quo user rights. Think online realtors like realestate.com.au or Domain, insurance companies, heavy vehicle and luxury car manufacturers and so on. Rest assured, we are not talking dystopian council control with cameras, listening devices and big brother - just devices aligned to the operation of councils’ basic infrastructure and service responsibilities including streets, waste, mobility, noise, animal management, and environmental health.

The second tender is for an online community engagement tool where councils can enter into conversations with local households through social media on topics that are of mutual interest. This will be developed with privacy the paramount concern, with no connection to voter rolls and a guaranteed ability for households to opt out. Councils are often criticised on not engaging their communities well enough. Here’s an opportunity to create an entirely new way of having a decent, well intentioned conversation with our citizens in a less formal manner.

What we have done is big, bold and definitely world leading in its scope. Very importantly, the LGAQ has laid down a principles-led data ethics governance framework and with independent oversight of this new undertaking.

We have built a state of the art state-wide tech platform, performance benchmarking capability and smart tools created by the LG Sherlock team. We are ingesting large amounts of council data, including from Jadu-powered council websites as they are progressively rolled out. Then we are going to supplement that with real-time data from the streets and community sentiment from households. In time we will add data from council vehicles, plant and equipment and, in time, a large number of low earth orbit satellites. It’s a very comprehensive, all encompassing system to provide better, more efficient and effective services to the community. At its heart, it’s in the public interest.

The LGAQ has been totally open and transparent on every step of this journey as we believe in what we are doing and have the courage of our convictions to tell it as it is.

I am really proud of the work the LGAQ has done in this arena over the past two years, so ably led by our President, Mayor Mark Jamieson, who was elected to head the LGAQ espousing a policy platform of promoting greater connectivity. We are almost there, folks. It’s in sight.

Local Government Association of Queensland
LG House, 25 Evelyn Street, Newstead Qld 4006

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