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MAV Opinion Editorial - Digital transformation creating new opportunities

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Technology is advancing at a rapid pace. It is essential for the liveability of rural and regional Victoria that governments, businesses and communities are supported to embrace digital innovation.

Many rural and regional councils are undergoing digital transformations to better connect communities, improve business transactions, grow their local economy and enhance digital study opportunities.

Yarriambiack’s 200 kilometre silo art trail, a great rural tourism success story, last week launched an innovative new digital feature funded by Wimmera Mallee Tourism in partnership with the council and state government.

Smart phone users can scan a QR code at each site for a more immersive art experience – from viewing an Indigenous Welcome to Country to augmented reality visuals that bring the surroundings of each silo to life. The app includes a digital map with information on the silos, accommodation and cafes so visitors can create their own road trip.

It is Australia’s largest outdoor gallery, adding an estimated $25,000 to the local economy each month. The new app will further entice visitors to spend time in the region, and is a superb example of embracing technology to grow and diversify the local economy.

This initiative has the added benefit of providing better visitor data to inform decisions about extra physical or digital infrastructure needed by silo art towns.

Local government collects vast amounts of data through their many day-to-day activities. Victorian councils lead the nation publishing open data which is freely available for anyone to develop resources that benefit the community, such as to locate real time parking spaces.

The City of Ballarat was the first city worldwide to join an international UNESCO pilot to creatively capture community conversations using online tools to better understand local aspirations for the city’s future.

Two open data platforms – HULBallarat and Visualising Ballarat – have been developed with the Centre for eResearch and Digital Innovation (CeRDI) Federation University Australia. The open source data has also led to new digital tools including a time capsule and memory atlas, a public art project and 3D virtual city tours.

It is widely documented that innovation is a core driver to achieve long-term regional economic growth. Linked-up, smart communities will foster more people living in our regions. In particular, digital technology is critical for smaller communities to attract and retain workers, entice populations to relocate and remain economically competitive.

Census data showed that in Southern Grampians Shire, less than 65 per cent of households had an internet connection, and those that did were among the slowest ADSL speeds in regional Victoria.

To improve community internet connectivity options, the council set up connectGH. With free internet access points across Hamilton and surrounding townships, thousands of unique users access connectGH each month.

A range of shire buildings and facilities including the pound, sale yards, sporting oval, landfill and outdoor pools are also connected. The project is benefitting local residents, youth and businesses, while encouraging tourists to spend more time in the region and providing remote council staff with better access to information to do their jobs.

People increasingly seek 24/7 services and access to information in real time through smart devices. In response, councils are transforming their business models to offer more digital services of value for the community such as payments, borrowing of library books, application and registration processes. Councils are also introducing smart technology for services like streetlighting to reduce electricity use and traffic lights to manage traffic flows.

As part of Victoria’s Digital Innovation Festival, this week experts and service users from the community, councils, business, government and academia met across three locations to identify potential solutions to specific community pain points. This MAVHACK event designed new ideas over a two-day hackathon to encourage people to generate less waste and identify how data can support financially sustainable decision-making.

There are many examples of digital innovation being led by rural and regional councils, but all the technologies adopted rely on dependable, high-speed digital transfer.

Additional mobile Black Spot funding and an expansion of the Australian Government’s Smart Cities and Suburbs Program is vital to further support communities with digital transformation. State funding for rural and regional technology infrastructure could also vastly improve opportunities for communities looking to make the most of new technologies.

Digital connectivity is essential to ensure no communities are left behind.

Cr Coral Ross
MAV President

This Opinion Editorial was published on 7 September 2019 in the Ballarat Courier, Warrnambool Standard and the Border Mail.