Feature Story

Smart Moves: Community-Driven Mobile Technology Makes Waves Down Under

by Melissa Jun Rowley

A look at how a community-based initiative in Australia is bringing many services together using Near Field Communication technology.

Australia is quickly growing into a country to be reckoned with when it comes to city-wide connectivity and mobile innovation. With the adoption of smart technologies, new digital campaigns are pervading Sydney's banking systems, modes of transportation, and local council. Leading the charge in networked programs and the proliferation of mobile devices Down Under is the community-based initiative ParraConnect. Led by the ParraConnect Advisory Committee, the program galvanizes local residents of Sydney and Parramatta to develop digital initiatives for building stronger social, environmental, and economic standards. The mobile friendly ParraConnnect website invites people to submit ideas for making emerging technology more accessible and for cultivating a smarter, more connected infrastructure in the region. ParraConnect is currently pushing two major apps. They are Parra Smart Parking and Digimacq.

Locating parking spaces and taking multimedia adventures through the streets--isn't there an app for that?

"The Parra Smart Parking app offers live navigation to car spaces," explained Lord Mayor of Parramatta, Cr John Chedid. "It uses the smartphone's GPS to show nearby Council-owned car parks. It also allows users to touch on any of the locations to see car park details, including up-to-the-minute occupancy rates and its address. The DigiMacq app takes users on an in-depth, multimedia adventure through the streets of Parramatta in colonial times."

The apps have been downloaded more than 4,000 times since they were launched in October of last year, and have attracted potential users in the Middle East.

"We have received interest from people in countries such as Kuwait and Dubai, who are keen to see demonstrations of the applications," said Cr Chedid.

What can NFC smartcards do for businesses and employees?

In addition to tapping into the app-world, ParraConnect is exploring the use of Near Field Communications (NFC) through its ParraSync initiative. The project was developed by  Parramatta City Council, STMicroelectronics and SGS Technologie Australia.

"ParraSync will bring together many activities of city living into one smart card or smartphone, using NFC technology," said Cr Chedid. "Participants will be able to use their ParraSync card or NFC-enabled smartphone to buy goods and services digitally, which creates a virtual marketplace. So rather than carrying multiple cards, such as a library card, employee card, and a number of loyalty cards from local businesses, all of that information is now stored on this one ParraSync card. Once commercialized, the card will allow people to borrow books and see if they have any overdue, pay for coffee and parking, and use the card to enter work buildings and office floors."

This use of NFC technology may revolutionize human resources for companies across Australia. Cr Chedid says that for employees who are on the road or with limited access to the internet, the ParraSync card will also allow them to clock-in and out of their shifts, and instantly record when employees arrive and leave work within seconds. That information will then be sent to HR for payroll purposes. 

"There are even plans for the card to make taxi-payments as well as hotel check-ins," shared Cr Chedid.  

In some large shopping outlets, major credit card terminals can be costly. Deloitte Australia's head of technology, media and telecommunications, Damien Tampling, told the Australian Financial Review that the terminals needed for contactless cards to work are high in price.

Fortunately, Cr Chedid says that with ParraSync, the smartcard acts as a pre-paid purchase or e-Purse. In this case, funds have already been loaded and can be topped up with additional funds once they're used. This brings the cost of our terminals down lower, making it more affordable to retailers.

Overall, Australia as a whole has made great strides in implementing government-led smart city programs. In 2009, the Australian Government provided $100 million for the integration of the Smart Grid, Smart City project.

The ParraSync project has already garnered international awards, beating out Google and Commonwealth Bank of Australia for Best Near Field Communication collaboration Initiative at the Smart Card Awards Asia in Singapore. Through the parking apps there have been more than four million parking requests logged on the ParraSync server. Currently 200 businesses are registered, and 4,000 external users have signed-up for the ParraSync card. The council now has plans to roll out the service across  the City of Parramatta. With that kind of support and recognition, Australia may catch up to Seoul, Korea sooner than later as being a smart, connected leader in the world.

What's on the horizon for ParraSync?

"The next step is for ParraSync to go-to-market," said Cr Chedid. "The infrastructure is already in place and we plan to go commercial between the New Year and Easter."


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