Spot CEO Elizabeth Zealand shares her thoughts about Spot Parking winning the Transport for New South Wales Parking Innovation Challenge.
We have been super proud this week, as we were announced the winners of an Australian government innovation challenge for digital parking solutions. A real step towards digital curbside parking data to improve mobility in smart cities. Companies across the globe submitted applications for the opportunity to build technology to be deployed in Sydney, Australia, with the winner earning a cash reward of $30,000 Australian dollars and the solution in the hands of real world users.
State Government agency Transport for New South Wales (TfNSW) challenged innovators to improve the customer experience related to parking. They issued two ‘Challenge Statements’:
The provision of an Open Data stipulation is an important factor in enhancing the ‘leverage’ of an Innovation Challenge – but more on that later!
Spot were the proud winners of Challenge 2, and just as excitingly, it was Spot’s curbside data which the winning solution of Challenge 1 utilized. On a side note, congratulations to the team at Ubi Park, the winners of Challenge 1; we are delighted to see yet another use case for our foundational curbside parking data!
I’ve written before on alternate procurement models for governments to better engage with innovation. After all, the philosophy of a startup is to test things BEFORE they are ready with customers, a view which often does not sit well with Government risk appetites.
The greatest value to a startup is having the product tested in a live environment and seeing if we are solving the problems we think we are.
The real world element of this Innovation Challenge was attractive to Spot Parking as a start-up, unlike hackathons and processes that don't result in a client actually using the product.
Whilst the Challenge was run by a state government transport agency who don’t actually control much parking at all, their interest lies upon the congestion that is caused by inefficient parking. This was attractive to the local government area who runs the cities’ parking, so they agreed to participate and in trade off for having their parking digitized, their parking data would be shared in the TfNSW Open Data Hub.
Spot was fortunate to win the Innovation Challenge, and mapped more than 6 square miles of curbside in Sydney’s popular Manly beach area. Spot created a comprehensive data set that will be shared as open data for the duration of the 12 month trial. During this time the public, which includes local authorities, developers and residents, can use the data for research, developing digital products and even to find a park when planning a trip to the beach, restaurants, and shopping precincts.
And here’s where we come to the ‘leverage’ of an Innovation Challenge. If you do it right, there are great benefits for both the Government and industry.
The real benefits for Spot winning the challenge was to work with a real-life client and get real-world feedback. Furthermore, the validation and media reach of a respected government authority such as Transport for NSW broadens the opportunity to network and reproduce Spot’s parking solutions in other cities across Australia and the US.
I think the key to a successful Innovation Challenge is for it to be conducted in a way that the outcome can actually be replicated and therefore be commercially viable for the company providing the technology. In this way, I think challenges that are run by State agencies, Regions, Alliances such as Smart Cities, or consortiums of cities are both cost effective and attract great industry participation.
Another great by-product for Spot was the media coverage and validation that being mentioned by a government agency gives us. The media take government announcements far more seriously than a start-up’s, so the value of the monetary prize doesn’t have to be large to attract participants to the challenge.
Indeed, within days of winning the challenge, Spot was contacted by multiple smart cities who heard about us winning the Innovation Challenge in the media.
Transport for New South Wales had a dedicated project manager for the challenge, who ran all the briefing sessions and application processes, but also monitored the delivery of the winning projects. During the six-week delivery period we had weekly catch-ups and any hiccups or problems that we encountered were dealt with by the government authorities in a quick and effective manner.
As a result, this challenge was a relatively small investment for the New South Wales state government which has two working parking solutions in two municipalities for their citizens, global recognition of their innovation, an open data asset for other solutions to build on, and learnings to inform any larger procurement.
The government has flagged they want to leverage these learnings by running a parking summit later in the year.
In my view Innovation Challenges are far less trouble than they’re worth - they actually have immense value if they are constructed to be leveraged for multiple city use, include open data applications and learnings to inform larger procurements.