Decentralisation has become associated with a few different movements in technology over the years. Today, decentralisation is a way to describe the ability for organisations with a dispersed workforce (working from home or off-site) to monitor, report, analyse, and act in real time on external elements, like water, buses, or other assets.
Nelson City Council’s recent success with its data and analytics program is an example of a smart organisation embracing decentralisation to create better outcomes for its people, citizens, and customers. It enabled reporting and management of freshwater throughout one of New Zealand’s most unspoiled regions.
Inspired by Nelson City Council’s story, we look at three ways that technology-enabled decentralisation is making business and government organisations better for people and the environment.
During 2020, we’ve seen the ability to work from home embraced. But for many organisations, managing their most important assets when they are off-site is key.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is allowing monitoring of all kinds of different assets in even very remote places. Indeed, the 'asset' might be an environmental asset (e.g. water, in the case of Nelson City Council), a piece of technology, or inventory.
IoT is changing – but the primary drivers of uptake to this technology are that while cost continues to decrease, sophistication, security, and stability are all increasing. This combination has increased adoption, enabling organisations like Nelson City Council to manage the things that matter most to their customers and citizens.
Environment Canterbury has enhanced the way it gathers and organises data. Its InZone Microsoft PowerApps project enables a centralised way of collating, managing and reporting on the projects, milestones and outcomes of Canterbury’s water zone committees. This is creating better environmental outcomes for the natural environment in Canterbury whilst also making things more transparent and up to date for stakeholders.
“We now have a more complete picture of all activity that Environment Canterbury, the community, and industry are delivering across Canterbury,” says Paul Hulse, zone delivery manager, Environment Canterbury.
To make great decisions you need great data and great analysis. Only a short time ago, even the most sophisticated organisations were making decisions based on labour-intensive, paper-and-pen processes. Now we’re in an era where we can remove assumptions and use data to empower decision making.
Power to the people
Being in ‘the city’ may no longer be central to how organisations operate. Even the ‘head office of head offices’, New York, is undergoing change to the status quo, with many workers not returning to the office. Even before the COVID-19 crisis, some organisations were working to make it possible to work anywhere — even in relatively remote environments.
New Zealand building supply company CARTERS is an example of how to enable workers, thanks to its ambitious programme, Project K2, which had the goal of implementing a single application for all staff to find information, no matter where they are or what they were working on. CARTERS consists of teams working in one of 50 local branch stores, with mobile account managers servicing trade customers as they work on residential or commercial projects. CARTERS is a dynamic, fast-paced business. With a lot of people working outside the office, it needed better digital tools.
“We had a very large process involving multiple teams, which was very complex with people based in different locations. People who weren’t in the same location as other teams didn’t have visibility of what was going on,” says Mike Lambert, IT manager, CARTERS.
Now, CARTERS have responsive ordering and reporting from devices no matter where staff are with flexibility for low- or no-wi-fi environments.
“Out in the field, on a building site, or with the customer, they could access all the information they needed. The plans, changes to the plans, pricing, any customer-specific instructions — it was all there in K2 as the one source of the truth,” says Jonathan Iles, chief information officer, CARTERS.
The barriers to who workers are and where they live are rapidly being removed. It’s empowering flexibility so people can work around their lifestyle or dependents as they need to.
The rise of concurrent technologies
Technologies including cloud, data and analytics, machine learning, artificial intelligence (AI), IoT, and collaboration tools like Microsoft Teams have all matured concurrently.
The technologies themselves aren’t new, but they’re rapidly increasing in sophistication, reducing in cost, and can be deployed at scale, securely, and with stability. This enables wider adoption for all sorts of organisations, from local government agencies like Nelson City Council through to businesses like CARTERS.
Wide adoption of technology by the public is also driving the change. Statistics New Zealand’s 2018 survey of internet consumption in New Zealand saw high-speed fibre account for 32 per cent of all broadband internet connections. At the same time, there was a 25 per cent decrease in old-style dial-up connections.
Coming in hot is low-latency 5G, which will mean rapid access to ever more sophisticated technology, anywhere. It’ll even affect how people get to places, with driverless cars relying on 5G to interpret where they are and interact with other automated vehicles.
Forget the ‘blockchain bros’. The type of decentralisation we’re looking at is making everything better. It’s allowing organisations to be responsive, be more flexible, and make informed decisions. We can do all these things effectively from just about anywhere.