Episode Archive

SCP E187 Smart Communities and the COVID Chance, with Mark Thomas

In this episode of the Smart Community Podcast, I had a brilliant chat with Mark Thomas, the Founder and Managing Director of Serviceworks, an international consultancy providing strategic counsel on city building, smart city application, strategy, public policy and customer service. This is the second time Mark has been on the podcast, the last time was back in Episode 111, and this interview was recorded in mid July 2020. So we talk about Mark’s background and his passion for solving wicked problems that matter to citizens, as well as what’s been happening for him and how he’s adjusted his business since COVID. But of course since we recorded this episode, Auckland New Zealand has also seen an outbreak, so just keep in mind that we recorded before that and don’t mention it at all. It’s a bit tricky this year given that I often record interviews way in advance of when they get released on the podcast, and obviously things with COVID change so rapidly but I know you’re all Smart people who will understand that. Mark also shares with us his thinking around what he calls ‘The COVID Chance’, which is about the ways the pandemic has accelerated some of the Smart concepts like data sharing and privacy that we’ve been talking about for years, as well as the opportunities that exist in the midst of the crisis. We discuss the projects Mark has been working on including Mobility as a Service and connected platform projects in China, Indonesia and Malaysia, plus the way Smart solutions need to be customisable for different cultures, contexts and communities. Mark and I then explore the emerging trends of using blockchain in the city space, as well as new urban mobility systems and new citizen data control solutions that are emerging. We finish our chat discussing some of Mark’s favourite Smart Community resources. As always we hope you enjoy listening to this episode as much as we enjoyed making it.

Listen here: 

What we cover in this episode:

  • Mark’s background and his passion for solving wicked problems that matter to citizens 
  • How his 6 years elected to Auckland Council in New Zealand sparked his interest in the Smart City space 
  • A bit about how COVID has impacted Mark’s life and business, including his MaaS project in China
  • What a Smart Community means to Mark
  • Why Smart Communities are even more important than ever moving through COVID times
  • The COVID Chance and the ways it has accelerated our thinking and use of data
  • Smart Projects Mark has been working on in China, Indonesia and Malaysia 
  • The differences he has seen in each country and the way solutions need to be customisable for different cultures, contexts and communities 
  • The benefits and drawbacks of custom Smart solutions for different contexts 
  • The one thing Mark believes is needed to make Smart Community initiatives successful 
  • Why Internet access is a fundamental infrastructure but still comes second to the deeper ways of Smart thinking and working that are needed
  • The power of integrating across disciplines to be focused on the problem instead of traditional job roles or department structures
  • The emerging trends of using blockchain in the city space
  • The new urban mobility systems and new citizen data control solutions that are emerging
  • Some of Mark’s favourite Smart Community resources 


“My passion is really around delivering Smart solutions that matter to citizens…It’s got to be about the way in which we make cities more relevant, more interesting, more effective for citizens. The tools and practices and techniques of Smart thinking can help with that.”

“A Smart Community is people better connected within cities. It’s about people being engaged, and I… it’s absolutely not just about the technology. It’s about the other sort of practices that are what I call a platform approach can make people think about platforms. It’s this idea of, using and sharing the ways we currently work.”

“We haven’t moved out of COVID, we’ve just moved into starting to live with it. I’m not an epidemiologist, but I don’t think we are going to get rid of COVID, we have to just find a way to live with it. And what an opportunity to think about the ways in which Smart thinking and Smart Community practices can help us with it. I call it the COVID Chance.”

“In Singapore, what we’ve seen is people getting much more comfortable with this idea of sharing data. Because data as we know it is a definer of the opportunities that can be created within cities, you know, only because it gives us information, right to be able to adapt more quickly and to be more informed with decisions that we make about how transport works, how waste works, how water works, how the library works.”

“I’m hopeful and optimistic that leaders will see this is an opportunity to say to people ‘if we can use your data in a protected, privacy-guaranteed way, we’ve got more opportunities to deliver better city services for you.’ I think there is a huge opportunity that comes from this that I’m calling the COVID Chance.”

“People have been looking for a typical answer or a typical model for a long time. And then what I think COVID is helping us to think about is [that] we’ve got all these existing platforms—offices, cars etc—that are hugely under-utilized. So what’s a way that we can share information, share knowledge, give people access to more information so they can make different choices about how they use these assets?”

“We can’t be looking for the optimal technology solution. It’s got to be more about the practices and the way we work, particularly if it’s the case that your technology network is not that good!”


Gojek, the Indonesian Ride Sharing Bike and non-bank Company Mark mentioned

Episode 185 with Calum Cameron about Estonia

Smart Cities Council Mobility Now Report

Smart Cities World

Smart Cities Dive

Centre for Cities

Centre for Liveable Cities in Singapore Webinar Series 

Future Cities Laboratory

Regional Australia Institute 

Christchurch, NZ, wins the IDC Smart City Prize Competition 


Find the full show notes at: www.mysmart.community 

Connect with Mark via the Serviceworks website, or on LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter @MarkThomasNZ

Connect with me via email: hello@mysmart.community 

Connect with My Smart Community via LinkedIn or Twitter and watch on YouTube

The Smart Community Podcast is produced by Perk Digital.


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SCP E250 Episode 250 Celebration: Ask Zoe Anything!

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