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Sunday, September 26, 2010
From Awards to Community Transformation
Did we really just close nominations for the Intelligent Community Awards?  It doesn't seem possible.  We only named Suwon, South Korea as the 2010 Intelligent Community of the Year three months ago.  And it will be another nine months until we name its 2011 successor.  But a great deal goes on during those nine months – which you can learn more about on the Awards Overview page.  Next up is the announcement of the Smart21 Communities of the Year, which will take place October 21 in a ceremony in Suwon as well as online.  

The communities that go through our awards program tell us two things about it.  First, that completing the Smart21 nomination form, and the more detailed Top Seven nomination form, is a lot of work.  And in the next breath, they tell us that it was a powerful positive experience for the community.  

It is a lot of work because they cannot answer the questions from within one of the "silos" that make up local government, whether it is information technology, economic development or finance.  They cannot even answer the questions from within the four walls of local government itself.  Instead, they need a horizontal view that covers communications carriers, local business, nonprofits, higher education and the interface to county, state, regional and national government bodies.  They need to understand how the interaction among innovation, knowledge work, digital inclusion and advocacy, powered by broadband, is remaking their economy for the better.

That's what makes the nomination process laborious.  It is also what makes it valuable.  Intelligent Communities take the opportunity provided by our program to bring together people who seldom think about their shared mission.  Everyone is busy, everyone has objectives to pursue.  It is ridiculously easy to become so intent on doing that we lose track of why we are doing it and miss opportunities to step up our efforts through collaboration. In community after community, it is collaboration among the stakeholders in the community that powers real progress.   

As I said, it's a lot of work.  More perhaps than a mere award program should ask.  

But then, the Intelligent Community Awards are not really an award program.  We are glad to pinpoint potential and salute achievement, but that's not the point.  Our aim is transformation.  We want to create international models that communities everywhere can learn from.  We want to document and share the particular strategies that have made these communities successful.  So we could put out a bunch of reports, but we find that presenting awards puts places like Bristol, Issy-les-Moulineaux and Suwon in a much-deserved spotlight, so that other communities start paying attention to what they have done.     

Can we make the process easier?  We hope so.  We are going to try developing a pre-qualification questionnaire made up of simple yes/no and multiple-choice questions.  Our goal is to have communities fill it out, then report back with scores that indicate whether they have a meaningful chance at success in the awards program.  That may help the community decide whether it is worthwhile to put in the work required to nominate themselves.  In any case, it will bring in more information, which will help us research communities deserving of recognition as well as adding to our data set.    

If you have ideas on how to continue expanding and improving the awards process, I would love to hear from you.  Comment on this post and I will reply with thanks. 

To all those communities who nominated themselves or have shared research information with us, best of luck in the coming race to the Smart21!
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
Sink Me Once, But Not Twice – Stockholm as Showcase

Stockholm Report #2

The Vasa was the last significant mistake Sweden made when attempting to implement its technology and social engineering.  The now-popular warship took 24 months to build and less than 24 minutes to sink – on its maiden voyage.  That is not the ROI one seeks, especially when not a single cannon was fired in anger against it.  Ironically, one of the world’s most beautiful warships sunk because it was built wrong.  It was top-heavy and had insufficient ballast.  Plop and flop.  Down she went.  Boy, did Stockholm go to school on that boo-boo.

To give you an idea of how extraordinary Stockholm is, this most recent engineering failure took place in 1628.  To the community’s great credit, the ship was salvaged with a largely intact hull 333 years later, in 1961 and today is one of Sweden’s most popular tourist attractions.

I suppose you can say that when great ones produce a klunker, it makes news.  It also drives innovation, collaboration and learning.  The history of the Vasa disaster suggests that someone would have done well to utter words made famous over 300 years later by the Apollo 13 astronauts.  “Your Highness, we have a problem.”  

The lessons learned in the past 300 years have since have been legend in Stockholm, a community I encourage anyone to go who is interested to see what a small city that meets ICF’s criteria looks like.  More important, Stockholm is a place to examine for any community leader seeking a model for a 21st Century, especially for a city of under 2 million people.  

I know of few places where citizens are excited about throwing away their garbage.  But knowing that it comes back as the gas which lights one’s stove and provides 70% of the electricity in a community that rests on the 59th parallel, where darkness settles for months, is an incentive to bubble with pride.  The green IT movement in Stockholm is also the real deal.  There is not lip-service and posturing in Stockholm, a place where 78% of its citizens believe the future is even bright.  There is action.  Methodical, deliberate action.  Intelligent action.

Stockholm knows that broadband is fundamental to all of this.  In New York yesterday the CEO of one of its largest companies, Ericsson, Hans Vestberg, told the United Nations that broadband is the “next tipping point” and “the next truly transformational technology.”  Perhaps that is why I was greeted so warmly during my visit to Ericsson.  Vestberg is one of the commissioners who authored a report that defines a platform for progress.  Broadband is essential.  ICF has used the phrase “Broadband Economy” for several years to describe the infrastructure that will be needed as we head forward.  At the United Nations yesterday, the world’s most talented business leaders agreed that it is so.

The message that ICF has been communicating has found fertile ground in many places, 86 to be precise, including Taipei, Waterloo, Canada, and, most recently, Suwon, South Korea.  Perhaps the true showcase for the work ICF and other intelligent communities have brought forward for study by us and others is in the “Capital of Scandanavia.”  

In my remarks to TiE Nordic, a group of Stockholm entrepreneurs, I exhorted Stockholm to continue to be that showcase.  I hope that the enthusiasm I felt during the event, and in the days after with Mayor Nordin and the team that put together the Intelligent Community of the Year success, will persist – even on the days when a little darkness settles in.

Click here for Stockholm Report #1.

Click here to see the keynote remarks at TiE Nordic.

Sunday, September 19, 2010
Intelligent Communities Find a Silver Lining in the Cloud
Bad times, like clouds, can have silver linings, just as good times may rest on rickety foundations.  That is the message of "New Normal" Success: A CIO Survival Guide from the Digital Communities Web portal.  The Guide is based on interviews with the chief information officers of US cities and counties large and small, who are all coping with the decline of budgets and simultaneous calls for their departments to contribute to greater efficiency.  

Most are taking a fresh look at cloud computing, which has been adopted so enthusiastically by business.  Whether you call it cloud computing or software-as-a-service, it means purchasing hosted IT solutions from third parties instead of providing all applications and maintaining all data in-house.  

It is a dramatic way to leverage the power of broadband to cut costs.   Michael Armstrong, CIO of Texas city Corpus Christi (an ICF Smart21 community), has already shifted some applications to the cloud and sees it as a way to "reduce the amount of stuff we have to manage" during difficult times.  Other CIO's worry, with reason, about ensuring the privacy and security of applications containing the public's information.  Yet as Richard McKinney of Microsoft put it in the Guide, "I clearly remember those same levels of concern at the dawn of the Internet and services like email."  It seems likely that economic pressures will gradually overwhelm FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) and make the cloud a serious option for more communities around the world.

There are also opportunities for savings closer to home.  In Palm Beach County in the state of Florida, CIO Steve Bordelon has cross-connected individual networks from Palm Beach County, surrounding counties, school districts and some of the municipalities in the region.  The result has been a "cloud" of their very own: a regional public-sector network that has boosted bandwidth by a factor of 10 while reducing costs by 50%.  

But for Mr. Bordelon, cost-cutting is only half the equation.  His department recently became a service provider for hosted business applications and Outlook email for the US Virgin Islands.  The county has plans to market other internal applications for planning, zoning and building applications in a fee-for-service model to other governments.  Instead of turning to the cloud just to save money, Palm Beach County is become a provider of cloud-based services itself.

Radical as this vision may seem, it is not new.  In 2002, ICF named the city of LaGrange, Georgia, USA as its Intelligent Community of the Year.  To gain access to broadband, this city of 26,000 funded and constructed a total of four networks serving businesses, institutions and residents in LaGrange and the neighboring four counties.  They introduced free Internet access for residents in 2000 and successfully used the network to attract call-center companies, ISPs and TV production companies.  The network also made it possible for LaGrange's IT department to become a service provider to other local governments within range of the network.  In the year we honored them, ICT services were contributing almost US$1 million to the general fund.

In Dundee, Scotland UK, the IT department – under its visionary leader Ged Bell (no relation) – has saved a lot of money through rationalization and outsourcing of IT services.  They have done the same by building their own wired and wireless networks to reduce operating costs.  But one of its biggest successes is with a citizen relationship management system called the Citizen Account.  It captures data on citizens, with their permission, and uses it to create a single record of the citizen’s interaction with government, which is saving the Council £400,000 per year.  It captures, for example, the citizen’s use of the Dundee Discovery Card, which replaced 10 separate card-related services in the city, for everything from bus service and parking to social services and student accounts at Abertay University.  So popular has it become - with 44,000 cards issued, used by 87% of 12-18 year olds for school meals and bus travel - that the Scottish Government decided to deploy a multi-application card for the whole country.  Who gets to run the program?  Dundee.      

There is no real reason that cost-cutting, which has become the priority for so many local governments, cannot also be economic development.  Faced with great challenges, local governments are pioneering innovative solutions.  Some have real market value.  Rather than staying in their silos, re-inventing the wheel over and over again, Intelligent Communities look for solutions they can import, using the power of broadband, and also for opportunities to export their hard-won expertise to colleagues near and far.
Monday, September 13, 2010
Stockholm – 2009 Intelligent Community of the Year - Is Focused
Report from Stockholm, September 2010 - #1

I recently spoke at an event in Stockhom with Mayor Sten Nordin and a regional economist on the demand placed on the economy of Sweden to ramp-up its ICT services sector to accommodate the need to continue to grow its local economy.  Interestingly enough, the event was held in a room in Stockholm’s City Hall which once was used to pay workers - in gold - for their labor.  Sweden, along with Singapore, ranks at the top in the recent World Competitiveness Index and in e-preparedness.  The Mayor, however, was more concerned with ensuring that the services sector would continue to be an engine of local gross domestic product.  He laid out his plans for continuing to ensure that his ICT sector and the green economy worked together to ensure a steady growth.

I was asked during the question and answer session which occurred after our presentations what counsel I would have for the mayor.  There is not a great deal you can say about improving Stockholm, short of asking Hawaii for about three months of its weather starting in December.  However, my serious counsel was for Stockholm to further unleash its entrepreneurial sector, which exists and is energized, but finds itself in a somewhat conflicted position.  Stockholm is doing well and has positioned itself as one of the world’s great intelligent communities and green capitals.  This, coupled with its historically caring approach to government, has the potential to further reinforce risk aversion in a sector where risk is one of the assured components.  The city accepts that it is not altogether desirable to have a risk averse culture, and is looking to balance its stability and success as it attempts to harvest the talent of its emerging businesses and clusters.  Ultimately, it is a good “problem” to have.

Click here for Stockholm Report #2.

Sunday, September 12, 2010
Balderdash – Or Maybe Not
In a September 10 blog post, Colleen Dilenschneider wrote about “5 Ways that Social Media May Replace NYC as the Center of Creative Development.”  She began by referring to both a book titled The Warhol Economy and a recent (and quite funny) online article in The Onion, “8.4 Million New Yorkers Suddenly Realize New York City A Horrible Place to Live.”  Musing on these two sources, she wrote “Despite the fact that the book raves about the benefits of NYC’s unique environment for artists and the career development of creatives, the Onion article got me questioning the future of this city.”

Her questions boil down to the idea that social media fosters so much creativity, with so few barriers to entry, and connects the creator to so many others that “you don’t need to be in New York anymore to have access to the most influential gatekeepers, or to get attention for your cause or story.”  

Which forces me to say, with all due respect: oh, balderdash.  

I am as passionate as anyone about the ways in which the broadband Web opens opportunities for innovation and economic growth regardless of location. Today, connectivity is the driver of economic change.  Anyone whose job has been lost to offshoring – made possible by our ability to connect organizations into a seamless global whole – understands that fact in a deep and personal way.  But social media replacing the personal, trust-based connections arising in a community, on which economic and culture activity is based?    It is less likely than the idea that 8.4 million New Yorkers would decide to move out of town on the same day, because living there had just grown too tough.  

Indeed, a 3-year ethnographic study of how young people use social media, funded by the MacArthur Foundation, discovered that most use online networks to extend friendships they already have in school, religious organizations and sports.  In what the report called these “friendship-driven” practices, the kids are essentially “hanging out” online, as they would otherwise do at the mall, home or street.  (See our book Broadband Economies for more.)  Think about your own use of social media, and I think you will conclude that it does not replace anything – it builds on personal, trust-based relationships already in place.

But sometimes, what seems like balderdash may not necessarily be. I was thus reminded by a radio interview I heard this week with Jane McGonigal, a game designer, researcher and futurist.  She is launching a “secret HQ” for people who want to exploit the power of online games to make the world a better place.  Seriously.

The project, called Gameful, aims to create multiplayer games that attract people into an interactive problem-solving effort to attack social problems.  As with a game, users will be continuously rewarded for their efforts by “leveling up” with points, skills or powers.  As they become more proficient, the theory goes, they will become more committed.  In the interview (which I annoyingly can’t find online), she described work on a World Bank project that sought to build entrepreneurship in an African nation.  Such programs typically attract only a few dozen young people.  By turning it into a massively multiplayer game, they attracted 10,000.  More than 30 new businesses have been launched as a result.

The interviewer asked if Gameful was “dumbing down” the hard work of social change.  Her response?  Gamers have a very high tolerance for failure; they are estimated to fail 80% of the time they play but they keep going, because games have evolved brilliant incentive systems to maintain involvement.  Why on earth would we not want to apply such tools to work that the world so badly needs done?  

If you are my age and hear this, you want to lunge for the balderdash button.  Work should be – well, work, shouldn’t it?  In an editorial in today’s New York Times, Thomas Friedman writes about how the Baby Boomers have squandered America’s leadership by wanting everything the quick and easy way.  Like gamers mashing those buttons and keyboards.  

And yet…  The merger of communications and information technology is creating some surprising new truths.  Google has proven itself the best automated translator on the planet by taking a completely new approach to language interpretation, substituting massive data sets for linguistic analysis.  Will Gameful be another such innovation?  I have no idea. But the secret HQ (whatever that is) officially launches in 46 days from today.  I’ll be keeping watch. 
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