Government Technology
By Robert Bell, John Jung, Louis Zacharilla: Intelligent Communities are those which have - whether through crisis or foresight - come to understand the enormous challenges of the Broadband Economy, and have taken conscious steps to create an economy capable of prospering in it. They are not necessarily big cities or famous technology hubs. They are located in developing nations as well as industrialized ones, suburbs as well as cities, the hinterland as well as the coast.

The Internet of Things Will Change Everything (Part 1)

November 17, 2014 By John Jung

Change is inevitable.  It is changing quickly and the drivers for it are not only structural, political, scientific and economic, it is also cultural and social. Behind it all of course is that it’s about people. So perhaps in the end, everything we are discussing here is not about technology at all, but about people. So put away your M2M’s and your Internet of Things (and even Internet of Everything) and let’s focus on people- The Internet of People.

 
And speaking about people, there will be a lot of them - by 2050, it is expected that 70% of the world’s population will be in urban environments. Already today over 50% of the world’s population have moved to cities bringing untenable challenges to most of these urban areas. As cities continue to grow, with some already at the breaking point, the resources necessary to manage them are not able to keep pace.
 
Some urban communities are looking to the promise of technology to solve their urban challenges. Through deploying smart city infrastructure and undertaking big data analytics, civic efficiencies (traffic, utilities and services) are expected to generate improved asset management that should be able to help municipalities make better decisions and help them keep pace with their budgets. By deploying sensors in these areas and addressing data management in ways, for instance, to create improved civic operations and relieve traffic congestion, the value of Internet of Things applications will be demonstrated to their citizens, with the hope that trust and confidence in these technologies will also be enhanced. However these applications tend to be vertically integrated silos usually undertaken by a single competitive vendor and their applications are usually not able to be integrated across the board in all things throughout the community.
 
Accordingly, the true benefit of the Internet of Things will not be possible until an open source, standardized and horizontal approach is adopted. Some refer to this period of deficiencies in interoperability among devices intended to be linked as being similar to the early days of the Internet itself. The Internet of Things needs a standard for all devices at all levels of public, private and institutional sophistication to be able to be linked with each other for the promise of the Internet of Things to be truly valuable. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and the Internet Protocol for Smart Objects (IPSO) Alliance are working toward this standard but the general public and most communities do not seem to be even at the threshold of this understanding.  What is promising is that groups like IPSO Alliance are focusing on activities such as publishing its “Smart Objects Guideline” to provide a basis for interoperability across devices connected to the Internet of Things.
 
Despite general public unawareness in most parts of the world, this has become noticeable by the Chinese.  Given the challenges of industrial collaboration in an era of heavy competition, even among Chinese companies, and recognizing the benefits from the evolution of the Internet of Things, the Beijing Municipal Government, through its Beijing Municipal Commission of Economy and Information Technology and the Zhongguancun Science Park, along with 40 collaborative upstream and downstream institutions in the networking industry, co-launched the “Zhongguancun Technological Innovation Strategic Alliance of Networking Industry” in November 2013. This Alliance established an application-oriented networking industry centre with industry, technology and innovation as its focus. The alliance members are undertaking a dozen demonstration projects aimed at cultivating industrial leading enterprises and products with national industrial standards, potentially making Zhongguancun China’s national standard for the Internet of Things. 
 
Greater public awareness, education and demonstrations all around the world involving all sectors of society are needed in order to embrace these opportunities. This is becoming more important as more devices are being connected to one another. Today, according to Shodan, a search engine for The Internet of Things, over 15 billion things are connected with one another including computers with mobile devices, medical sensors, and industrial and commercial machines. However, 85% of things today are left unconnected.  It is expected that 50 billion things will be connected by 2020. The drivers for these will be what people will be demanding and the information derived from the data being analyzed now. For instance, there will likely be substantial growth as a result of more connected healthcare, a world of wearable technologies, connected cars and ever-more connected things that become commonplace to service people and their needs.
 
An example of a company already connecting its devices to other devices and end users is Coca Cola. Its internet-connected “Freestyle” machines are becoming ubiquitous in theaters, hip burger restaurants and chains such as Burger King, tracking people’s preferences for drinks and predetermining restocking of machines without sending a truck first.  I used this “Internet of Sodas” recently and was offered the ability to try one of over 100 drink combinations at the single machine. In the process Coca-Cola has secured 16 million unique network identifiers from IEEE, which manages the “media access control address (MAC) registration” for these devices. MAC addresses, which are essentially virtual serial numbers, are imbedded in the physical devices as unique identifiers and are different from an IP address. While an IP address can change from coffee shop to airport lounge, the identifier of a MAC address for a device will never change even if the device moves from place to place.
 
Wearable technologies from the potential of Google’s Glass to the renewed watch craze that pits Pebble against Sony’s smart bands and Samsung’s smart gloves, among others, are just the tip of the iceberg for moving the Internet of Things from its machine-to-machine dominance to everyday applications that people will want and begin to expect. They inform, measure, motivate and even warn their end-users in everything that interests people in their everyday lives. Just as end-users have come to expect a wow-factor and sea-change in Apple’s every announcement of new innovations, so will citizens come to demand and expect these types of changes in everything that they do in their cities, from improved traffic patterns to conveniences in paying their utility bills as well as ensuring our safety and security.
 
There are many other examples:  
 
“The Internet of Cows”: digitally- tagged cows which are able to be continuously screened prior to milking for any diseases or other health issues that might taint the milk. They can also be directed to a secure area for medical assistance through these technologies. With sufficient data from these cows, researchers and veterinarians are able to undertake predictive medical treatments for them, avoiding issues before they start.
 
“The Internet of Schoolchildren”: all schoolchildren in Taipei are provided smartcards which can be used for transportation and other basic expenditures but which also send a text message to the parents that their child has entered or left their school. Through data gained over a long period of time and properly analyzed, administrators are able to determine well in advance the predictive behaviours of these children and undertake remedial measures to improve their attendance, ensure their safety and security and other measures.
 
“The Internet of Young Drivers”: one day your connected and automated “driverless” car in the garage will be accessed by your young driver only after certain criteria has been met, such as gaining your permission!
 

Leave a comment

Can You Build an Economy and Save a Life at the Same Time?

November 12, 2014 By Robert Bell

In the Intelligent Community of San Francisco (Smart21 of 2007), about 3,000 people work in high-tech manufacturing. The city may be obsessed by software these days, but advanced manufacturing generates about $1 billion in direct and indirect revenue for the local economy.

It also saved a man’s life.

His name is Marc Roth.  According to a wonderful article by Jason Shueh in GovTech, Marc was a successful entrepreneur in Las Vegas, where his patented touchscreen technology was used to process taxi fares.  Beginning in 2008, however, the financial crisis ran through Las Vegas like a river in flood and took the travel industry – his customers – with it. 

In 2010, Marc decided to repair his fortunes by moving to San Francisco.  He was sure of landing a good software engineering job earning six figures, and his wife and children would then be able to follow him there. 

Instead, he wound up living in his car.  Entrepreneurship turns out not always to be a good thing on a resume.  Potential employers believed that he would stick around only long enough to line up his next business opportunity.

He worked in a pizza restaurant until nerve damage from long hours on his feet made it impossible for him to do the job, or most other manual labor.  One day, his car was robbed and all his possessions stolen.  That night, in mental and emotional agony, he checked into a homeless shelter.  It felt like the end of the road and he contemplated suicide.  But day after day, he decided to put it off for one more sunrise.    

On one of those dark days, he found an advertising flyer in a trash can that offered a one-month membership at something called the TechShop.  Mark did not know it then but it is the hub of San Francisco’s Maker Movement, which supports community-driven manufacturing design and production. Marc’s flyer got him access to a facility with more than a million dollars in prototyping equipment. 

Marc took classes, mastered the equipment, and soon found himself being hired by young entrepreneurs to help with their prototype projects.  Then TechShop offered him a teaching position.  Months later, a friend, whom he had met at Techshop, paid for him to move into a “hacker hostel” for tech entrepreneurs.  Shortly afterward, an investor put money into SF Laser, a laser cutting and etching company that Roth had founded.  Eighteen months after he first checked into the homeless shelter, Marc was finally able to bring his family to San Francisco. 

Innovation is the lifeblood of the modern economy.  Intelligent Communities pursue innovation through a triangular relationship between business, government and such institutions as universities and hospitals.  (See our book Brain Gain for more.)  The Innovation Triangle helps keep the economic benefits of innovation local, and creates a culture that engages the entire community in positive change.  Maker spaces like TechShop often plan a vital part.

But sometimes, economic lifeblood turns out to be no different than the blood running through a man or woman’s veins.  Marc Roth owes his life to TechShop – and in gratitude, he founded a nonprofit called the Learning Shelter, which teaches trades to people as homeless as he once was. San Francisco has gained something even more valuable than another startup – a citizen determined to leave the city better than he found it. 


Leave a comment

Why the Next Wave of Automation May Replace Your Boss

October 13, 2014 By Robert Bell

Say what you like about McKinsey & Company, the global consulting firm.  Say that they get magnificently overpaid to offer sensible advice.  Say that they function all too often as a Band-Aid that CEOs and Boards of Directors slap onto their companies after they have gotten into terrible trouble.  

 
But the guys and gals at McKinsey can still think.  For their 50th anniversary, McKinsey published a special issue of their Quarterly magazine.  In it, they talk about the coming impact of smart machines on organizations – and offer a surprising take on an very old problem.
 
As we detail in our book, Brain Gain: How Innovative Cities Create Job Growth in an Age of Disruption, ever-smarter robots and software have a long history of replacing people at work.  It began in factories in the Industrial Age and continued in offices in the Information Age. Bosses keep doing the arithmetic.  When the cost of a machine that can do a person’s job falls low enough, buying the machine makes more sense than paying the salary.  It is this trend, taking place decade after decade, that has eroded a middle class built on low-skilled jobs and is making the creation of a knowledge-based workforce a matter of survival for communities in developed and developing nations.
 
McKinsey’s surprising prediction is that, in coming years, smart machines will invade the executive suite.  Much of the work of bosses, including that dismal arithmetic, will be automated. 
 
It’s already happening, according to the company. Google’s “human-performance analytics group” uses algorithms to decide which interview techniques are best at choosing good employees and what to pay them.  A venture capital firm in Hong Kong, with the hip name Deep Knowledge Ventures, has appointed an algorithm to its board of directors.  It gets a vote on what companies to invest in. 
 
What will be left for managers to do in this new wave of automation?  The things that human beings still excel at.  Andrew McAfee of MIT is quoted in the report as saying, “I’ve never seen a piece of technology that could negotiate effectively.  Or motivate and lead a team.”  Automation on the factory floor separated out the simple, repetitive tasks and assigned them to machines.  The same thing will happen to the simpler and more analytic tasks on the boss’s desk.
 
So, all those workers who have lost jobs to automation can raise their glasses to the new class of smart machines that are giving them some payback at last. 
 
Managers who want to keep their jobs will have to rethink how they add value to the organization, while communities will need to take their work on increasing the skills of the workforce to a whole new level. 
 
But in the end, we may all benefit from smarter machines in the executive suite – if it leads to smarter, more informed, less political decision-making at the top.

Leave a comment

Winnipeg, Canada: Pursuing Economic Growth Through Innovation and Collaborationnt Community at the Epicenter

September 17, 2014 By John Jung

It is well known that Winnipeg is at the epicenter of North America’s geography. Even its Centerport concept, a major inland multi-modal logistic initiative places itself smack dab in the center of North America. Nobody can claim that better than Winnipeg. As self-described by Winnipeggers, it is also a physically isolated city in the cold weather climate of Canada that has produced an interesting and unique culture that celebrates its diversity as well as its isolation. Some would say that this is the reason for its locally collaborative and internationally competitive “can-do” attitude. It is the capital of a province rich in agricultural and natural resources and has advanced infrastructure, including access to broadband and Wi-Fi mesh that a large city of its size would be expected to have. But as the largest and main city in Manitoba, Winnipeg seems to be much bigger than its 800,000 population would suggest. It actively pursues economic growth through innovation and collaborative industry, government and education partnerships.

 

For instance, Winnipeg has formed partnerships linking employers such as Canadian Tire to the University of Winnipeg and other public-private groups to improve and leverage its supply of young, skilled employees. Through these partnerships it also attempts to better equip its large and growing aboriginal population for opportunities to prosper. One of these public-private R&D partnerships, the Composite Innovation Centre (CIC) has developed high-performance composites based on agricultural materials such as hemp and flax, which reduces costs for major employers like Boeing and Magellan Aerospace. Through CIC’s success, a national consortium, Canadian Composites Manufacturing R&D was created to conduct pre-competitive R&D for multiple companies and training programs channeling new talent for these partnerships. 

From a knowledge creation and innovation perspective, Sisler High School’s Digital Voices Project promotes traditional storytelling as a vital part of its aboriginal culture, while providing students with digital media skills training. The Wii Chiiwaakanak Learning Centre provides aboriginals and immigrants’ access to computers and training while the Winnipeg Library and private sector programs similarly provide access to technologies and training. The First Nations also benefit from the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) headquarters in Winnipeg. It is the first national aboriginal TV network and its social media offshoot, APTN Digital Drum, allows aboriginal youth to express their cultural identity and connect with each other. Winnipeg is also home to North America’s oldest ballet company, famous musicians and a vibrant center for the arts and culture movement, molded through its isolation and pioneer spirit.

So does its isolation help in creating Winnipeg’s “can-do” attitude? Certainly it reflects its focus on being ambitious and successful, despite its location “in the middle of nowhere”. It also gives it a unique position to be bold and seek its position globally as a city to be reckoned with.

I had an opportunity to visit Winnipeg earlier this year as part of the ICF Top 7 Intelligent Communities Site Visits. I was given first-hand exposure at this can-do attitude, from the exciting maker spaces for its new entrepreneurs to the wonderful cultural facilities of the First Nations. But nothing that I have seen in several years can compare to the audacious and controversial Canadian Museum for Human Rights, which will open its doors in Winnipeg on September 19, 2014.  This awe-inspiring complex looms over this Intelligent Community like a cultural temple. This $351-million museum is massive in size (2230 square meters) and has been compared to the Guggenheim Spain in Bilbao for its potential impact on the city’s tourism industry and its global brand. I would agree. It clearly is humbling as you enter the building from below and rise to a crescendo into the bowls of the building with its airy interior and sculpted spire.

As ICF’s theme for 2014 was Community as Canvas, it was most appropriate to visit Canada’s first national museum to be built since 1967 in Winnipeg. As national museums go, they usually are located in a country’s capital or largest cities, yet here it was – the first national museum to be established outside the Ottawa region. The purpose of the museum is also quite inspiring. It is the only museum in the world devoted to engaging visitors in the topic of human rights as an issue and aspiration, as opposed to focusing on a specific event, movement or victims.

Designed by architect Antoine Predock, my hosts refer to its design as a reflection of the prairies and the mountains of this nation, its reach to the clouds and its important position on this historic site on First Nations treaty land. The interior is open and bright with exhibitions developed by some of the world’s top museum designers, such as Ralph Appelbaum who designed the Washington D.C. Holocaust Memorial Museum. The Canadian Human Rights Museum also created new ways to design, bid and construct the complex through collaborative technologies. The extreme geometric complexity made virtual design and collaborative construction techniques necessary. High speed broadband capabilities, evolving technology and global collaboration became essential for detailed pre-planning and visualization of its complex construction.The project team overcame logistical challenges through real-time collaboration linking Winnipeg with Toronto, New York and even Mongolia, reducing travel time and costs and benefitting from expedited decision-making. The use of advanced technology and design concepts will also help to enhance the art of storytelling when the Museum opens this week, with the goal of leading to a better future. The Museum focuses on key topics such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and aboriginal concepts of humanity. The latter is showcased in a unique circular theatre with a 360-degree film. According to Martin Knelman at the Toronto Star: “Winnipeg needed a game changer and this museum could transform the prairie city into one of Canada’s unmissable destinations”. I agree that this complex could become a game-changer for Winnipeg, but Winnipeg’s “can-do” attitude will always be at the epicenter of its game. 

 


Leave a comment

When is it Fair to Deny Broadband to a Neighborhood?

September 9, 2014 By Robert Bell

Americans in Kansas City, Missouri and Kansas City, Kansas are now using broadband at the kind of speeds once enjoyed only by South Koreans, Japanese, Hongkongers and, believe it or not, Latvians.  As customers of Google Fiber, they can buy gigabit services delivering 1,000 Mbps service.  That is 100 times the average American broadband speed reported by Akamai in April 2014. 

By leapfrogging to gigabit speeds, Google is upending the competitive broadband market in the US. It has lots of help from dozens of municipal networks in places like Chattanooga (TN), Danville (VA), Springfield (MO) and Santa Monica (CA).  It’s about time, some would say.  But the really intriguing part of the Google Fiber story is not its speed – it’s the way it is being deployed.  
 
According to a story in the Wall Street Journal, the deal that Google strikes with its Fiber Cities has a unique clause: it specifically exempts the company from offering universal service.  Instead, Google divides the service area into “fiberhoods” of a few hundred homes and asks residents to pay $10 to preregister for service.  If interest exceeds a threshold, from 5-25% of households, Google rolls trucks and fibers up the fiberhood. If not, the trucks say in the garage.
 
The flexibility to build where it chooses, plus more efficient and cheaper technologies, has let Google deploy service for about 20% less than Verizon’s competing FIOS deployment.  Lower upfront costs translate into lower business risk, higher profits and more coverage.  Gigabit service costs US$70 per month in Google’s Kansas City fiberhoods, compared with $120-150 per month in AT&T’s Dallas-Fort Worth system.  
 
According to the company, Google conducted preregistration in 364 fiberhoods in the two Kansas Cities and all but 16 of them met the threshold.  But, not surprisingly, participation varies by income. According to a survey by brokerage firm Bernstein Research, 83% of households in a neighborhood with median household income of $116,000 signed up.  In another neighborhood, with media income of $24,000, only 27% subscribe. 
 
So here’s a question: is Google playing fair?  Is Google’s approach just a means for the company to cherry-pick the most profitable customers – or is it a refreshingly new strategy to get ultrafast broadband into the market faster? 
 
Each of us will have an answer.  Here’s mine: I think it is a refreshingly new strategy.  Because anything that lowers upfront costs tends to lead to lower prices, higher profits and – most important of all – more coverage. 
 
Google’s approach also puts the onus of universal service where it properly belongs: on government as representative of the people.  I find that refreshing.  Is it not a bizarre logic to require companies to take on money-losing customers as a condition of entering a business?  In return for that condition, companies have historically demanded and won monopoly control of the market.  And we all know how well monopolies and even duopolies work out for their customers. Encouraging monopoly markets to form is a bit like doing a deal with the devil.  It gets you want you want – but at a higher price than you think.
 
If we believe in universal service, then it is the obligation of the public sector to pay for it.  And it is better in the long run to pay for it transparently: through subsidies, through incentives that further reduce the risk of deployment for private carriers, and in some cases by constructing networks and leasing capacity to carriers. 
 
Google’s move is hardly the last word, nor the only way to get more and cheaper broadband coverage.  But isn’t it the kind of innovation that deserves fair consideration?  Let me know what you think by posting a comment to my discussion on LinkedIn’s ICF Group

Leave a comment

Featured Papers

Intelligent Communities

About the Intelligent Community Forum
The Intelligent Community Forum is a think tank that studies the economic and social development of the 21st Century community. Whether in industrialized or developing nations, communities are challenged to create prosperity, stability and cultural meaning in a world where jobs, investment and knowledge increasingly depend on advances in communications. For the 21st Century community, connectivity is a double-edge sword: threatening established ways of life on the one hand, and offering powerful new tools to build prosperous, inclusive and sustainable economies on the other. ICF seeks to share the best practices of the world's Intelligent Communities in adapting to the demands of the Broadband Economy, in order to help communities everywhere find sustainable renewal and growth. More information can be found at www.intelligentcommunity.org.

Robert Bell
Robert Bell is co-founder of the Intelligent Community Forum, where he heads its research and content development activities. He is the author of ICF's pioneering study, Benchmarking the Intelligent Community, the annual Top Seven Intelligent Communities of the Year white papers and other research reports issued by the Forum, and of Broadband Economies: Creating the Community of the 21st Century. Mr. Bell has also authored articles in The Municipal Journal of Telecommunications Policy, IEDC Journal, Telecommunications, Asia-Pacific Satellite and Asian Communications; and has appeared in segments of ABC World News and The Discovery Channel. A frequent keynote speaker and moderator at municipal and telecom industry events, he has also led economic development missions and study tours to cities in Asia and the US.

John Jung
ICF co-founder John G. Jung originated the Intelligent Community concept and continues to serve as the Forum's leading visionary. Formerly President and CEO of the Greater Toronto Marketing Alliance and Calgary Economic Development Authority, he is a registered professional urban planner, urban designer and economic developer. He leads regular international business missions to US, European, Asian, Indian and Australian cities, and originated the ICF Immersion Lab program. John is a regular speaker at universities and conferences and serves as an advisor to regional and national leaders on Intelligent Community development. The author of numerous articles in planning and economic development journals, he has received global and Toronto-based awards for his work in collaboration and strategic development and sits on numerous task forces and international advisory boards.

Louis Zacharilla
ICF co-founder Louis Zacharilla is the creator and presenter of the annual Smart21, Top Seven and Intelligent Community Awards and oversees ICF's media communications and development programs. He is a frequent keynote and motivational speaker and panelist, addressing audiences of tech, academic and community leaders around the world, and writes extensively for publications including American City & County, Continental Airline's in-flight magazine and Municipal World. His frequent appearances in the electronic media have included both television and radio in South Korea, China and Canada. He has served as an adjunct professor at Fordham University in New York and is a Guest Lecturer at Polytechnic University's Distinguished Speaker Series. He holds a Masters Degree from the University of Notre Dame.