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.
October 13, 2014
By Robert Bell
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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.
September 17, 2014
By John Jung
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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.
September 9, 2014
By Robert Bell
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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
August 28, 2014
By John Jung
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Urban transportation and efficient logistics is at the heart of a vital and thriving metropolitan area. However, unbridled growth can result in congestion, pollution and undesirable daily stress which can evolve into impoverished environments leading to inefficiencies, unproductive land-uses and a diminished quality of life for its citizens. Solving the mobility challenges of moving people, goods and services is one of the most pressing issues in modern and growing cities around the world.
Trade is inextricably linked to transport. Trading goods and services and its related transport is one of the oldest of human activities. Mobility challenges impacting trade and thereby potentially impacting the attraction and retention of investment and talent can seriously undermine the sustainability of the city and region from an environmental, fiscal and social perspective. By undertaking smart technologies to manage urban assets such as roads, traffic lights and related transportation systems, it may be possible to improve efficiencies, increase transport productivity and harness enhanced mobility options. The side benefits of this may also include cost savings, improved safety and enhanced customer service.
International examples of smart transportation-related technologies include coordinated traffic management control systems such as developed in Tokyo, Barcelona and Rio de Janeiro; managed goods mobility and separated road systems in the USA; vehicle-to-vehicle and community-to-vehicle communications; independent transport guidance systems; as well as GIS-based information systems for improved congestion prediction techniques. However broadband-based smart technologies used to monitor and measure data and support GIS-related systems are not a revolution. They have been around for decades; but they are getting better, faster and more affordable. Companies like IBM, Siemens and Cisco are assisting municipalities with their asset management and monitoring transportation movement. Through analyzing the big data derived from monitoring systems, cities are able to make informed decisions to improve efficiencies as well as identify ways of saving municipalities considerable resources to manage traffic flows, pollution and unnecessary alteration to roadways and related land-uses.
These improvements may make a city’s budget chief and his asset manager very happy, but most of the city’s citizens may not be aware of any of these changes. But imagine an advanced mobility and logistics ecosystem that not only manages traffic flows, congestion and related municipal assets, but adds to the overall quality of life through engaging people in every aspect of city life. The Intelligent Community movement encourages communities to look at their approach to the evolution of their cities from a more holistic perspective. Urban and regional infrastructure, such as roads, rail, seaports, airports and now ultra-high speed broadband are vital elements to a modern, thriving community. However, ICF also advocates the need for communities to build in a better understanding of the impact of the Internet of Things, encouraging an inclusive and highly collaborative environment promoting innovation and creativity and employment of education capabilities needed to create the talent related to advanced mobility and logistics. Within an environment promoting mobility related education and innovation, comes research. For instance, Cisco, Google and BMW are experimenting with the driverless vehicle. These are vehicles that are essentially computers with long lasting lithium batteries on wheels that will transport people and products without the need for drivers.
Other examples include driverless buses in Eindhoven in the Netherlands; the research advances of mobility experiments in California and the work of WatCAR, the University of Waterloo Centre for Automotive Research in Canada. Other forms of movement from rail-based High Speed Rail systems and Light Rapid Transit (LRT) to Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), elevated Monorails and strategic city based Shuttle Services, such as airport and industrial park shuttle services are making impacts in communities throughout the world. Some of these systems are being touted as essential to attract and retain talent, as well as investment in their cities. Restricted Transport use lanes and High-Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes on highways are also advocated. City and region-wide bike paths are increasingly becoming part of a community’s toolkit of mobility options. Cities that have rivers and lakes are blessed with the opportunities to use ferry systems as part of their movement nomenclature. Cities are also moving people with moving sidewalks, elevated pedwalks and unique pedestrian linkages as part of bridge systems. In addition to these, cities are expanding sidewalks, developing tourist –oriented walking trails with GIS supported information displays, music systems and other cultural attractions.
Human evolution and the growth of our towns, villages and cities follow closely the evolution of trade. Trade developed the cities of Europe, Asia and the Americas. Furs traded in the northern regions of Canada and the United States along converging waterways created settlements which today have become major trading centers such as Minneapolis, Winnipeg and Toronto. Railways opened the west and created hubs such as Chicago for grain and livestock. Roads expanded our cities into the outer reaches of our regions and our seaports and airports connected our citizens and shipped our traded goods around the world. But transport needs to be considered beyond road, rail, ferries and even airports.
Mobility in our communities should not simply be dependent on physical improvements to vehicles, roadways and rail systems, thereby potentially limiting the economy, talent and ultimately the relevance of some cities on this planet. Accordingly, new methods of transporting products and services in a knowledge economy must also be considered. Today, with the provision of satellite technologies and undersea cables, our goods and services have expanded to include data, video expression, games and ideas. Digital media applications, virtual businesses and advanced systems with new disruptive technologies, such as additive manufacturing (3D printing) will depend on use and application of high speed broadband, shifts in planning of global supply chains as well also on education to create the talent for these new disruptive and highly innovative businesses. In addition to available infrastructure, cities will also depend on the support of its citizenry and local leadership to help create and nurture its innovative ecosystem to help it to become a vibrant, competitive and sustainable region. Consequently, the future of Intelligent Communities depend on their ability to resolve their mobility challenges - from roads linking the center of these cities with its suburbs and hinterlands to ultra-high-speed broadband access linking them with the rest of the world.
Intelligent Communities harness intelligent infrastructure, including provision of robust high-speed broadband with its local talent to innovate and create new products and services. These highly innovative and creative communities are providing great opportunities for new wealth creation, such as in Tokyo, Berlin, London, San Francisco and New York where digital and advanced ICT-enabled industries cluster. Many of these cities are creating new products and services through the convergence of talent from around the world and are now distributing them virtually over broadband networks. Intelligent Communities are cities where everyone is encouraged to participate and benefit from its innovation ecosystem. Through excellent public policies, advocacy and good governance, these cities also exude confidence and stability that helps to attract the investment and talent to continuously improve the environment and ecosystem that makes these cities successful Intelligent Communities.
ICF’s theme this year: The Revolutionary Community: How Intelligent Communities are Reinventing Urban and Rural Planning will be looking at all aspects of planning and development, including mobility challenges and success stories. Watch for more blogs on these and other topics that will help in raising awareness about the importance of properly planning for and developing your community as we prepare our cities, regions and rural areas to meet the needs of the coming transformative decades ahead.
July 25, 2014
By Louis Zacharilla
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Along with the successful economic migrations from poor to lower middle class in large swaths of the world, the rich really are getting richer. Many are getting rich because of the way knowledge is being “discovered,” deployed and productized. While most of the world still waits for access, the Digital Divide has moved on. A line is now being drawn between those with access and those who can interpret and understand information once connected. These people know how to put it into play economically. They have moved from the classroom to the canvas. They make raw material purposeful, and create a ladder for some as their work pulls it away from others. Most of the consequences are unintended, but all impact the community.
In the June 22nd issue of the New York Times there were two stories, a few column inches apart, that reaffirmed the gap between those with access and those who understand the power of access to thrive. I do not know if it was the editor’s decision to lay the story out this way, but the contrast was apparent. In one story, an Arizona (USA) woman making $10 per hour (when she could find work) was jailed upon getting into her car after an interview with an insurance company. If Shanesha Taylor had gotten that job (and she was confident that the interview had gone well), it would have given her real wages, health insurance coverage for her two children and dignity. The two kids were in the car because she could not afford day care and chose to take them along while she had her interview. The law reasoned that this was endangerment. Not unreasonable in Scottsdale, Arizona, where the car temperature was estimated at 103 degrees (F.) But people did not forget that this was a story about the Divide too. Through the Internet, money was raised for her defense and the media’s light found its way to Arizona. A settlement was reached a few days ago. She will not do jail time.
A few clicks below her story there was one profiling Yahoo Food and its marketing team. Their challenge was a bit different: they needed to decide whether to lure eyeballs to their site with a story about the history of foods from the ancient Silk Trail, or whether to publish a guide to cheese fries and other snacks that go well with ranch dressing. Decisions, decisions! Yahoo Food, whose sutra of wisdom includes “Treat Meat as a Condiment,” is an example of what we call the “lovely jobs,” in our new book, Brain Gain.
While we, the information rich, may be confident that our work is the equivalent of a divine endowment and will be rewarded, no matter how insipid, those stuck on the ladder trying desperately to use knowledge to find a job or to become more educated are not guaranteed success. Google CEO Eric Schmidt is “very worried” about this. His data suggests that the problem is getting worse. “If you look at the most recent studies of American economic growth, 99 percent of the people saw essentially no economic improvement over the last decade,” he wrote in his new book The New Digital Age.
What he didn’t say is that even among those of us in the 1% - including his company - yet another divide has formed. This is the dissatisfaction with knowledge work, or at least with “technology’s” impositions within it. Our mental health, psyches and purpose as individuals seem to be casualties of a crisis of the soul. It is a new inner conflict. Among even successful knowledge workers, the thinning of psychic reward is driving us toward burnout. We are grateful to be knowledge workers, of course, but too tired to give thanks! Tony Schwartz, whose Energy Project studies levels of satisfaction and sustainable engagement in the workplace, reported that only 30% of Americans feel engaged with their work. Globally, that number is a mere 13% Most people simply feel “overwhelmed.” In a study of 12,000 workers worldwide, 66% said that were absolutely unable to focus on one thing at a time at work – or probably anywhere else. The percentages of those feeling a sense of belonging, of connectedness to a community and a sense of overall satisfaction is low. Burnout has reached all the way to the CEO’s office.
What are we to make of the new wake-up calls? One is the impact on our communities.
I have been writing for years that communities were out of energy and out of balance until the concept of the Intelligent Community movement came along to raise the red flag. The Energy Project’s data confirms this. Even the foodies at Yahoo are too tired to produce much social capital when they get home after 16 hours on the job. And Ms. Taylor? Well, she needs to find a way to support her two children. Both suffer psychic fatigue.
While waves of middle classes continue to rise and thrive outside the borders of the mighty USA, the smiles on their faces as they shop their way through new stores and crank away in their comfortable cubicles, may fade. Their nations are catching up economically and technologically, and that is good. They are reaping the benefits from their parents’ generation. But what is next?
What we need to observe and to plan for in cities and communities is the creation of wealth that is sustainable because it comes with tools to use knowledge effectively in the next iteration of the economy. This includes ways to enable a deeper, more meaningful engagement at work, on the Internet and with our local governments and institutions. Oh yes, and with ourselves.