November 27, 2012 By John Jung
By Scot Rourke, CEO, OneCommunity and ICF's 2008 Visionary of the Year
It has been four years since I had the great honor of being recognized as the Intelligent Community Forum’s Visionary of the Year. When I received that award, ICF’s Robert Bell very kindly noted my rigorous and entrepreneurial approach to solving some of the industry’s most difficult challenges, and lauded my efforts to "share hard-fought lessons learned."
We at OneCommunity have been at it for about nine years. Starting with a volunteer label and some in-kind donations, our non-profit broadband network and programs to promote adoption have grown to more than $100MM in assets, with millions of annual recurring revenue to ensure our long-term sustainability. We cover a service territory consisting of 5 million people with a GDP of 170 billion USD. Our unique open-network strategy, in which we share our digital super highway with phone and cable companies, is also beginning to provide resources to sustain our ambitious programs aimed at accelerating the use of IT to benefit society. In fact, if you visit Cleveland, Ohio, there’s a good chance you’ll use our free WiFi at the airport or that your iPad or iPhone will be powered by us (and our partners).
So now that we've exceeded our aspirational goals from 2008, what's next? Well, we are focusing on ensuring that the community fully utilizes the network and seizes the opportunity to leverage it for competitive advantage. For example, we’ve just launched a new “Smart Region” task force consisting of top public- and private-sector leaders. Our aim is to start learning, informing, and aligning regional planning efforts and investments to leverage this important new capability. We are aided by the fact that we have fiber already connecting thousands of our public-interest sites. Now we are looking at ways to catalyze plans for collaboration, sharing of systems, coordinating resources for new efficiencies and prompting innovation.
In my Visionary address in 2008, I made three key suggestions for my vision on how to best leverage technology to improve a community’s competitiveness. As I look back at them, I’m pleased to say that I’ve validated those points but want to enrich them with subsequent “lessons learned.”
First, the starting point needs to be a strong vision that illustrates an exciting end-state of what the avid use of technology could help produce. Be sure to highlight your unique assets and emphasize the future role you’ll play in the global economy. Try to hide the technology, and instead weave your top stakeholders’ proper names right into the vision of what could be, as your real goal is to use this as a tool to inspire and mobilize local leaders. Ultimately it’s best when the examples go all the way down to how it impacts John Q. Public’s life.
My second suggestion is to look at your community holistically as a regional system. Examine your assets and competencies, and the areas where you may fall short. It doesn’t matter who owns or controls them, or whether they’re public or private. It's not as if organizations like to be standing in the wrong place. You just need to coalesce on a bigger picture, and start moving your group toward some shared targeted outcomes.
For example, many digital-inclusion efforts focus on a single challenge and don't link community solutions together. Simply addressing broadband access or affordability barely scratches the surface of the real issues. True transformation only happens when you simultaneously align high-speed access with user devices, the skills to use them, and meaningful applications that drive positive outcomes and recurring use. Today's top social and economic issues are complex, and it will take a collective of top stakeholders at various levels, public and private, with shared measurable targets to start solving some of these pressing challenges.
For example, when we won one of the largest federal grants ever made for digital inclusion, we did not just plow into it by making our organization a large trainer. Instead, we partnered with the region's best training organizations and shared 80 percent of the grant to build their capacities. Together we developed numerous different computing solutions, affordable access options, and continuously shared best practices. As a result, we have exceeded our quantitative and even qualitative goals, having trained and equipped more than 30,000 low-income households on how to use the Internet for better jobs and quality of life. These new regional skills-development competencies and capacities are certain to far outlast our initial grant period.
The third critical element as you develop your customized approach is the realization that this is not a technology project at all, but rather a large change-management project. I have always looked at tech-led transformation as a pyramid where you have to align people, process and technology. It’s this alignment that drives the targeted outcomes we all seek. And I believe technology has matured to a point where the emphasis needs to be on the people part, especially early on in the journey.
So that’s the approach. In my next Visionary Voices blog post, we will share our “secret sauce”: the critical success factors that mark the ultimate difference between triumph and failure. In the meantime, I wish you the best of luck on this ambitious journey and hope you too will share your lessons learned along the way.
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 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.
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.
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.
All over the country, community leaders are looking to boost economic development through various initiatives. One key element in many of those initiatives is the use of information technology. When local governments build IT infrastructure, create e-government applications, assist high-tech startups or otherwise focus on technology, they create conditions that draw businesses to their communities and help retain skilled workers. This paper discusses and provides examples of these various ways local government can use technology to ultimately make a community more attractive to businesses, visitors and residents.