. . . Nor has it ever really been. Government data has long been a part of strategic business analysis. Census data provides insights into local standards of living and household budgets, health needs, education levels, and other factors that influence buying patterns for all kinds of goods and services. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics and the International Labour Organization provide data on employment and the availability of skilled labor that helps inform decisions on where to locate manufacturing or other facilities. The World Bank and UN data provides insights into global trends.
Moreover, the release of government data has itself spurred billion-dollar industries. Think weather data released in the 1970s by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – which gave birth to the weather industry and services like Accuweather, weather.com, wunderground, and newer services like ikitesurf.com’s “wind and where.” Data from the US Global Positioning System (GPS) was opened to civilian and commercial use in the 1980s and has given rise to thousands of location-based services. Think FourSquare, Yelp, and Where’s The Bus?
For some reason public safety has been a hot topic for me of late. I recently presented at ZTE’s Public Safety Summit in Dubai, where there was an audience of public safety officials and telecommunications ministry representatives from the Middle East and Africa. One element of the presentation that sparked interest and audience questions was citizen engagement.
We often think of public safety in terms of emergency services – police, fire, and ambulance; and, for many people, public safety first conjures up images of the police chasing bad guys – likely the effect of too many TV shows like Cops or Southland. But as I defined it in a previous blog, public safety covers a broad range of issues that touch a city’s inhabitants: crime prevention, traffic control, health services, public infrastructure management, and any of a list of emergency services including those for natural disasters such as earthquakes and flooding or incidents like urban wildlife sightings as well as fire or riots.
In order to better act as the eyes and ears of the city – particularly given the mandate of doing more with less – many public safety organizations are returning to a kind of community policing – through better engagement with citizens. This isn’t a new concept.
I attended a Xerox analyst event last week in Grenoble, France, and was very impressed with both the setting and what I heard. Xerox is much more than the verb it was once associated with, and office workers no longer set off to get something “xeroxed.” As the CEO said in a recent interview, the younger generation doesn’t know Xerox as a verb. I mentioned having read this to a fellow analyst at lunch the first day of the event, and she looked at me quizzically. She didn’t know what it meant to “xerox” something. Indeed, there is hope for Xerox to recast itself as much more than a copier. However, there remains work to be done.
Today I attended a conference for Russian entrepreneurs organized by Digital October. I’m going to digress a moment and describe the location which for a Moscow veteran is one of the coolest places I’ve seen in new Russia. Digital October has taken over part of the old Red October Confectionary Factory, a red brick factory on the banks of the river on the outside with a state-of-the-art, loft-like business space on the inside. The building has a view of the Kremlin and of the new church built on the other side of the river (where the world largest outdoor swimming pool used to be for those of us who knew Moscow before the church reconstruction).
Today's Digital October event, “The Art of Going Global,” brought together startup founders, VCs and entrepreneurs to discuss how to expand globally, including global marketing and PR, and getting funding from global VCs.
During the VC panel, Alisa Chumachenko, Founder and CEO of Game Insight, and one of the entrepreneurs in the audience, really grilled the panelists asking them to name their top geographical markets, top horizontal markets and top vertical markets. Some responses were not surprising. Others were.
The word is that promise of sCommerce (social commerce) and fCommerce (Facebook commerce) is more speculative than proven. What about the role of social media in government and governance? Mayors, other city leaders, and local organizations increasingly communicate and interact with their constituents via social media.
The promise of new citizen-centric government services enabled by social and mobile technologies and often access to government data is fast becoming reality — and has changed the way in which government organizations and their constituents engage.
Open 311 initiatives have spread across the US, and the equivalent non-emergency access initiatives have gained traction in other geographies as well. However, citizen engagement is not just about potholes and power outages; it is increasingly about the long tail of needs and interests. Public access to data and the ease of application development have facilitated the development of new applications and services. As a result, specific groups, however large or small, can develop an application to serve their purposes. Or applications can be developed for a specific project and may only be used for a couple of months, or may only be used by a niche audience.
I have had several lively conversations this week with vendors working to enable open data and new tools for constituent engagement. As an example, ESRI brings maps and the value of GIS to this explosion of citizen services. People like to visualize things, and seeing data represented on a map helps identify patterns and create a context for the data. That makes it easier to understand and easier to act on. ESRI and their partners have worked with a wide range of government organizations on creative ways to engage constituents — both citizens and businesses.
Several months ago I hosted a roundtable discussion with public-sector CIOs from multiple Singapore government agencies. We focused specifically on social computing — how it will alter the way public-sector agencies interact with constituents and each other. While the focus was on Singapore, the key takeaways are universal, hence my interest in sharing the findings here.
In the midst of discussing the usual suspects — concerns about security, privacy, risk management, audit, and compliance — we came to a consensus on some key points:
Clearly identify what services or information constituents actually want, not what the agency wants to deliver. A poorly implemented social computing app risks becoming a glorified suggestion box, or worse — “next-generation knowledge management.” In other words, a costly solution looking for a problem. Focus instead on how to actively engage users — using advanced analytics and business intelligence (BI) to deliver value. In some cases, it is as simple as asking instead of assuming.
Combining formal and informal data will be a major challenge.The more effective agencies are at encouraging voluntary, “opt-in” style usage, the more challenging it will be to segregate user-provided information and data from more formal, agency-provided data that must be rigorously maintained and secured. Take this information “sourcing” issue into account when documenting data management policies.
Smart cities come in all shapes and sizes. There is not one definition of smart. Think about the terms “street smart” and “book smart.” When I think about the initiatives or reforms that we’re seeing across cities, I’ve started categorizing them along these lines. New initiatives like sensor-based parking and traffic optimization fall into street smart, while streamlining of back office processes and applications tend to be more book smart. And as we know, it takes all kinds.
The hype of smart cities, however, has focused on the sexy new kid on the block. Everything sensor-based and “intelligent” has gotten top billing from vendors. However, many cities need to start cracking the books first.
Here are a few ways to start:
Rationalization of back office applications. Sprawling or at least siloed IT infrastructure and business apps can be upgraded and consolidated. Several CIOs I’ve spoken with have mentioned that this is a big challenge. Department heads don’t want to give up control over their domain, as they see it. Big cities find themselves with multiple enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems running across different departments in a city: Parks and Recreation licenses ERP from one vendor; Public Works subscribes to ERP services from another; Transportation manages their fleet with yet another.
We often hear of city comparisons. In my many years in Russia, I must have heard that St. Petersburg was the Venice of the North hundreds of times. Another is Paris. How many times have you heard “[Insert city] is the Paris of the [insert region]”? Actually, a quick search reveals that there are at least 11 cities that are “the Paris of the East.” Some are quite surprising:
Russian IT decision-makers are optimistic about their prospects for the next 12 months, according to Forrester’s Global Budgets And Priorities Tracker Survey, Q4 2010 – and, surprisingly, much more so than those in other countries -- 67% reported that their prospects are good versus only 52% in the US and 35% in the UK. On my recent trip to Moscow to deliver the keynote speech at Cloud Russia 2012, I looked for that optimism, and the root sources of it. There are certain obvious sources. The price of oil is high, and Russia is an oil exporter. The 2014 Winter Olympics are bringing significant investment to the region. But most importantly the political dialogue is focused on innovation and technology. That, in Russia, counts for a lot.
Given my own research agenda, I investigated the interest in public sector technology adoption and “smart city” initiatives. The answers were mixed. As elsewhere vendors are pushing solutions to improve transportation, energy efficiency and municipal administration. But many of those technology vendors did not share the optimism of the IT decision-makers for their own prospects in Russia. They did not see Russian cities as highly motivated, or incented, to get smart.