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.
Twenty three years ago I arrived with a backpack and my best friend. Last week I went back. The city was as welcoming this time as it was the last, although the circumstances of my visit – and certainly my accommodations – were vastly different.
Pamplona is a city of about 200,000 inhabitants in Navarra, in the North of Spain. It is best known for the running of the bulls or, as it is known locally, the Festival of San Fermin, which many of us were first introduced to in Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises.
The bulls were not what brought me to the region this time (although they were the principal reason for my first visit). Last week I participated in e-NATECH, a tech industry forum organized by ATANA, an association of local ICT companies in Navarra. From what I saw in both the audience and across the city, Pamplona is clearly a front-runner in terms of ICT (and bulls as I recall from my first visit).
In my last blog, I discussed the 3-1-1 initiative, which was in many cases the instigator for creating citizen services portals and a channel not only for delivering services but also for registering requests and complaints as feedback into the system. However, the interaction doesn’t stop there. Not only are cities soliciting feedback on citizen services, cities and other public agencies are now also providing data and APIs to enable citizen-developers to create applications themselves – bringing even the creation of citizen services directly to the citizens themselves.
As I’ve been researching my upcoming report on smart city governance, the topic of integrated customer call centers keeps cropping up. What is 3-1-1, and what does it mean for city governance?
In the US, the telephone number 3-1-1 was reserved by the FCC for non-emergency calls in 2003, and cities and counties across the country have since implemented comprehensive call centers to facilitate the delivery of information and services, as well as encourage feedback from citizens. Access has since extended beyond just the phone to include access through government websites, mobile phones, and even social media tools such as Twitter or applications such as SeeClickFix or Hey Gov.
As a means of background, 3-1-1 services are generally implemented at the local level – primarily at the city or county level – with examples of calls including requests for:
“Winning the Future” was the theme of the recent US State of the Union address. With the global economy and new education performance rankings as our “sputnik moment,” the president urged Congress to invest in the future – and in education. As put it in the speech,
Maintaining our leadership in research and technology is crucial to America’s success. But if we want to win the future -– if we want innovation to produce jobs in America and not overseas -– then we also have to win the race to educate our kids.
So what exactly was the sputnik moment, or one of them? In the recently released OECD Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) rankings, the US didn’t do so well. US students were average performers in reading (rank 14 in OECD) and science (rank 17) but well the below the OECD average in mathematics (rank 25). The new top fliers in the PISA study are: Shanghai, Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, Finland, Canada, Japan and New Zealand.
According to the OECD report,
Education is the single most critical investment to raise the long-run growth potential of countries. In the global economy, the performance of education systems is the yardstick for success, particularly in light of the fundamental technological and demographic challenges that are re-shaping our economies.
Education has been top of mind for me lately with my upcoming report scheduled to launch this week (stay tuned). So, as I looked through the notes and quotes from the meeting I was heartened to see that education was top of mind there as well. Education and education reform certainly peppered the program, part of sessions on everything from new realities and inclusive growth, to women and society, national innovation, the net generation, cancer, regional development, cloud economics , entrepreneurship, competitiveness, and the ageing workforce.
Some of the questions addressed – and to which education and investment in education in particular was often a solution – included:
If structural change is a new reality, then what major adjustments should leaders prepare for, and how?
How can educating and empowering girls and women impact the acute challenges facing the world?
How are national innovation systems created and maintained?
In the digital era, how is the "net generation" workforce reshaping the future of business?
What innovations, if scaled or replicated, would enable the Middle East to achieve its geopolitical, economic and social aspirations for the future?
The public sector is certainly hot these days – definitely in the hot seat, in hot water. Concerns about public sector finance persist, with the discussion in some cases targeting specific causes beyond just vague notions of overspending. The Economist recently came down pretty hard on public sector unions.
However, for some tech vendors, the public sector really is hot – as in a hot opportunity. Despite revised earnings and warnings about public sector forecasts by some tech vendors, others are instead optimistic. Steria, a French IT services company, is not too concerned about the lingering malaise of the public sector, although it has not been immune to the crisis. A UK public sector spending moratorium in 2010 brought all projects of more than £1 million to a temporary halt, for review. Steria and other suppliers and service providers held their breath through much of the fall.
“School Bond Measure Fails” seems a common headline these days. In fact, a quick Google search found that school bond measures and tax levies have just this fall failed all over the US, notably in Santa Clara County, which was characterized as “tax friendly.” However, despite the hardships of raising money for schools, per-pupil spending continues to increase – having increased steadily from just over $500/pupil in 1919-20 to $11,674/pupil in 2006-07, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
One place that the expenditure has been going has been toward technology investments. The number of computers in public elementary and secondary schools has increased: in 2005, the average public school contained 154 instructional computers, compared with only 90 in 1998. More importantly, the percentage of instructional rooms with access to the Internet increased from 51 percent in 1998 to 94 percent in 2005.
Forrester’s Smart City Tweet Jam was a great success. On Tuesday morning/afternoon/evening, smart city followers around the globe participated in an hour of intense tweeting on smart cities. We touched on a range of issues from the definitions of a “city” and a “smart city” and the evolution toward the goal of becoming smart to the challenges city leaders face and the business models that enable adoption of technology-based solutions. We ended with a contrarian view that “smart cities” might just be a fade. But that was quickly refuted with reminders of the growing challenges faced by cities and the imperative of facing these challenges in a sustainable manner.
One hour, 62 Twitterers, and 389 tweets later we were exhausted – at least I was. But we were pleased to have aired and shared our opinions about the challenges, the potential solutions to those challenges, and the paths and business models that will make those solutions possible in the short-run, and hopefully sustainable in the longer term. Below are some excerpts from the conversation. But there were many interesting points of view and contributions to the discussion. I've included here a visual representation of the key words and topics discussed during the Tweet Jam, created using ManyEyes. For the more stats and the full transcript, check out #smartcityjam.