Smart Thinking: thought leaders showing signs of convergence

27 Jun

History is littered with examples of folks letting go of things they hadn’t fully grasped.

Idea When the penny finally drops they find themselves trailing way behind those who were a bit quicker on the uptake – or in common parlance those who ‘got it’.  Their prompt perception gains them the accolade of Thought Leadership.

 

The difference between a leader and a follower is that they didn’t just ‘get it’.  They picked up the ball and ran with it – which is why several hundred of us flocked to Toronto this month to listen to the experiences of what are reckoned to be the world’s most ‘Intelligent Communities’.

 Intelligent Communities?

The question of definition, hangs in the air.  Take this year’s winner. What’s so special about Columbus Ohio? Why so much more deserving of this accolade than, say, Ipswich Australia, New Taipei City, Taiwan or Mitchell, South Dakota?

The Intelligent Community Forum (ICF) has been honing its analytics for eight years – a good deal longer than most of us have been thinking about smart cities. While the applause in Toronto was echoing around the globe, other smart thinkers were beginning to come to the same sort of conclusions.  It’s not so much to do with the technology as what folks choose to do with it – and what these Intelligent Communities have done is to radically transform their local economies and the lifestyles of their citizens.

In nearly all cases FTTx is the foundation on which these enterprising leaders have developed programmes that:

  • deliver digital inclusion,
  • boost the capacity for innovation,
  • ensure that expertise is available for new ventures, and
  • exploit those positions through advocacy that brings new investment and jobs to their communities.

Below those top-level drivers there are many sub-themes but very little of the old sector approach that dominates in conventional silo-bound economies. The ICF thought leaders embrace ‘Open Data’, seek a ‘Resilience Dividend’, welcome the ‘Sharing Economy’ and invest in ‘Municipal Enterprise’.

Those who come to a Smart City agenda from the technology market perspectives of, say, an Internet of Things or ‘Smart Meters’ or a renewed Maker Economy’ are, if we read the signs correctly, gradually converging around the ICF notion that the higher purpose is economic and social well-being.

Professor Erik Brynjolfsson of MIT – evidence-led thought leader for sure – put his name to an ‘Open Letter on the Digital Economy’ this month urging policy influencers to ‘get it’.  Here in the UK it was duly feted as ‘Wow! Vital Reading!’ – an evangelisation that reveals the astonishing need for management education even within the ICT industry.

Common sense is clearly not so common. Anyone reading stories to children will appreciate the value of repetition. It’s a long haul but someone’s got to do it and Erik’s just the sort of chap that lots of industry folks will listen to again and again.

Even the UK’s Nesta produced a report last week that to some extent put smart city technology back in its box whilst trying to explain that people are not peripherals.

To paraphrase Chief Executive Geoff Mulgan, “Over the last two decades the label ‘smart city’ has been applied to a family of technologies that can speed up the flow of things around the city and reduce the physical frustrations of urban life.

Many of these innovations are obviously useful. But some of the smart city ideas took a wrong turn, too often emphasising expensive hardware rather than cheaper solutions; too often showcasing technologically interesting ideas rather than responding to citizen’s real needs ; and too often making over– inflated promises that couldn’t be supported by hard evidence.

“That’s why the smart city movement is now turning in a rather different direction. It’s combining the best of new generations of technology . . . . . while also involving citizens much more closely in shaping how cities can work

Both of these siren voices, (MIT and Nesta) coming from a technology viewpoint, are mobilising to articulate their newfound perspectives and appeal to audiences that need to hear them.

No one has a monopoly on wisdom but, by virtue of real world experience, the Intelligent Community Forum (and its ranks of mayors, civic leaders, policy influencers, international jurors and academic assessors) have a great deal of value to share with communities and their leaders.  Shared Thinking is the thing – ‘Intellectual Property’ in this arena is almost oxymoronic – properties not shared are hardly intellectualised.

And the lessons for leaders (and indirectly for systems designers, infrastructure providers and ICT sales managers) are very simple.

Those successful communities identified by ICF have been fortunate to (a) have leaders who last longer than the next election and (b) have grasped and held onto the simple truth that they increasingly live in a digitally-mediated era and every aspect of the way they, their local economy, their communities and culture work must be adapted for this time.  But these, now acknowledged, community leaders did that 10-20 years ago whilst most others were still wondering where the next year might take them.

You might say, ‘if only’; if only we had the infrastructure, if only the schools taught coding, if only, if only . . . but these places have seized their destiny and made all that, and more, happen.

So it is that within the next two years every single property in Mitchell, South Dakota will have access to future-proofed symmetric Gigabit fibre and many already have a choice of three distinct networks – fibre, cable and ADSL.

No one in Mitchell needed to bet on which technology would ‘win’ – no one said that they knew what was good enough for you or your pocket. People and Employers decide according to their needs – but vitally they have that choice.

And whole communities have a choice.

They can choose leaders who can steer their local economies to meet local needs – and they can do that regardless of some distant policy guru in a state or national capital.  That is the essence of municipal enterprise – an empowerment for growth.  And it’s good news that technology ‘Thought Leaders’ around the world are beginning to get that message – people are not peripheral.

_______

The experiences of the ICF Summit will inform the agenda and thrust of NextGen 15 in London on November 5th.  For further information and sponsorship opportunities contact Marit Hendriks at NG Event Ltd (marith@nextgenevents.co.uk )

For more information on Municipal Enterprise search on this site (top of page)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Future of Business

25 Jun

Future of Business softcover2SMALLWith conventional publishing timelines of 12 – 18 months, expert insights into the future and the concerns of future thinkers are likely to be  delivered far too late for decisive action.

The acclaimed futurist and regular speaker at NextGen events, Rohit Talwar, master-minded production of this impressive work in just 19 weeks. In that process from conception in January to launch this week, Rohit and his team adopted a new business model – one that they hope will lead to many further productions of high quality material.

The Future of Business is exclusively available for order via Fast Future Publishing 2015 – the venture they created in January to tackle the logistics of making their dream a reality.

In 62 chapters bringing together 60 contributing authors from across 21 countries, the Future of Business explores how the commercial world is being transformed by the complex interplay between social, economic and political shifts, disruptive ideas, bold strategies and technological & scientific breakthroughs.

At first sight readers might be daunted by these 566 pages but, edited into 10 sections with chapters averaging 9-10 pages, readers will find it easy to find topics of immediate interest – aided, no doubt, by the online references that perform so much better than printed versions ever could.

The book is aimed at the leaders of today and the pioneers of tomorrow – raising awareness of the issues that will confront us long before we are knocked sideways by the supposedly unexpected.  Our future, your future, is not pre-destined but the awareness that society, businesses and individuals can identify and exercise those choices is rarely apparent in life’s daily grind.

If the Future of Business raises your sights and stretches your imagination, then the entire collaborative production process will have been well worth the effort.

_____

Notes:  Rohit Talwar has been a star speaker at many NextGen Events.   The programme for NextGen 15 (November 5th) is currently under development and exhibitor and sponsorship opportunities are still available. For more information see http://www.nextgenevents.co.uk/awards or contact Marit Hendriks –  marith@nextgenevents.co.uk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How many holes in Blackburn, Lancashire – or anywhere else?

21 Jun

 

Beautiful country area with small town and brightly colored fields

As one of the many great communities that exist beyond the Metro rainbow, Blackburn and its people can stand as a metaphor for 50% of UK economic growth. Blackburn is not even included in the imagination-stretching redefinition of the UK’s 15 Metro Areas – a definition that has Aldershot as part of London. A definition which city lobbyists would claim to ‘make up’ fully 61% of the economy.

Like the rest of the real 50% that’s neither ‘made up’ nor under Whitehall’s devolutionary policy spotlight, Blackburn’s community of enterprises and people may understandably be forgiven for echoing the words of Oliver Hardy – ‘Well, here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into’. But, in reality, the 50% are not alone: much of magic Metro-land also suffers from the same lack of attention to things that have turned out to be really rather important.

The last two weeks have been informative. But here’s a question. What theme links the Niagara Falls and a group of West Country MPs?

Yesterday ISP-review reported that a group of MPs, primarily from Devon and Somerset in England’s South West, have established a new All-Party Parliamentary Group that will investigate the roll-out of broadband.

Wandering the corridors of Westminster are many All-Party Parliamentary Groups that might regard this as their natural territory but, as we are constantly reminded, competition is a spur to innovation.

The new grouping may waste time by trying to pin the blame on the usual suspects, or, more positively, they might perhaps focus their minds on how to get out of this communications cul-de-sac. If reports are accurate, there’s a faint glimmer of hope: “it’s important to keep an eye on alternative network operators that can do some of the jobs”.

But that is merely a tactical reaction. Wake Up calls – Seriously Shocking Wake Up Calls – usually follow some undeniable crisis. The question, therefore, is whether the new group of MPs is driven to complain about inconveniences or recognize and demand attention to a real full-blown crisis.

But what has any of this this to do with the Niagara Falls? Another metaphor.

Horseshoe FallsIn the margins of the 2015 Global Summit of the Intelligent Community Forum in Toronto we took time out to visit. We transitioned from intense conference sessions led by mayors, civic leaders and progressive communities from around the world to standing right alongside this unstoppable force of nature.

Whilst many places struggle, the energy of leaders of the world’s foremost Intelligent Communities (note – much more than merely ‘smart’) clearly demonstrated how these places were succeeding, principally because they have held on to a truth that others have yet to fully grasp.

These inspired leaders have thought through the diverse impacts of living and working in a digitally mediated world. They see a world that demands much more than some short-term fix, ‘enough to be going on with’, or soothing reassurance that things will be OK if we muddle through.

They see all too clearly that we live in a time of ‘peak snake oil’: that like the unstoppable forces of nature, they, their people, their local economies, their cultures, must adapt to the new realities and not be satisfied by convenient short-term fixes. Fortunate indeed are these places that have leaderships that last way beyond electoral cycles and principles that were set down 15 or 20 years ago.

Standing alongside those thundering great falls, no one can deny their never-ending force. No one can dismiss this force as some impossible dream that we do not need, cannot afford, or could not cope with – leastways, maybe, perhaps, not just yet?

The West Country MPs, the good folks of Blackburn, the vast bulk of our economy, whether in or out of Metroland, even those technological romantics who imagine that maybe 5G will be a panacea (but overlook the need for backhaul to support thousands of 250m-radius cell sites), cannot ignore the reality that the future of our next and subsequent generations hinge on getting real;  rejecting woefully inadequate technologies and a scary devotion to old models that have long passed their sell-by date.

Please don’t waste time on the blame game, on fixing holes. Patches are for pirates. Okay – it’s a pity the last three decades were wasted but the time is now to sit down, decide what is really needed in 2030 and set about delivering it a good deal earlier.  It is far cheaper and yet far more valuable than you have been led to believe – if you (and your children) really want it.

____

Readers may also appreciate our discussion paper written as preparation for the ICF Global Summit and a brief (4-minute) script – the ‘Ten Eggs‘ talk,

 

 

 

 

 

 

ICF Global Summit – Part 2

19 Jun

tumblr_inline_nq2npvt2RU1qczte2_500

For a broader summary of the events in Toronto last week I defer to ICF’s Norman Jacknis and his highlight selections at http://bit.ly/1GlyCy6

The concentration of ideas, perspectives and opportunities to meet with mayors and civic leaders from around the world was brilliantly refreshing.  Every year we find ourselves lifted above the fray – once again proving that a ‘retreat’ is most often an advance.

The inspiration from this year’s gathering in Toronto will hugely inform our work on the agenda for NextGen 15 in London and our Digital Challenge Awards event in the House of Lords on November 5th.

 

 

ICF Global Summit Perspectives: the growth impacts of policy polarisation

15 Jun

TorontoReflecting on a stimulating week of powerfully concentrated insights and great inspirations, delegates at the 2015 Intelligent Community Forum’s annual Global Summit might well have spotted the irony of making hard choices between the competing Urban and Rural study streams.

In this gathering last week in Toronto, Mayors, Civic Leaders, Economic Developers and Policy Influencers from around the world would represent both intensely Urban and some more Rural environments. In plenary ‘Community Accelerator’ sessions these camps would come together – united in their understanding of actionable attitudes to local growth and development – and yet, in choosing to engage in either the Urban or Rural Master Classes, delegates indirectly accepted that supposedly ‘normal’ polarisation.

For sure, there were some crossover delegates but for the most part the Urban stream was the better attended. From way beyond the bigger (supposedly brighter and more-urgent) connectivity conflict zones, delegates were treated to myth-busting moments showing that, even if it is harder to resolve, disregarding 50% of your economy does not add up to a sustainable growth strategy.

The universal over-arching growth perspective is what so often gets lost in the demands for policy attention from increasingly pressured places with claims for ‘economies of scale’ and the massively complex infrastructure needs of metro-dwelling citizens.

Above and beyond urging stronger advocacy from less-favoured places, or even the creation of ‘Virtual Metros’ to notionally level the playing field, surely policies to provide future-proofed digital infrastructures (and the stimulus that they enable) should everywhere be rooted in the drive for the economic and social well-being of local citizens and enterprises.

In the race to be recognised as the Intelligent Community of 2015, the surviving Top 7 communities (whether large, small, urban or rural) understood long ago that long-term (10 – 30 year) commitments to their economic well-being needed a consistent strategic approach with evolving local leadership and attention to local needs. These local issues are largely beyond the macro interventions of national governments and Party politics.

It is ironic that such an approach can be described as ‘Revolutionary’. Surely that tag is an indication of the extent to which folks and their communities now need to reassert control of their local direction.

So much more can be said of this ICF Global Summit, the underlying international quest for community recognition and the intensity of the associated Study Tour experiences.

Horseshoe FallsThe urgent rush for change, the inevitable need to adapt our communities to the utility of a digitally mediated world, was no less impressive than the forces of nature we experienced at the nearby Niagara Falls.

 

_________________

NextGen 15 – the UK’s 8th annual networking event to inform local government policy and provide a platform for the broader broadband sector will be held on November 5th in central London.

NextGen Events (an ICF Partner) and director Marit Hendriks is an international juror for the assessment of the Intelligent Community of the Year – awarded this year to Columbus, Ohio.

David Brunnen’s contribution to the 2015 Global Summit was based on the Groupe Intellex paper ‘Global Trade Development Outwith the Metros: not beyond belief’.

 

This Box Contains Up To Ten Eggs

4 Jun

[This script was written in preparation for a UK conference on digitally-enabled economic development.  This version does not include presentation guidelines and other stage directions]

 

egg box This box contains up to ten eggs.

These are no ordinary eggs. These are Broadband Eggs. Enjoy – they usually come in a Free-Range Broadband Egg Box, probably from a trusted supplier of some other trusted supplier. Be sure to read the small print and limitations of liability.

 If you buy this box of eggs please be aware:

  • the box may not be full
  • some eggs may be cracked
  • box & contents not suitable for long journeys
  • some may have been eaten by strangers on the way home
  • each egg may be of variable quality
  • some may already be scrambled

But, we believe this box of eggs is all you will ever need. 

We do not accept returns of more than one egg at a time.

Terms and Conditions apply.

 

There are many beneficial aspects of Municipal Enterprise – the increasingly evident focus on growing community development and local economic well-being. But possibly the most under-rated impact of Municipal Enterprise will be a major revolution in business and political honesty.

But – woah – before I go on – I must explain what I mean by Municipal Enterprise. We can come back to broadband egg boxes later.

Municipal Enterprise is not an oxymoron.   Municipal Enterprise is (A) local public/private investment in local enterprises, (B) generating local employment and local economic growth, (C) enhancing community well-being, and (D) often linked to essential infrastructure and community services needs.

Moreover, the profits of Municipal Enterprise can be returned to the public purse for local re-investment and replacement of local taxation such as property rates.

With devolutionary aspirations espoused across the political spectrum, folks are beginning to remember what made this country a great place before politicians imagined they needed to run everything from the centre.

More than a century ago, The Great Stink of London was in large part solved by Joseph Bazalgette’s sewers – the construction of which explains why some old waterfront properties are now on the inland side of The Embankment.

Look at the great Town Halls of Victorian times and you are looking at Municipal Enterprise writ large – built on the profits of local enterprises.

You may not all have heard of the Municipal Works Loans Board – the Treasury controlled lender for infrastructure works. You may not have heard of the Local Government association’s new Municipal Bonds Agency – designed to provide cheaper and more flexible finance for Local Authorities.

You may not be aware of how much Municipal Enterprise is practiced – not least because much of it is kept below the radar for fear that Whitehall will seek to claw back the profits from Local Authorities.

Such are the post-80’s ingrained attitudes towards public expenditure and wholesale deference to private enterprise, that, even on electioneering doorsteps with evidence of local tax reductions, Municipal Enterprise is somehow viewed askance.

Even though Municipal Enterprise is accountable through the ballot box, citizens seem to imagine that distant shareholders, motivated by short-term profits, can exclusively ensure better local outcomes attuned to needs of local people and businesses.

They may of course be right. It would be prudent to question the current investment expertise of Local Authorities who for so long have been reduced to service agencies for the delivery of national policy.

Citizens may find it difficult to understand something that seems to contradict the supposed ‘natural order’ of things – except of course that there is no natural order that does not reflect local community wishes and local needs to grow employment, retain and accommodate its children for future prosperity.

So far, in the UK, the devolution debate has focused on countries, regions and major cities – territories where the implausibility of Whitehall micro-management is increasingly obvious.

And the responses to that debate have been both fairly unimaginative and ignorant of unintended consequences.   Does major city A declare UDI and create major tax headaches for businesses and postcode lotteries for citizens needing services? Who draws their boundaries?

Municipal Enterprise is not an argument about tax and spend or ‘optimising’ welfare standards. Municipal Enterprise is about local leaders recognising future needs and investing to ensure better local outcomes.

Which thought brings us back to these broadband egg boxes.

Your local economy, your local community of people and business, needs future-proofed broadband access. Will you, dear citizen, trust your local government to ensure that the egg boxes contain what they say they contain?

Will your local leaders seek investment partners who will agree to not deliver a dismal digital cul-de-sac designed only to maximise profits and dividends for distant shareholders?

Will you locally review what some ‘expert’ regulator in London deems adequate?  Or will you demand that the regulator is ‘unbundled’ so that you can set the local standards that will meet the local needs, attract further local investment, create further jobs and innovation, and generate revenues for your local community?

And at this time of ‘Peak Snake Oil’ will your community leaders question the salesmen that promise otherwise?

For too long the over-centralised state has dis-empowered local communities and allowed those broadband eggs to be sold in boxes that are rarely full or fit for frying.

BUT

These need not be passing broadband eggs – theoretically coming your way.

These need not be pretend broadband eggs – these may be truly fully fibred, future-proofed, really SuperDooperFast broadband eggs.

These could be broadband eggs that are actually available, when you need a full set.  These broadband eggs could perform exactly as you might expect, even as your children’s expectations increase in the future

Ladies and Gentlemen – I give you – a full box of ten eggs.   Catch.

Global Trade Development outwith the Metros: not beyond belief

3 Jun

[This background discussion paper is written ahead of the Intelligent Community Forum’s 2015 Global Summit in Toronto. The Rural Master Class session is focused specifically on cross-border trade and explores how smaller cities and rural regions develop international connections to power their growth.]

Conventional wisdom says that the pursuit of global growth is surely what has led to the success of major cities.  Few doubt that many enterprises are drawn to locate in great international trading hubs and, for sure, capitals like London, New York, and major regional hubs around the world get most of the attention from the media, lobbyists and politicians.

Managing Metro growth and its consequences (migration, housing, health, transport, etc.) has given rise to the re-emergence of the City State, with all that implies for local empowerment and devolutionary pressures in countries hoping to remain united.

Beautiful country area with small town and brightly colored fields

The notion of growth in international trade from enterprises rooted in our countryside and less-regarded towns may, at first glance, seem unlikely.   Scratch the stats however and beneath the glossy megacity headlines you can sniff the fragrance of a less-urban, more rural, renaissance.

Digital transformation is enabling business to thrive in places where employees like to live – in places where they can afford to live – in places where they can appreciate the value of community – in places where they feel more at home.

Those enthusiasms for being somewhere beyond the Metro’s rainbow are not just found in extremely remote, hard to reach, rural locations. Much the same homely attraction applies to smaller cities, market towns, hamlets and village communities. The reality is that digital infrastructures are now making a greater difference in places that might previously have been considered disadvantaged relative to those hungry Metros that suck in so much talent.

These less-regarded places are familiar with making do without much, if any, external intervention (or interference) from their national or regional governments. ‘Just Do It’ the locals will say, or more likely ‘JFDI’. This inbred capacity for action plus our newfound ability to network ideas and contacts without the hassle of travel points towards a greater levelling up of opportunity.

Dig deeper still into life beyond Metros and you’ll find a diverse and complex fabric of connections and capabilities – with very different channels and enablers for international trade.

The reality is that, because it’s diffuse and difficult to count, economists, policy developers and headline writers everywhere (except perhaps in local ‘provincial’ communities) have largely chosen to disregard the massive economic and societal contributions made outside of those Metros – the places whose sustainability we are now all supposed to be worrying about.

These good non-Metro citizens have built international trading networks without needing nightclubs and not being too offended by being dismissively described as ‘cottage industries’.

The prevailing economic ignorance of non-metro global trading stems directly from a lack of cohesive advocacy and the complexities of ecosystems that are not well suited to centralised policy interventions. Moreover the impacts of this general ignorance are reflected in sub-optimal priorities for digital infrastructure investment.

If the pursuit of global trading success is regarded as a priority in the national interest, then it might be expected to be incumbent on policy leaders and market regulators to understand and further encourage the evolution of these complex ecosystems.

But however well economic growth priorities are recognised at a national level, the limited effectiveness of top-down policy development in economies that are over-centralised reveals the need for empowerment and application of local leaderships.

Download the full paper (PDF 8.6 MB) Trade Development outwith the Metros

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 306 other followers