I had the opportunity to address the Smart City International Symposium in Chicago last week. I hope the audience had as much fun listening as I did presenting a vision of secure, experience-driven citizen engagement.
My goal was to share my unique-ish point-of-view on experience driven mobile computing, what software development assumptions need to change to embrace said future, and some ideas of the benefits that would result.
I had hoped that the metaphors I used to explain my point of view would enable the audience to reframe some of their challenges in ways that would help them achieve their objectives in a more cost-effective manner without compromising security.
A few artifacts:
- My presentation (apologies as there aren’t any speaker notes at the moment, you can can download and listen to a recording I made of the ~30 minute session). The presentation is in-full below as well.
- A recent post on the ROI of Data. I believe a lot of people confuse “big data” (and data analysis) with “lots of data” (and simply creating an infrastructure for sharing data outside of application silos, without necessarily analyzing it).
- An example healthier smart city “offering” that could reduce health insurance costs, improve citizen health, and become a model for how to deploy “citizen solutions” instead of “government process” for getting cities more connected.
Getting ready for my talk I settled on some key points to make sure I covered my session:
#1 Citizen value will be extracted from a smart infrastructure using software
I’m just not that impressed with the things themselves. I mean, they’re important. And cool. But if we only think about the device and then the “stack on top of it” (the application “silo”) it’s not going to be that interesting. Take, for example, smart parking garages. It’s great to have an app that lets me know where the spots are, helps me eliminate payment friction, and so on. But, it’s not going to be really interesting until that ties into the traffic system, and nearby event venues, and local events, so that when I’m trying to get to a concert it takes all of this into consideration to help minimize transportation friction.The value of a smart city infrastructure will be realized through software Click To Tweet
Another simple example. Smart trash cans allow for more optimized garbage pickup saving fuel, salaries, and lead to cleaner streets. Amazing benefits.
We have a customer who’s using the sensors in trash cans though to track rat infestations (department of health stuff) and do more efficient homeless outreach. They can sense when a can is being rummaged by a human, different than a rat rummaging around by the way. They can tell when the can is on fire, and when it’s cold they can use their own experience with homeless populations to know that the fire has been deliberately set to stay warm. Instead of having outreach randomly roaming the streets to keep the homeless warm, directed outreach helps more people at a lower cost.
But thinking of that example… will someone look for a “waste management system” that supports the homeless? Or, is it a community outreach piece of software that supports waste management? Words fail us as we try to connect horizontally using the data available, instead of the more traditional silo-ed approach to considering software.
If that’s a confusing description read my post on a smarter city is a healthier city and tell me if you think what I’m describing is an insurance app, a smart city app, or a bike app? It’s it part of a patient record system or something else? These words and categorizations matter… and the real challenge is that there are too many people who benefit, so it’s hard to move everyone forward because who, ultimately, is responsible? It’s much easier for managers to stick with what they can directly manage rather than work through influence when they can’t control everything. (This of course is an incentive problem… well beyond the scope of this post.)
Cities need to model themselves as a Modern Software Factory™ so that they can create an innovation platform just like Apple and Google have for their devices. If I had to depend on Apple to develop all the software for my iPhone, it would not be nearly as useful as it is today with a global community of developers creating applications.
#2 Data is important, but there’s more
There’s some real innovation happening with smart devices, but device availability are not what’s holding innovation back. There’s plenty of data available today that’s too hard to access. Companies need to build a data platform, and govern the platform to make sure data is used “properly” (whatever that means in context).
I’ve been in the integration space for over 22 years. A while back I created my own model for thinking about integration projects that’s quite simple. I structure conversations around three key things:
Using these three, I feel like I can disassemble any “business requirement” into a well understood integration project.
(As an aside, one of my favorite rants is about being more event-driven using modern, actionable notifications.)
In an economy driven by customer experience (as ours is becoming), there’s another three-part layer to the three above:
- Moment (on the customer journey)
- Job (to be done for that persona, at that moment in time)
For a persona, at a moment in time, a city (or company) uses the data, processes, and events at their disposal to help complete a job.
However, there’s one more bit. In the mobile world, the platform informs the experience.
These seven items can be used to completely structure any conversation about a technology project and map the technology to the business outcomes. (I welcome ideas or feedback.)
#3 The economic model is harder than the technical one
It’s easy to come up with ideas, and while I think my 7-point reference structure is good, it doesn’t address the ROI or business model for justifying a project.
In my example of homeless outreach as a side-effect of a smart waste management solution above… I know that city couldn’t justify the cost of smart cans for the homeless outreach benefits. In fact, as I understand it, they couldn’t even justify it for the savings on smarter collection. The way they were able to get the project approved had to do with rain. The current trash cans didn’t have covers, and they had to visit them anyways to install the covers. The city was wise enough to realize that they could use that project to improve the ROI of installing sensors in the cans and capitalized on it.
These sorts of justifications are going to be even more difficult in the future (if I’m correct) because I believe we need native mobile applications to maximize the experiences created. That’s an expensive and possibly divisive point-of-view. It’s going to require that we change the way we think about these projects.
One way I’ve started to explain how we can think differently about the economics of these sorts of projects has to do with data.
#4 Software development organizations make a lot of assumptions that they don’t realize we’re making
This point is actually worthy of a post of it’s own.
I believe that there are many assumptions about software development that have been made to help communicate how software is developed to non-technical parts of the organization. These assumptions get institutionalized and they become hard to change.
Reminder: cross-platform UIs mean your product looks consistent to you and weird to all of your actual users. https://t.co/NvT3X8KKDS
— Benedict Evans (@BenedictEvans) July 4, 2017
A great example is the idea of “write once, run everywhere” development. We’ve been able to use desktop development practices (in the enterprise) and fake mobile interaction models… for example, using emails for notifications and believing that’s enough. but I believe that with augmented reality (AR), that’s finally going to change. There won’t be any way for some time to create high-quality cross-platform AR solutions.
AR by itself isn’t a platform but it is precisely the kind of platform feature that makes cross-platform impossible. https://t.co/A8NqOSIvq5
— 🧘🏻♂️Steven Sinofsky ॐ (@stevesi) August 30, 2017
I have a few draft posts on this topic, and even a product idea in my head on this one (that I’ll probably share because I don’t really want to start a technical product company).
#5 Private-public partnerships will bring a mission-oriented focus to commercial smart city efforts
At the Smart City Symposium a panel of mayors talked about their efforts to modernize their cities. Not one talked about technology (at least directly). They talked about inequality, how transportation impacts quality of life or ability to get/keep a job, and how to get people to come together as a community.
Back at point #3 I mentioned how the economic model is hard. That’s only (in part) because we don’t really value mission-based citizen benefits as equals to other stakeholders. We’re used to paying customers, or customers who exchange something (like privacy) which can then be monetized through advertising.
Here’s an example on my mind, just because I saw an article on bank fees earlier today. When someone bounces a payment they pay a fee. Let’s say I have $10 in an account and make 3 payments: one for $3, one for $15, and one for $6.
If the bank processes them in the order I listed (and let’s pretend that’s the order they happen), the customer pays 2 fees. The $3 payment goes through, the two remaining bounce.
The bank could choose to process them as first, third, second, to minimize fees. What’s their incentive? Customer service? That’s not enough incentive for managers trying to hit revenue targets (and bonus goals).
The third way to process them would be to maximize fees by processing the largest first. That one busts the account, and the customer pays three fees in total for each of the three payments.
As crazy as the third option sounds, some banks were caught doing just that.
Processing them in the order they were made is “fair”. Put the onus on the customer. But that’s the opposite of a good customer experience where we are supposed to minimize the customer burden. However, justifying the idea that if fees are minimized today so that the customer can get ahead in some unknown future (maybe) and be a better customer… that’s not going to happen because banks need to make money. They’ll go so far, but it’s going to take something completely disruptive to eliminate fees that otherwise seem fair.
An example of a company innovating here is Robinhood, who competes with the e-brokers by eliminating trading commissions. I believe Robinhood is an exception that proves the rule. They can be efficient on their back end because they emerged and started from scratch without having to deal with a lot of legacy technology or business models.Private public partnerships are an opportunity to deliver mission-driven smart city benefits to citizens Click To Tweet
We have to figure out how to incorporate a mission-driven approach to smart cities, and I believe that city, state, and federal workers can hold us accountable to their missions in a way that makes how we apply our technology more impactful than it otherwise would be.