Virtual vs. Physical Interactions

In response to my post of the Chattanooga editorial, someone wrote to me that he thought that virtual communications would make physical interaction even more important.  I won’t go into the whole argument here, but note that this is more sophisticated than the simple comparison of virtual vs. physical interactions that many people have made.

Nevertheless, I did think that it deserved a response and here it is:

I think the Internet in its current form (texting, email, social media, etc.) is still an immature form of communications.  So the crux of the matter is not so much whether the current Internet will change how people interact, but how the ubiquitous video communications of the future will affect behavior.

Our physical selves will not disappear, so there will still be physical interaction.  But I suspect that these interactions – and the cities in which these interactions takes place – will be of a different nature than what we’ve been accustomed to.  I’ve been working with the mayors, in part, on what that future city should look like and what will be its functions.  Most under threat is the urban model that primarily views the city as the dominant, centralized location of economic production.  Indeed, the traditional physical business cluster has already dissipated in many places – Detroit and Wall Street, to name just two famous clusters which are no longer as dominant in their industries as they used to be. 

Economic relationships will perhaps be more affected by ubiquitous video communications than other human relationships because video communications increases the likelihood that trust will develop between potential business partners.

Of course, how this all plays out will be a cultural question.  I remember that my grandmother believed that the telephone was only to be used for very minor or extremely urgent conversations – nothing in the wide swath of human conversation in the middle, especially not business.  If you wanted to converse with her, you saw her personally, probably preceded by a letter.  My parents thought this quaint and had no problem at all conducting important business matters on the telephone.  My bet is that the next generation will take video chat for granted as a perfectly acceptable way of doing business.

Time will tell – so let’s make a date in 20 years to see which of these opposing views gets closer to the future reality. 

© 2011 Norman Jacknis


Create Public Services By Enabling People To Serve Each Other

[Note: This was originally posted on a blog for government leaders, March 2, 2009.  Since then, I have worked with Oakland County, Michigan to put in place a program like this.  More on that in a later blog post.]

When computers were introduced into white-collar businesses a couple of decades ago, one of the first effects that people noticed was that companies began to shrink the ranks of middle management. Middle managers, whose major job was collecting, summarizing and reporting data to higher management, were no longer needed once the computers could do the same thing, only faster. The very highest management, the CEO, essentially could get direct reports from the lowest person in the hierarchy. This phenomenon was labeled ”disintermediation” because it eliminated the intermediary.

With the presence of personal computers and Internet connections in the majority of American homes, there is now the potential to similarly reduce some of the barriers between you (the chief elected official) and the average citizen. 

Traditionally, the top officials of government would almost always deliver public services through paid civil service staff or the equivalent paid staff in non-profit agencies or private companies through outsourcing contracts. The staff is the intermediary between you and the public.

Doing things this way goes beyond the various forms of citizen suggestions that some government websites offer today – elected officials can actually facilitate the creation of public services by enabling citizens to help each other. 

In the current recession, some leaders will immediately think of the potential cost savings that can occur when shifting some public services from paid staff to volunteer citizens. But an even bigger and longer lasting problem is the pending retirement of the baby boomers, who account for a large fraction of government workers. How will they be replaced? Should their positions be filled or should we look for new ways to deliver services?

The Internet connects citizens to each other and the government; the software technology is available. The missing piece is the leadership to put this new approach in place. 

What kind of services might you start with? One good way to start is the first line of services – for example, finding out how to get a park pass or sign up for ”meals on wheels”. This kind of service does not require years of specialized experience, but just having gone through the process. One slightly more experienced citizen can help another inexperienced citizen with such information. 

If you’re concerned about the quality of information, you can have paid staff monitor the discussions -but that will take considerably less staff than having them answer all of the questions to begin with. The paid staff can then be focused on the more complex problems that do, in fact, require their special skills and background.

And there are three other benefits to this approach. First, it draws more people into the process of governing – voters who might feel more a part of your team or, at least, have a better understanding of what your government deals with. 

Second, when the private sector has set up similar mutual support for its customers, they found that the customers preferred this way of solving problems. Also, many customers felt that someone who was not a paid staff member of the company was more credible. 

Third, although there can be criticisms of the government on these sites, that acts as an early warning system to you as the head of the government. Without this direct citizen support, it might take much longer for you to learn about a festering problem in the bureaucracy, which makes it that much more difficult to fix the problem.

For some examples of how private companies have done this, take a look at these websites:

While these sites mostly use text, it is also possible for citizens to talk to each other as well. And, as you develop more experience with this and network broadband becomes a reality, there are bound to be greater advancements and uses of citizen collaboration to deliver public services.

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© 2011 Norman Jacknis

Chattanooga’s Gigabit Network As The Base For Future Economic Growth

I’ve been working on a future-oriented economic growth program with the US Conference of Mayors and we have identified Chattanooga as a location to demonstrate some of these ideas because it has, by far, the largest and fastest deployment of fiber in any metro area in the US — enabling every home and other building to have a gigabit connection.  

I’ve described to them how and why this kind of network changes a city’s economy and should change its economic growth strategy.  I’m also helping them think of innovative uses of their network that will set up their future economic growth for a couple of decades — with particular emphasis on those that are only feasible at these higher bandwidths.  Among other aspects, this includes virtual collaboration among entrepreneurs in the global marketplace, virtual lifelong learning and blended virtual/physical spaces that become destinations for both residents and tourists.  

Last week, I made a presentation about this to the civic and business community in Chattanooga.  

That presentation led to a significant editorial by the Chattanooga Times Free-Press ( as well as a news story (

© 2011 Norman Jacknis


The Wiki Way To Improve Your Message

[Note: This was originally posted on a blog for government leaders, November 16, 2009.]

We’ve all been reading about wikis for a few years now.  A wiki is a collaborative web site that allows people to make changes to a common document.  The most famous and successful wiki is Wikipedia [], which is a global encyclopedia on almost every imaginable topic – more than three million articles in English alone.

In 2006, the CIA and fifteen other agencies in the intelligence and security community launched Intellipedia, an internal wiki to share information.  Similarly, the State Department, as part of its public diplomacy efforts, created Diplopedia.  

There are lots of uses of wikis in government, which I’ll explore another time.  But I want to focus on an unusual use – marketing.

While we don’t often admit it, many governments engage in what looks like marketing efforts.  Tourism promotion bureaus and, more generally, economic development offices do a lot of marketing to encourage people to come to their location.  Health departments engage in a form of marketing when they encourage residents to exercise and follow other patterns for good health.  Parks departments try to encourage the public to take advantage of the public recreational opportunities they provide, which also looks like marketing.

What all these efforts usually have in common is that they approach the development of their marketing messages in a traditional way.  They sit down together, come up with what they think is the best message and then blast that message out in a variety of ways, hoping for the best.

They may conduct a survey to find out what people want to hear, but usually they can’t afford to do so.  Surveys, though, too start out with the view of the people who design them – much like the way the marketing materials are started.  It’s very much an internal effort.

There have been a small number of attempts to do things differently.  For example, the major developer of Steamboat Springs, Colorado, encourages people to tell them why they love the place.  See can send videos, pictures and stories for a chance to win up to $10,000.   This helps the developer to identify the right message.


The theory behind this approach is that your residents, your customers – anyone whom you are aiming your marketing message at – are the people who can best tell you what makes a difference to themselves.  And this is where wikis come into the picture.

Instead of just going from the marketing message straight to its delivery on a large scale, why not try to use a public wiki to refine and modify that message so it says what they want to hear.  This is as simple as posting the marketing materials you’ve developed and letting the public change them.

If opening a wiki to anyone seems too adventurous, then maybe send invitations to a particular part of the public.  For example, in economic development, ask the businesses that came to your area to go to the wiki.  Ask people who actually came to your area as tourists to write what they would tell others to encourage them to come.  Get people who have gone hiking on your trails to add to the description of how wonderful your parks are. 

In case you’re worried that a public wiki could be defaced, it’s worth noting that most wiki software provides for various controls.  Even Wikipedia has its editors and controls to prevent things from getting out of hand.  But they seldom do.  Most people are pretty responsible and other users will help police the website.

And the cost of doing this?  Very little.  There are several good wiki software packages available on the Internet that are free, including the one that Wikipedia uses.  Give it a try – you may be both surprised and pleased by what people tell you are the reasons they use your public services.

PS. For more information about Diplopedia, see

© 2011 Norman Jacknis

Calculate The Benefits Of Telework

[Note: This was originally posted on a blog for government leaders, March 16, 2009.  Since then, the Federal government has enacted a law enabling its employees to officially use telework.]

Telework is getting a fresh look because the factors that make telecommuting attractive are converging from various directions. 

Telework is a green strategy in both meanings of the word: (1) saving money and (2) doing things that will help reduce greenhouse gases and sustain the environment. 

First, in the current very tight — even dire — financial circumstances of local and state governments, public employees are being asked to accept pay-less workdays, no salary increases and other budget cutting measures. Telecommuting is one way to help employees to reduce their costs of getting to work that will not add anything to your budget.

Telecommuting also helps save money by reducing your costs for operating your buildings. While statistics on this subject are not yet generally available, I can draw upon the experience of Cisco. Converting the employees in one building in San Jose to a less office-oriented work pattern resulted in reduced building costs — a 40% reduction in space per employee and 55% less money spent on IT infrastructure and cabling. And the employees were happier and more productive.

Second, there is also an increasing emphasis in governments not only on developing new policies to sustain the environment, but also to set an example by operating in a greener way. Telecommuting helps reduce greenhouses gases by getting vehicles off the roads, especially during rush hour. (And that again reduces local government costs by reducing highway maintenance.)

Sun Microsystems [now part of Oracle] has had a telework program for 10 years with more than half of its workforce at home or in flexible work spaces. The company found that office equipment consumed twice as much energy in a Sun office as in a home office — 130 watts per hour versus 64. But that was not the greatest factor in greenhouse gas reductions. Employees who eliminated the commute to a Sun office also slashed their carbon footprints, with commuting accounting for more than 98% of each employee’s work-related carbon footprint; running office equipment made up less than 1.7% of a person’s total work-related carbon emissions.Of course, you will want to tally up the benefits of telecommuting for your particular area. 

Fortunately, a pair of dedicated telework experts have made that easy for you by creating a telework calculator at (While you are there, you might want to take a look at the home page for a variety of other telecommuting resources.)

The Telework Calculator has data for every city, county, region, Congressional District, and State, so you can see the results just for your area. There are a couple of dozen metrics, including savings to your government and your employees, as well as the reduction in greenhouse gases. You can even play with the assumptions behind it, such as what percentage of workers could easily switch to telecommuting. Their estimate may be on the high side.Much of the work that government does is especially suitable for telework. 

The Federal government, which has been developing its telework expertise for years, has found that 52% of its employees are eligible for telecommuting. You can find more Federal information at and from the Federal-private sector partnership, the Telework Exchange at (which also has its own telework calculator).

At the State level, Arizona has led with telework in the Phoenix area. See for more information. The New York State Department of Taxation and Finance has used this approach to create what is in many ways a virtual, but much more responsive, agency.

Bringing this discussion back to your policy making role, you can use the Telework Calculator to measure the value of telecommuting in your area if every public and private entity ran a telecommuting program. Last week the folks behind the Telework Calculator released a study in which they added up the numbers and suggested that, if telework really took off, “working from home could save United States consumers $228 billion, add $260 billion to companies’ bottom line.” 

© 2011 Norman Jacknis

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Visualization of networks among people

At the Stanford MediaX Innovation Ecosystems Summit today, a few visualization teams presented their tools to show how networks are really structured:

1.  Gephi

“Gephi is an interactive visualization and exploration platform for all kinds of networks and complex systems, dynamic and hierarchical graphs.”

2. Quid

They define as their “mission to Map the World’s Technologies”

3. DotLink360

“dotlink360 is a visual analytic tool that provides capabilities to gain systemic insight into the complex structure and evolving dynamics of interfirm innovation activities in converging business ecosystems.”

4. LinkedIn Maps

This takes all of your LinkedIn connections and finds groups among them.  The picture attached below, with five fairly separated clouds, is drawn from my LinkedIn connections.

© 2011 Norman Jacknis

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We are impatient and quick to dismiss ideas that don’t take hold quickly, but I regularly see evidence of how long it takes a new technology to become accepted.  For example, it might be worth considering the success of iPad as a delivery mechanism for newspapers in light of this 7 minute video from 1994.  (Courtesy of Teresa Martin.)

© 2011 Norman Jacknis

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Smart Communities Can Do Something About The Recession

[Note: This was originally posted on a blog for government leaders, May 11, 2009.]

This week the Intelligent Community Forum (ICF) is holding its annual awards ceremony in New York from among the top seven communities around the world who have been the best examples of using broadband technology. While your community may not be in the top 7, many of you have some degree of broadband networks covering a majority of the residents in your area.

The theme is how the governments of smart communities can respond to a deep recession. I’ve been asked to give the keynote speech and so I thought I should devote this post to some of the ideas I’ll be presenting.

The overriding message is quite simple: take advantage of the data network that exists in your community. Using that network wisely can save money in the government, help your residents reduce their costs and even create more wealth in your community – which, of course, is the best way to get out of a recession.

Your government can save money in several ways. First, those organizations that have integrated the controls of their buildings and other physical facilities into their data networks have been able to achieve substantial savings. The State of Missouri, with a thousand buildings, has been able to reduce its energy costs alone by $20 million a year (about a $1 per square foot). 

You can get greater employee productivity by getting public employees out of the office so they can do their work, which is often in the field. The network lets them work where their tasks takes them – while managers can still observe and even participate in that work when necessary. While telecommuting has been a long standing program of many governments, it is time to think of mobile telecommuting instead.

The Internet and network connectivity you have also makes it possible to provide and to use the best, most cost effective software and services. If your government has strong IT capabilities, then offer these services to others so you can spread your IT costs over a larger base. If your government isn’t strong in IT, then use these services since they may be cheaper than trying to do it yourself.

Of course, readers of this blog will not be surprised that I also think that some paid-for government services can instead be provided for free by letting your residents use the Internet to help each other.

You can help your residents reduce their own costs, especially the time and money they spend in traffic and the money they spend on energy use. There are good examples of local governments offering all sorts of network-based services that reduce the time people spend in traffic. Some have even set up smart work centers, which eliminate the need for people to travel all the way downtown, but enable them to virtually participate in the workplace of their employers. You can also eliminate travel for your residents if government services are available over the Internet and on smart phones, instead of just in government offices. These services can now include videoconference meetings over the Internet and real collaborative interaction between public employees and residents.

Through the use of smart home energy controllers (and, beyond that, smart grids) your residents can save money on their energy use. In the Pacific Northwest, one recent trial found that just letting people use the Internet to know about their energy usage and to do something about that no matter where they were resulted in an average energy cost reduction of 10%.

In various ways, the investments that have been made in broadband have direct economic benefits. For example, one study found that every dollar in broadband investments yielded ten in economic growth. And broadband has direct impact on the growth and profitability of businesses. But you can help those businesses learn how to use the Internet better, even offering assistance with Virtual Trade Missions and videoconferencing. 

For many of you, the broadband network investment has been made. Now is the time to use to respond in recessionary times by reducing your government costs, your citizens’ cost of living and by ramping up economic growth.

© 2011 Norman Jacknis

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Chattanooga Gigabit Fiber To Every Building

This is a segment of the Council for the New American City at the US Conference of Mayors Annual Meeting, June 17, 2011. It features Mayor Ron Littlefield and Norman Jacknis, Cisco IBSG Public Sector Director discussing the gigabit fiber network that the city has deployed throughout its metro area and its implications for future economic development.

Get The Most Out Of Your Construction Money

[Note: This was originally posted on a blog for government leaders, February 23, 2009]

Construction is a major expenditure for state and local governments. This is going to be the case even more as many billions of dollars will go into infrastructure from the Federal Recovery and Reinvestment Act. 

It’s also important to realize that construction costs are a major factor in projects that are not officially called construction projects. For example, over the last few years, many governments have invested in public safety radio projects or broadband projects. While these are about communications and technology, often the construction costs associated with these projects are larger than the cost of acquiring the technology.

So the key question is whether you are getting the most from every dollar spent on construction. The answer is that, if you just let the construction proceed as it always has been done, you are increasingly wasting money.

The construction industry’s productivity picture is below that of US industry, in general. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, productivity in the construction industry has declined since 1968. Stanford University Professor Paul Teicholz reports that”construction work per hourly work hour has gradually declined – over the past 40 years at an average compound rate of -0.59%/year.”  But there is hope on the horizon. 

A few forward thinking architects, engineers, builders and computer experts have banded together to create a new four dimensional approach to construction projects, which goes by the name ”Building Information Modeling” or BIM. Despite the name, BIM can be used in any construction project – highways and sewers, for example – not just buildings.

BIM is still a developing technology and approach, so the most dramatic benefits are still in the future. Already, though, those who have used BIM have seen substantial reductions in costs and shrinkage of project schedules. 

Some have reported reductions of as much as a third over the traditional construction approach. A significant cause of these reductions is that BIM results in a reduction in claims for errors, which traditionally have meant costly rework and ad hoc redesign on the job site. Since BIM coordinates the work of all the trades on a job, it virtually eliminates the problems that ensue when, for example, electrical wiring and water pipes are put in the same place.BIM also enables the prefabrication of customized components. 

This gives you the savings of pre-fab manufactured buildings, without the need to conform to the manufacturer’s stock designs. For example, a 50 foot component wall could be built off site from the specifications and just be put into place. 

The US General Services Administration (GSA) has started to require firms who construct federal buildings to use BIM. Hopefully, State and Local governments will also start to require BIM of their construction bidders.

For further information about BIM, the best starting point is a 12 minute video that GSA prepared about their”Journey Into Building Information Modeling” at– This video is part of a general GSA website devoted to BIM at It includes all kinds of publications that you might want to pass along to your public works or other construction staff.

The buildingSMART alliance is the organizational leader of BIM. Its ”focus is to guarantee lowest overall cost, optimum sustainability, energy conservation and environmental stewardship to protect the earth’s ecosystem.”

Wikipedia, of course, has an entry on BIM at An introductory article, ”Intelligent Design Through BIM” can be found at

© 2011 Norman Jacknis Permalink

Make Room For The Future

[Note: This was originally posted on a blog for government leaders, June 1, 2009.]

It’s not news to anyone that the Obama Administration’s stimulus program amounts to one of the largest public works programs since the Great Depression. During that era, the economist Lord Keynes was quoted as saying that workers should be paid to dig holes in the ground and then fill them up again because the wages the workers received would create consumer demand and so boost the economy. Today’s television pundits often forget that Keynes added that “It is not reasonable, however, that a sensible community should be content to remain dependent on such fortuitous and often wasteful mitigations when once we understand the influences upon which effective demand depends.” 

Whether or not you agree with the Keynes approach to fighting the current recession, it would seem that, other things being equal, it is better to spend the money in ways that build a foundation for future economic growth than to merely jack up consumer demand.

That is perhaps why President Obama calls his program the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. So, as the stimulus funds start flowing to local and state governments around the country, the leaders of those governments should ensure that the money is treated as an investment for the future. If, for example, all we do is re-pave the highways of the 1950s, we will have wasted a tremendous opportunity.

Earlier this year, a paper prepared for the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors – the people in local governments who deal with these issues – recommended a program that would make room for the future. They called it JULIET, for Joint Underground Location of Infrastructure for Electric and Telecommunications. 

The program suggests that local governments, thinking about the future, insist that conduit for these basic utilities be built into any highway/road construction. The report notes that this might add about $10-30,000 per mile in construction costs – a fairly small percentage of typical highway mileage costs. But it would save about 70% of the costs of deploying fiber networks in a community because the largest cost in such projects is not the technology, but opening up the roads and laying down the conduit. With the stimulus construction money, the roads will already be opened up.

The deployment of fiber networks doesn’t just provide high speed Internet services, but also offers an opportunity to build in smart management of infrastructure. That same conduit, which can be used to reduce the cost of getting a high speed fiber network into your community, can also be the backbone for a network of sensors that monitor traffic on the highway and even the condition of the highways and bridges – so your public works personnel will be notified when damage is still minor and less expensive than the big emergency projects that take you and your budget by surprise. 

That same conduit can also be the backbone for smart energy management and smart grids, which can enable the government and its residents to reduce their energy costs and greenhouse gases.Around the world, local government leaders have recognized that the future will involve broadband and the smart management of the public infrastructure. Both of these should be incorporated in the plans for any stimulus spending.

Sooner or later, the recession will be over. Then will come the reviews of each government’s performance. Will you want it said that your government spent the stimulus money just to revive the consumer sector of the economy or that you also took advantage of the opportunity to gain the additional benefit of laying the foundation for the future viability of your community? 

© 2011 Norman Jacknis