Municipal Wireless, yet another reflection

With thanks to and Microcast for inviting me, I participated in a panel discussion about the role of the CIO in municipalities (both small and large) and their various status reports on the progress of wireless initiatives in their cities.

Of course, their stories were compelling: Atlanta, Walla Walla, the big and the small, trying to find the right balance of funding and leadership to provide their cities with the userful services they most need.

Their systems were mirrors, and even the structure of their city governments reflected the principle: Chicago (strong mayor framework) just published an RFP that required 7 months to prepare; Phoenix (City Manager/Council framework) has far less difficulty because their governance model is already diffuse (de-centralized).

While my private sector experience is primarily at the Federal level (Federal CIO Council, The World Bank Group) the echo of this book's main theme in the rollout of municipal wireless initiatives was clear.  Indeed, as our emerging technologies become increasingly diffuse (community-based content, service-oriented architectures) the prime theorem becomes increasingly important to understand.  

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2 Comments on “Municipal Wireless, yet another reflection”

  1. Alec Kercsó Says:

    Stuart, it’s interesting that attempts to impose hierarchical methodologies on projects that require diffuse structures prevail in many cases. I’m reminded of the 3rd International WWW Conference 11 years ago where one of the featured speakers predicted that the world wide web would collapse within a few years due to the weight of its own diffusive structure.

    Obviously, that didn’t happen. Instead we’ve seen e-commerce (as one example of a process requiring very diffuse resources, interfaces and participants) burgeon to the point where virtually anyone can open their own online store. One would think that by now we would have learned this lesson, but breaking free of hierarchical thinking is more difficult.

    I often think there is a “chicken and egg” phenomenon that occurs. Hierarchical structures promote hierarchical processes. Such processes make it hard to think diffusively, and thereby reinforce hierarchical structures. Shattering traditions is especially difficult when those high up in a hierarchy stand to lose their prominence, money and power.

  2. srobbins Says:

    Of course, you’re right, Alec. We’ve been saying for a long time that we cannot manage matrixed (diffuse) projects in a hierarchical manner without engendering extended difficulties in communication, coordination, all of the etceteras on the “people-side” of technology projects. Yet, hierarchical organizations are dominant in business and finance – though one of the best examples of non-hierarchical approaches within a classically hierarchical organization would be the World Bank while President Wolfensohn was there. There were many internal professional “networks” within which most of the work was managed, while the hierarchical organization managed the day-to-day work of resource allocation, contracts, discipline. These networks functioned as an “overlay” atop the classic organizational structure.

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