SmarterCape Summit Promotes Collaborative Approach To Critical Issues
By: Michael C. Bailey
For years, Barnstable County officials have extolled the virtues of thinking and acting regionally in order to address shared concerns and pool resources.
This week that idea took a big step toward becoming reality with the “SmarterCape Summit,” a two-day conference held at the Wequassett Resort and Golf Club in Chatham. More than 300 political and business leaders from across the Cape gathered to learn more about the new initiative, which was launched last November through a partnership with IBM.
“If yesterday signaled anything, I think it’s a paradigm shift” in how diverse individual organizations address common issues, Paul J. Niedzwiecki, executive director of the Cape Cod Commission said to the Barnstable County Board of County Commissioners during the board’s Wednesday meeting. “As a region, we will continue to lead if we continue to collaborate, but we’ve got to overcome parochialism.”
“Collaboration’s not that hard,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be bureaucratic. Collaboration is at its essence common sense, and so the more that we use that, the better off we’ll be.”
IBM currently has more than 2,000 complete and pending “Smarter Cities” projects in the US and internationally, which capitalize on recent advances in technology to facilitate information sharing, analysis, and dissemination for a wide variety of purposes.
Sharon L. Nunes, PhD, vice president of IBM’s Smart Cities Strategy & Solutions, said IBM launched the project two years ago as an examination of changes in demographic and technology trends in metropolitan areas. Dr. Nunes said the focus was placed on cities due to their typically heavy reliance on various infrastructures and their greater utility consumption.
She added that as the project has developed, IBM’s definition of “city” has been expanded to include any large area with a concentrated population and a reliance on critical infrastructures such as colleges and universities, and well-defined geographic regions such as Cape Cod.
The overarching goal of Smarter Cities is to make cities more efficient through the strategic use of information technology, which has proliferated significantly over the past decade. “We’re seeing more and more sensors around the world,” ranging from those in traffic and water infrastructures to the GPS (global positioning system) technology found in common items such as automobiles and cellphones.
Additionally, Dr. Nunes said an estimated 1 trillion electronic systems and devices are somehow interconnected, meaning that the means for these systems to communicate already exists. The missing element is data collection and analysis.
“Having all that information doesn’t do you any good unless you know how to collect that data,” she said. “How do you interpret that data into something meaningful? And how do you create some support system, some IT support system, that helps those that need to make decisions?”
The varied applications of the Smarter Cities philosophy have already yielded a range of results:
• Data analysis of crime trends helped reduce crime rates in New York City by 35 percent, and in Richmond, Virginia, by 40 percent;
• A social service agency in California, after identifying wasteful practices, saved the state $11 million in one year;
• Pike County, Kentucky, cut education costs by 64 percent after connecting via the Internet more rural schools with schools in more developed areas, allowing schools to freely share resources;
• A smart traffic system in Stockholm, Sweden, reduced gridlock by 20 percent, and in Taiwan smart traffic systems led to a 99 percent on-time rate for trains;
• A university in London identified efficiencies that led to a £20,000 (about $30,000) reduction in mailing expenses.
On Cape Cod, two of the key issues to be addressed by the Smarter Cities project are economic development and wastewater management.
A critical element of the Smart Cape Cod effort in terms of economic development is the OpenCape project, which will establish a region-wide fiber optic broadband infrastructure to tie together the business, public safety, and education sectors.
Mr. Niedzwiecki called OpenCape “a game-changing event” and the most important new tool to spur economic development on Cape Cod in the last 40 years.
“It’s an infrastructure that can support economic activity of all types,” said Daniel Gallagher, CEO of the nonprofit OpenCape Corporation. “We’re building the big tree, but the branches can be unlimited.”
Mr. Gallagher compared the availability of broadband Internet as the modern equivalent of railways and the interstate highway system in terms of its value in expanding local economies. “If you didn’t get one of those little stops in your town, a rail line, you didn’t grow. You didn’t really have the economic activity that you would hope for,” he said. “The interstate highway system from President Eisenhower—if you didn’t get the highway, if you didn’t get the off-ramp, you didn’t develop. And the same thing is true for fiber optics in the 21st century.”
“If you don’t have access to broadband, you’re not in the market today,” Governor Deval L. Patrick said in an address to attendees at the conclusion of the summit on Tuesday afternoon, and that is why the state has backed broadband infrastructure development in Massachusetts.
In 2007, the second year of Gov. Patrick’s first term, the governor filed a bill to create the Massachusetts Broadband Incentive Fund. The following year the Legislature approved a bond worth $25 million over five years to expand broadband Internet access in 95 towns that have no or partial broadband access, including those on Cape Cod.
Through that fund the state contributed $5 million toward the OpenCape project, which also received $32 million through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) program.
“I’ve heard some people say, you know, this is really picking winners and losers” among potential growth industries, Gov. Patrick said, but he disputed that claim, stating that Massachusetts is “playing to our strengths” as a “concentration of intellectual horsepower” that powers innovation industries such as technology, renewable energy, and life sciences.
According to Mr. Gallagher, OpenCape has concluded its exhaustive work with NStar, National Grid, and Verizon to secure access to approximately 12,000 telephone poles across the Cape and 50,000 feet of underground conduit in order to install the fiber optic network.
Construction of that physical infrastructure and a regional collocation data center, the latter of which will be located in the former 911 emergency dispatch center in Barnstable, are scheduled to begin this June.
The project is expected to wrap in January 2013, when the federal grant funding the construction expires. “We are on schedule to get this completed in 2013, with some initial service early, maybe in mid-2012 in certain segments,” Mr. Gallagher said.
New Project Announced
Dr. Nunes noted that the Smarter Cities effort originally focused heavily on water use, and said the region’s water quality and wastewater management issues were two main reasons why IBM sought to partner with the county.
One of the county’s initial proposed projects was the creation of a Center of Excellence for Water Resources, which would assess critical issues relating to water quality and management, centralizing water information and stimulating technology development needed to monitor and improve water quality and manage water and wastewater.
That concept was reborn at the end of the summit as the Center for Innovative Water Technologies (CIWT), a new nonprofit entity headed by Robert A. Curtis, CEO of the Regional Technology Development Corp. of Cape Cod. The Cape Cod Commission and the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole are partners in this effort.
“This new center will drive research and development of new smart water technologies for the $700 billion global water market, provide smart water innovators the resources they need to test and deploy their new technologies, facilitate focused public-private sector collaborations, and cultivate a public that is well educated about the efficient use and management of water,” Mr. Curtis said.
The envisioned CIWT will be located at near the MBL site in Woods Hole. The site will host an education and policy center, an “innovation accelerator” dedicated to creating new business opportunities based on new water technologies, and a 72-acre residential area, comprising 76 cottages that will test new technologies in real-world situations.
Mr. Curtis is seeing up to $300,000 in grant funding and corporate sponsorships to launch the project.
Mr. Niedzwiecki said such a resource could be especially useful as the county waits to see if it becomes formally involved in a brewing lawsuit filed by the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) and the Coalition for Buzzards Bay.
The organizations allege that the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Cape Cod have failed to meet their obligations under the federal Clean Water Act to control nitrogen loading in coastal embayments. The EPA is the primary target of the pending lawsuit, but the Cape Cod Commission and the Barnstable County Board of County Commissioners were also named in a letter of intent—a first step toward filing a lawsuit—filed last October.
Mr. Niedzwiecki, who noted that the CFL has “a national reputation of not losing” similar lawsuits, said in a worst-case scenario, the Cape would be forced by the courts to establish a regional sewer infrastructure, a project that would cost an estimated $8 billion—a price tag that would ultimately be paid for by residents through tax increases and betterments.
“We just can’t afford it. I mean, the feds aren’t going to be there, the state’s not going to be there, and our municipalities are running structural deficits,” he said, adding, “if we can’t talk regionally about a regional wastewater management system, then we deserve to overpay.”
At present 85 percent of residential wastewater treatment occurs on-site (Title V systems).
To learn more about the Smart Cape Cod project and review materials and video from the SmarterCape Summit, visit the official summit website at www.smartercapesummit.com.
SIDEBAR: County Launches Program To Support Entrepreneurs
The SmarterCape Summit saw the launch of a new program intended to help small businesses develop and grow.
The Entrepreneurial Resource System (ERS), a creation of the 12-member ERS Partnership, is a program that will identify and assist high-potential entrepreneurs and small business owners in the successful formation, development and growth of their business. The goal of the program is the formation of new, family-sustaining jobs. The program will also identify economically challenged businesses and assist them in maintaining their current level of employment.
The ERS is a seven-step process that will identify and screen entrepreneurs/owners, and their business concept, and then provide appropriate advice, counsel and technical assistance in order to foster success that results in job creation. The program will serve as a central, Capewide entry and tracking point for entrepreneurs, coordinating the resources of its partners and others within the region to more effectively assist entrepreneurs and owners (E/Os). In addition to its own partners, the ERS will utilize a cadre of consultants and advisors to assist E/Os in the attainment of their goals, largely on a pro bono basis. The ERS program will further serve as a facilitator for and link to capital access, a major component in the success of E/Os. Also, the ERS program will assist E/Os in the formation of a board of advisors, a critical step to insure the necessary support, guidance and monitoring essential to the longer term viability of the company.
Access to the Entrepreneurial Resource System may be gained through any one of the following partners: Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce, Cape Cod Commission, Cape Cod Community College, Cape Cod Technology Council, Cape & Islands Workforce Investment Board, Coastal Community Capital, The Community Development Partnership, Massachusetts Small Business Development Center, Regional Technology Development Corporation, Service Corps of Retired Executives or the managing partner, David Curtis.
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