If you're an IT professional working for a large municipal government, you've got a target on your back.
No doubt you already know it, but for those who don't, government agencies and their IT suppliers are planning municipal and regional infrastructure renovations on a grand scale. Spurred by ongoing private-sector cutbacks and the promise of additional government funding in 2010, the proposals -- if not the actual implementations -- are stacking up.
"A wave of modernization, from regional health information networks and intelligent transportation systems to smart power grids coming online and green buildings being constructed, is afoot with information technology at its core," states a "2010 Government Market Outlook Report" from consultancy Onvia.
"Spending by federal, state, and local governments now represents almost half of total GDP in the United States and that percentage is expected to increase in the coming years... Information technology will be a key component of all projects undertaken, across multiple verticals."
On the government side, at least one project, a nationwide Unified Community Anchor Network, has been proposed.
Vendors active in the movement include Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) with its "Smart+Connected Communities" initiative and IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM) with
solutions for "smart government" at all levels and expertise offered for "smarter cities."
Last fall, for example, IBM announced its IBM Government Industry Framework, which will be used through IBM Global Services in alignment with third-party integrators and other suppliers to boost city government IT infrastructures worldwide. In Alameda County, Calif., for example, IBM has set up a fraud detection system for the local social services agency.
Despite the incentives provided by government programs aimed at creating jobs and infrastructure, the move of IT vendors to court municipalities is not just about recession handouts. Organizations like the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) generated a number of projects related to contemporary urban renewal before the financial downturn.
It was CGI, for example, that Cisco credits with spurring that company's interest in working with cities on revitalization projects fueled by technology. "Clinton collared us... and we helped pull together a consortium," says Elisabeth Zornes, who heads Cisco's Smart+Connected Communities project in North America. "It seems that was ahead of the curve."
The organization Cisco helped found is Connected Urban Development, which has enlisted a range of partners, including MIT, in developing plans for sustainable transportation and streamlined communication networks for "smart" applications and systems in cities like San Francisco, Amsterdam, Seoul, Hamburg, and Lisbon.
Cisco also has broadened its efforts stateside, recently announcing redevelopment collaboration with the City of Holyoke, Mass. Cisco also has signed up with Metropolis, an international organization that incorporates discussion of how cities can move toward greater sustainability with the help of technology.
"We are convinced that technology can help with urban renewal and revitalization," says Cisco's Zornes. Specifically, the vendor is looking for cities, like Holyoke, for which it can create a plan for setting up broadband networks and smart applications to run over them.
The fact that Cisco must solicit candidates is a downside. Like
Google (Nasdaq: GOOG), which hopes to create a nationwide broadband fiber network based on volunteer municipalities, Cisco, IBM, and others must compete, not only against one another for government dollars, but against service providers that often have entrenched relationships with local agencies. Those service providers aren't going to give up any networks or services without a fight.
It's also tough for local governments to decide where to spend precious subsidies: Not much has actually happened in Holyoke yet. [Ed. note: Nothing much ever happens in Holyoke.] Cisco and the local government are still "identifying areas" where technology could make an impact.
Nonetheless, like IBM, Cisco has taken aim at a sector that's set to grow ahead of the rest, despite delays. It's a bandwagon on the roll, and it's gathering momentum by the month.
— Mary Jander, ThinkerNet Editor, Internet Evolution
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