The Cities Leadership Institute is bringing you from Silicon Valley to speak at the IQ Talk at Civic Theatre in Newcastle on July 26. The theme is living labs, which we’ll define as a model of collaborative innovation. What are you going to discuss?
How we take a people centered approach to building out the technology we use in cities. Cities should focus on results that matter to people, not cool gadgets.
You have a masters in urban planning and now work as deputy city manager for the city of San Jose in California. In broad terms, what can Newcastle, NSW, learn from your work in the US to create a smart and sustainable city?
I suspect most of the learning will be on my side, the Hunter Innovation Project [supported by Newcastle City Council, the University of Newcastle, Hunter DIGIT and Newcastle Now] is a fascinating collaboration that has all the right ingredients for innovation. What I can add is the salt and pepper in that stew of how to attract and retain the best talent.
At the City of San Jose you ran Innovation Games. How did they function?
We needed to cut $120 million from our annual budget, and didn’t want to do it alone. So we created a serious game that simulated the budget and had hundreds of our neighborhood leaders play the game in groups. The game results were decisions that balanced fiscal responsibility and community needs. Those results went directly into the actual budget.
You also created the Strong Neighbourhoods program – what is it?
The Strong Neighbourhoods Initiative was based on three principles. 1. Listen to people 2. Build on existing strengths and assets, and 3. Respond to community priorities. The City engaged over 4,000 resident leaders to develop 19 neighbourhood plans each with a ‘Top Ten’ list of priorities. We invested $100m in response to their priorities and over a decade leveraged $6.5 billion in other investment to accomplish about 175 of the 190 priorities. The strongest neighbourhoods are those where people know their neighbours, can go outside to meet in a clean park or busy coffee shop and feel safe.
You were director of Technology Engagement at PayPal and created a “Jedi network” of tech leaders to mentor future leaders. What is the biggest challenge facing IT leaders at this point in time?
PayPal had great engineers who knew their part of the system [but] it needed more great technology leaders who understood the system of systems. So we created a two-year rotational program that took our highest potential technologist and put them in a new crazy complex assignment every six months, from doing deals in Europe to near field communication here in Australia. The “Jedi” graduates are now in leading roles across PayPal.
In your current role you support leaders in IT, Innovation and Digital Services, Broadband and small Cell deployment and more. In real terms, how technology advanced is the City of San Jose and is it a leader among its peers?
Surprisingly for being in the heart of Silicon Valley San Jose was at the bottom of the pack. We had mobile service that could technically be described as ‘crappy’, and our internal systems were paper based. Our first two years have had a real focus on being brilliant at the basics, which has paid off.
Is the city of San Jose a Smart City in real terms?
San Jose right now is a Learning City, devoted to championing the customer, learning from data, and iterating to improve. I don’t think we will ever arrive at ‘Smart’ because technology and cities are always changing, and we need to keep learning with those changes.
What have been the main challenges in building resources to ensure that status as a smart city?
Focusing down from the myriad of interesting ideas to the vital few.
What have been the “wins” for San Jose?
The My San Jose app used by over 30,000 that lets you get a streetlight fixed, fill a pothole, paint over graffiti or remove trash with your smart phone. A broadband partnership with Telco’s to deploy over 4,000 small cells resulting in mobile service 10-100 times faster than today.
The My San Jose app used by over 30,000 people lets you get a streetlight fixed, fill a pothole, paint over graffiti or remove trash with your smart phone.Kip Harkness
What advice would you give to Newcastle as far building a smart city?
Focus on what is important to people, core to what a city does, and achievable at scale with new tech and process improvement.
How do you judge a smart city’s success?
Does our technology deliver meaningful results to the people who live here? And if it doesn’t work, did we learn from it?
You and your wife have two emerging leaders, children aged 18 and 14. What principles have you tried to instil in them in an increasingly digital world?
They have actually instilled in us, their parents, the importance of continuing to learn new things (like building smart speakers) in new ways (YouTube!).
To register to see Kip Harkness at the IQ Talk on July 26 go to https://www.eventbrite.com.au/e/iq-talk-tickets-47208911124