Voices of Digital Communities

The 10 Best Ideas from the Other 14 Communities (#3)

The top strategy executive of a telecom firm recently shared with me this pithy sentence: "Structure follows strategy." It's a good saying, because it expresses ...

by / March 29, 2010
The top strategy executive of a telecom firm recently shared with me this pithy sentence: "Structure follows strategy."


It's a good saying, because it expresses two valuable ideas.  First, an organization should be structured to carry out its strategy, not the other way around.  And second, not even the best strategy will work unless you put the right structure in place to accomplish it.

Besides, they are wonderfully hard-edged business terms, aren't they?  You feel wise and powerful just saying them.  Compare that with saying another word that ICF uses far more often.  Collaboration.  It isn't quite the same thrill, is it?  Yet, in Intelligent Communities, lasting transformation is usually the product of collaboration among many partners.  And this year's Smart21 Communities demonstrate that making collaboration pay off takes - you guessed it - both strategy and structure.     

Many  communities take a collaborative approach to developing strategy.  The city of Ballarat in Victoria, Australia assigned a team at the local university to develop a plan called Ballarat ICT 2030.  The work took on the rigor and cross-disciplinary depth of a major research project.  The team consulted with state and local government, local businesses, ICT firms, and community leaders. They identified trends, uncertainties and linkages with the power to shape the city's future.  Over 220 people contributed through interviews, surveys, panel discussions, workshops and briefings over four months.  Stir in a generous portion of data on national and global trends, and the Ballarat ICT 2030 strategy was ready to go.  It called for making the city a globally competitive ICT center by creating the infrastructure (broadband) and support system needed to create, attract and retain tech companies. 

Collaboration can also provide the structure for a project.  In 1994, Besançon, France became the first French city to deploy a metro fiber network, even before the 1998 liberalization of France Telecom. It was a cooperative project of local, regional and national government agencies, which were soon joined by semi-public organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce and local university.  Collaboration was structured through co-ownership of the assets, with defined terms for joint network usage and maintenance.  The backbone provided by the cooperative network has enabled Besançon to launch multiple award-winning educational programs.  Interestingly, this approach finds its mirror image in an American community, Cleveland, where a nonprofit called OneCommunity also assembled a fiber network serving members of a public-private cooperative.  The OneCommunity network helped to put the city and greater region (Northeast Ohio) on the list of the Top Seven Intelligent Communities of the Year, not once but twice.   

An American member of the Smart21 - Riverside, California - has made collaboration an integral part of both strategy and structure.  After hiring a new city manager to reverse years of drift, Riverside involved leaders from business, government, community groups and the city's four colleges and universities in crafting a vision for the future.  The resulting vision called for Riverside to deploy an advanced broadband infrastructure and use it as a foundation to aggressively attract technology companies to this low-cost location only an hour's drive from Los Angeles.  Those companies, in turn, would generate demand for the thousands of students graduating from the city's universities, who had long taken their skills and earning power elsewhere.  To carry out the strategy, Riverside mayor Ron Loveridge formed a nonprofit corporation called SmartRiverside.  Its board included the CEOs of Riverside's existing high-tech companies.  They formed an advisory group called the CEO Forum, which began issuing recommendations for attracting and retaining tech businesses.  At each stage in the city's development since then, the CEO Forum has played a part, from pushing the hiring of Riverside's first CIO to a decision to deploy a WiFi network for public safety services, citizens and businesses. 

Communities are not businesses.  Decisions are not rendered in executive suites and passed down through the ranks.  Decisions are shaped by politics - the art of the possible - and by culture and recent history, which makes collaboration a necessity and truly effective collaboration a competitive advantage.  But as the Smart21 show, collaboration alone is just a good conversation.   In an Intelligent Community, collaboration follows strategy. 

Robert Bell Co-founder of the Intelligent Community Forum

Robert Bell is co-founder of the Intelligent Community Forum, where he heads its research and content development activities. He is the author of ICF's pioneering study, Benchmarking the Intelligent Community, the annual Top Seven Intelligent Communities of the Year white papers and other research reports issued by the Forum, and of Broadband Economies: Creating the Community of the 21st Century. Mr. Bell has also authored articles in The Municipal Journal of Telecommunications Policy, IEDC Journal, Telecommunications, Asia-Pacific Satellite and Asian Communications; and has appeared in segments of ABC World News and The Discovery Channel. A frequent keynote speaker and moderator at municipal and telecom industry events, he has also led economic development missions and study tours to cities in Asia and the US.