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Smart Valley - A Network of the Future

A non-profit organization is working to improve the future economic viability and quality of life in Silicon Valley.

by / September 30, 1995
Oct 95 GT Problem/Situation: The Silicon Valley wanted to prepare for the 21st century by building an electronic information infrastructure. Solution: Smart Valley Inc., a non-profit organization that's heading flagship projects to help bring the Silicon Valley into the next century. Jurisdiction: "Silicon Valley," south of San Francisco. Vendors: Smart Valley Inc. Contact: Smart Valley Inc. 408/562-7795.

Justine Kavanaugh Staff Writer Silicon Valley is, if anything, an appropriate place to plan an electronic community of the future. The area is not only famous as the home of a number of technology companies, but is also part of the sprawling, heavily populated San Francisco Bay Area - an area that could definitely benefit from online connections to government, people and businesses. But Silicon Valley's project - called Smart Valley - goes far beyond a basic community network where people can access information about their area. Instead, Smart Valley consists of a series of ambitious projects focused around a single overall goal - to create an electronic community of the future by developing an advanced information infrastructure. "Smart Valley grew out of a solid vision," said Seth Fearey, one of the company's directors. "It was created not because we thought the technology was nifty, but because we wanted to build the infrastructure for what we believe is going to be our 21st Century economy. The system will not only benefit all sectors of the community, we hope it will also improve the Valley's way of life." Smart Valley Inc.'s charter as a non-profit organization is to facilitate the implementation of the Smart Valley vision by acting as an independent broker between technology providers, service providers, applications developers and end users. Once the goal for Smart Valley was developed, more than 100 people from local companies, schools and governments - as well as private citizens - volunteered to help turn the dream into reality. "An essential part of our project is volunteered time, products and services," said Fearey. "Without that, we couldn't have gotten very far." The volunteer spirit has paid off well. Smart Valley is now a non-profit organization operating with a 12-person staff, a budget of about $700,000 and donated services and equipment worth approximately $450,000.

Creating a Non-Profit Fearey said there were several reasons why they chose to create a non-profit organization for the project. "We created a non-profit because we needed a focal point for this - a group of people that would become experts so they could help put projects together. So when people call up and have an idea for a project linking up X with Y, we can direct them on who to talk to, what to do and so on. Basically, we broker partnerships." Another valuable aspect of becoming a non-profit group is being able to put together public/private partnerships. "The public sector can't sit down and talk to the private sector without the presence of a neutral party. There are too many conflict of interest problems. By having Smart Valley chair meetings, those type of problems go away," said Fearey

Flagship Applications According to Fearey, Smart Valley has three overall objectives. The first is awareness and education. The second is to help people understand the technology. The third and most important objective is to develop flagship application projects. Fearey said the main reason for heading up flagship projects - there are currently seven - is to open the door for others to follow. "What we're trying to do is help people understand how to set up their own programs, so eventually they will know how to do it without us," he explained. "If everyone is involved in doing networking projects, we will move toward a fully electronic community much faster." "We're building a bridge between government and technology," said Kathie Blankenship, the company's director of marketing and communications. "A lot of what can be used in these applications doesn't have to be invented - it's already there. It's just a matter of helping people understand how to use it."

Following is a brief description of each of Smart Valley's Flagship projects: * CommerceNet - CommerceNet is a consortium of local companies conducting the first large-scale market trial of electronic commerce via the Internet. Smart Valley helped assemble the consortium of sponsoring companies and helped secure the $12 million needed for this ambitious three-year project. The group's main challenge is to overcome the barriers that have traditionally hindered commercial usage of the Internet. Products and services from leading companies are now available thru CommerceNet's directories. "We will also create collaborative product development environments, online competitive bidding boards, and transportation and production scheduling services," said Fearey. * Government - Smart Valley is involved in several initiatives focused on allowing citizens to better interact with their government. Citizens can file permits electronically and express opinions to elected officials over computer networks. The Santa Clara Public Access Network will also be launched so residents can access a wide array of tools and services on the Internet. Four access sites became active in the first quarter of 1995 and as many as 30 sites will be available in the long-term. * Telecommuting - Smart Valley published a guide that provided essential information and guidelines for telecommuting. The company then organized a multi-organization telecommuting pilot project that included seven Silicon Valley organizations and about 200 employees. For one year, the participants telecommuted regularly to gain real-world experience with the issues and benefits of telecommuting. After that, Smart Valley surveyed everyone involved and found that the benefits of telecommuting surpassed expectations in every category surveyed. The last phase of the project is intended to heighten awareness and enlarge acceptance of telecommuting throughout the Silicon Valley. * Bay Area Digital GeoResource (BADGER) - This project will create an online, Internet-based system to display and process geographic data of the San Francisco Bay Area. The BADGER team will develop a suite of three GIS applications to address the issues of environmental regulation compliance, vegetation management and disaster planning. Smart Valley secured a $3 million cooperative agreement to initiate the project and further assisted the BADGER effort by co-authoring the funding proposal, raising the project's visibility among decision-makers and contributing high-bandwidth communications services. "We're forming, in a sense, a buyer's cooperative which will make it easy to buy maps as a group, share the cost and also share information with each other," explained Fearey. * Smart Schools - "This is our most ambitious project," said Fearey. "We are trying to get 600 schools in San Mateo and Santa Clara connected to the Internet. But we don't just want to provide a connection. We also want to provide teacher training, curriculum that takes advantage of the Internet connection, funding, connectivity services, etc." Smart Valley is developing a set of technical guidelines that will allow schools to spend their money wisely, avoid dead-end products, and access detailed technical data and advice not available in other documents. Already, in-kind donations of over $1 million for hardware, software and technical expertise have been received for the Smart Schools project. "It's been exceedingly difficult, because you have so many different jurisdictions to deal with when it comes to schools. But I think we are making good progress," said Fearey. "With the Internet, [what] teachers are finding is a whole new style of learning - what they call collaborative learning. And industry likes that because, more and more in industry, collaborative teams are they way to get things done. So if kids can learn that skill early, it's great." * Health Care - "There are two areas where we can make an impact in health care," said Fearey. "Improving communication within and among institutions and improving communication between the health care system and the public." An advanced system will also allow patients to access health information online. Doctor-to-patient communication can be improved in a variety of ways, from routine activities like scheduling appointments to specific communication about a particular health care condition. Telemedicine links can also be set up to provide convenient links to specialists. "We have two links with clinics that have been operational for about three months," said Fearey. "We also have a link into a senior center - these are people have a difficult time getting just a few miles down the road. It's not clear weather its financially viable yet, and there are big issues surfacing with the insurers, but that's why were doing this - to learn what the issues are." Smart Valley is also launching an educational program - called Telecom 101 - to help local cities understand telecom issues and a program designed to support local multimedia industries.

Building Bridges "Our mission is to help people understand the information highway, what it's good for and what it's not good for," said Fearey. "It's a complicated subject, but one people ought to be looking into and trying to understand. We think there are real benefits not only to the business community and economic development, but also to the citizens and to government, which can use it to build bridges to the citizens." Fearey said one thing he notices often is that many people don't realize that sophisticated technology isn't needed to start similar projects. "You can start using ordinary modems, telephone lines - figure out what you can do to take advantage of what's already there to get your feet wet," he said. "What were doing is almost like creating large market trials," said Blankenship. "We're helping people understand what works and what doesn't work. There are tremendous opportunities for other organizations or entities to take what were building and then build on that, so nobody has to reinvent the wheel."

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