Tuesday, October 27, 2009
CityWatchLA - LA is Suffering from a Severe Case of Disconnect
CityWatch, Oct 27, 2009
Vol 7 Issue 88
The Mayor's proposal to dump the city's current email system in favor of a $7 million Google "cloud computing" platform is about to slide through City Council. It demonstrates a short-sighted willingness to invest in technology as a substitute for a commitment to training city staff in a larger communications strategy based on LA's Connectivity Vision. If you haven't heard of LA's Connectivity Vision, it's because LA doesn't have one.
Typically, a vision would drive goals and strategies and eventually result in the selection of tools, which would then be put to work by well trained people, all embracing specific responsibilities and working toward a common goal. (See video report .)
LA's approach is to embrace new technology in the hopes that old habits and older paradigms will simply fade with the click of a "system upgrade" button. If only it were that simple.
The City of LA has been using Novell's Groupwise email system and software since the early days and is currently in possession of an upgrade that LA has failed to implement. The upgrade, the training and the maintenance that supports the upgrade, and the promise of a 10% reduction in future licensing fees have all been offered by Novell over the last year in an attempt to keep the Los Angeles contract.
Novell is the third largest provider of email systems, after IBM and Microsoft, and relies on servers to support the email system.
The Mayor's proposal would replace Groupwise with Google's Enterprise email system and would also include an array of services that start with Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Talk, Google Docs, Google Sites, Google Video, Google Message Security, and Google Message Discovery.
Google is new to the corporate email support industry and LA represents the "big fish" account in Google's aggressive pursuit of large clients.
Google relies on cloud computing (off-site storage, hosted by Google, accessed by internet) to support the array of services they offer, a small but significant issue that has critics screaming "You're going too fast!"
Personally, I'm a huge fan of Google. I switched to the Gmail this past year and I'm still discovering great features that enhance productivity and efficiency.
I love Google Docs and its ability to allow participants to work on the same doc simultaneously.
Google Calendars are wonderful and I have private calendars, public calendars and multiple user calendars for organizations. The best part is that all of these services are free! Well, they are to the common folks but that's because Google is very good at generating revenue by mining our data and then targeting us with advertising.
I'm sure it's a bit more complicated than that but the robust array of brilliant Google services are free to the public because we are an unwitting audience to the Google family of sponsors.
Herein lies the rub! Critics charge that it is foolhardy to give all of LA's records and data to a company known for its ability to mine data without proven guarantees of security and privacy and without huge financial penalties for service failures or security breaches.
As the City Council grapples with the financial impacts and the security concerns and the operational obstacles of a switch from Novell to Google, there are some advantages to Google that will probably distract the decision-makers at City Hall.
● Gmail offers users the ability to consolidate several email accounts into one. This alone probably justifies the switch. The Mayor can get his Mayor@LACity.org emails along with his SanAntonio@Hotmail.com and his YoTony@yahoo.com emails, all without having to signout and then back in to check each account. This feature is part of the City's $7 million deal and it's also free to the public.
● Gmail filters and labels make it possible for a busy world leader to organize incoming emails, separating requests from constituents, offers from investors, advice from the unions, demands from developers, threats from the City Attorney, lolcats from the City Council and alibis from City Department Managers into their respective folders.
Gmail's system is the best and it provides the pro and the novice alike an unparalled system for workflow management and efficiency in communications.
● Gmail accounts are actually multiple accounts, a feature that allows both city staff and common folk to register once and then to take advantage of multiple (unlimited!) email accounts.
SanAntonio@gmail.com is also SanAntonio@googlemail.com. One Gmail account can now be used to open multiple Twitter accounts and fans can follow @Villaraigosa, @SanAntonio and @YoTony without the interns having to open separate email accounts for each Mayoral Twitter account.
● Google Alerts are a great way to monitor the world without having to actually participate in the conversations that can take up soooo much time.
Simply set up a Google Alert to let you know anytime somebody refers to you or the topic that you're tracking. City leaders and average folks alike will get an email notifying them of conversations that reference them or their issues.
This is a very powerful "hot-line" tool that will get an official's attention in the early hours of the day. Use their name and get on their alert!
● Google Talk allows you to see who's online and to chat with them at all hours.
Imagine how efficient the City of LA will become if the Mayor can see who's working late and who's closing down early!
When LA goes from its ten-to-four operating style to 24-7, the public is going to see accountability like never before. The best part is the fact that the public can participate. Google Talk is for everybody. (If the Mayor lets you in!)
● Google Docs is a wonderful tool for collaboration. I wrote this document on Google Docs, I invited my wife to read it, she was able to edit from her computer and when we were done, we simply invited CityWatchLA and the document became this article.
Real time collaboration, one master with no derivative copies, multiple contributors, multiple formats, organized filing system, and nothing to get lost on a hard drive. As with all Google Treats, free to the public, not to the City!
● Google Calendars are the best and I have several, all overlayed so that I can identify schedule conflicts, but all unique so that I can keep some private, some shared and some public.
The Mayor could even link his Facebook account to his Google Calendar so that the events automatically sync up. When his friends on Facebook invite him to a neighborhood council meeting or to a soiree at LALive, the event will show up on his Google Calendar. Of course, he'll need to be specify which calendar he wants to use, the official calendar or the "other" calendar.
I could continue with the Google cheerleading but it's important to remember that LA will become Google's biggest Enterprise account. The proposed Google system is experimental and unproven for a city the size of LA.
Other cities use Gmail but only as an email backup system. The City of LA is in no position to spend $7 million on a "cloud computing" experiment that leaves privacy advocates storming the gates of City Hall, not Google.
If Google wants to land the "big fish" account, they should offer up the Enterprise system at no charge to the City and they should take the prestige of servicing the largest city in the most populated state in the most powerful nation in the world as their reward!
Missing from this City Council debate over Novell vs. Google is the simple fact that technology is no substitute for vision and skills. Learning to type fast does not make one a great novelist.
The strategy of "bigger and faster" upgrades coupled with enthusiastic and forceful campaigns, all employing the same habits and skills will only result in "more of the same" but delivered with "bigger and faster" enthusiasm.
Any successful company or organization of any significant size has a leader in charge of communications, not just technology, but of the greater need to connect with the public, the audience, the market, the world, and with itself. We need that leader.
In the land of the well-connected, Los Angeles is suffering from a severe case of disconnect. All the bells, whistles, and new-tech tools will not change that. LA needs a Vision for Connectivity.