Smart Cities: from Hype to Action

We’ll never live in the Smart Cities of tomorrow if we continue to rely on the technologies and infrastructure of yesterday.

Data has surpassed Oil as the world’s most valuable asset. 3 out of 4 jobs will soon require some level of technology skills – and children in disadvantaged areas without access to the latest technology will continue to fall further behind – the digital divide. This has major implications for Smart Cities initiatives.

At the recent Colorado Smart Cities Symposium, we learned of the growing social divide due to lack of broadband access, with only around 60% in the Denver area currently having access. City population growth only exacerbates the problem, with over 400,000 new residents arriving in the past 6 years.

Smart Cities for All (

According to James Thurston, Managing Director of SmartCities4All, while Smart Cities initiatives aim to provide social inclusion, most are actually increasing the digital divide, due to lack of focus around accessibility, particularly as it relates to accessibility for persons of disability and older persons.

In order to create smart cities and regions, CIOs need to leverage data and technology while also implementing programs that promote community engagement to help make citizens’ lives better and boost economic development. Many Smart Cities aim to leverage real time open data driven solutions and take advantage of disruptive new technology in transport, communications and energy efficiency, to grow the economy. However, according to Gartner, 30% of smart city initiatives will be discontinued due to lack of integrated services and data analysis, by 2023.

“Smart city platforms need to extend beyond just IoT platforms to deliver full solutions that encompass citizen engagement and experience, ecosystems, data analytics and AI.” (Source: Gartner Predicts 2019: Smart Cities)

While infrastructure such as fast, reliable and affordable broadband internet is key, it’s also essential to be able to make effective and efficient use of the many sources of data available to feed a Smart City project, and integrate these sources into smart, personalised digital experiences. For example, “Ten Gigabit Adelaide” has been rightfully seen as a game changer, helping make a somewhat isolated city, struggling to attract investment, tranform itself to be globally competitive. As Peter Auhl, the driving force behind the initiative, commented: “This world first infrastructure is showing the impact digital infrastructure can have on an economy and a city”.

Yet many Smart City CIOs are still struggling to pull together all the disparate sources of data (IoT, Open Government Data, internal data, 3rd party data e.g. Strava data, Weather data, sentiment data, survey data etc) and present it in a seamless digital experience for internal and external users. 

In an ideal world, integrated digital experiences – for citizens, agencies, employees would just work – securely, seamlessly, functionally, and with delight. But they don’t. Instead, most Smart Cities have a growing problem of too many systems and silos, redundant or overlapping tools and data, and compounding communication challenges because of the “systems of chaos”.

No Smart City is immune to this challenge – and all Smart City CIOs wish vendor to vendor systems worked better together.  

Aloha Cloud for Smarter Cities - distributed real-time data and collaboration digital experiences

This is where AppFusions can help. The AppFusions AlohaCloud platform addresses these issues by providing dynamic, real-time, collaborative digital experiences incorporating enterprise-grade blockchain (including seamless SSO/authentications where required).

The AlohaCloud platform is unique in that while addressing the Data side of the equation through deep integrations for realtime IoT data, Open Data etc, it also incorporates a full Digital Workplace (DWP) for Collaboration.

This provides data-driven, fact-based collaboration with context. Particularly in the current environment of “fake news” and alternative facts, it’s now more important than ever for Smart Cities initiatives to be accountable, measurable, auditable.


Smart Cities need to become ‘collaborative, innovative problem solvers’. As Professor Gary Hamel commented: “The problem with the future is that it is different. If you are unable to think differently, the future will always arrive as a surprise”.

A great example of “thinking differently” is the US Department of Energy in Idaho, which has a vision to provide clean, secure connected transportation, addressing critical zero-emission transportation system challenges (e.g. grid capabilities and charging strategies). The 10-20 year strategic objective is to demonstrate Autonomous, Connected, Electrified and Shared mobility transportation solutions. A short term goal is to provide a bus electrification management system digital experience, engaging everyone from passengers and drivers to fleet planners, operators and manufacturers. AlohaCloud is the digital experiences platform powering this visionary initiative.

We will never have sustainable, vibrant and future-proofed local economies unless we embrace digital transformation to equip our local workforces and communities with the skills they need to for the future. AlohaCloud enables this digital transformation, bridging the digital divide. Making Smart Cities smarter.

We’ll never live in the smart cities of tomorrow if we continue to rely on the technologies and infrastructure of yesterday


We’ll never live in the cities of tomorrow if we continue to rely on the technologies and infrastructure of yesterday.



The Need for Speed

At a Big Data conference recently, IBM presented the following slide:
IBM - Big Data

Interestingly, IBM also predicted that 1/3 of consumer data will be stored in the Cloud by 2016, and that 80% of new apps will be distributed or deployed via the Cloud. (IBM also once famously predicted that there would be a world market for 5 computers, which will perhaps one day be viewed as equally laughable as the Australian Prime Minister’s recent assertion that 25mbps Internet speeds are “more than enough”…)

The implications of Cloud Computing + Big Data are: exponentially more Internet traffic and therefore a need for faster, better, more reliable Internet services. A “Big Data Explosion” is certainly underway, and the implications for technology infrastructure are clear, as I attempted to illustrate with this graphic.

Big Data Needs

As discussed previously (in The Law (and Danger) of Averages), the problem with statistics, such as averages and medians, is that they are often misunderstood, and can be misleading. For example, if I have my left foot in the freezer (0 degrees) and my right hand in the fire (1000 degrees), and my body temperature is 40 degrees, then what temperature am I? Am I ok? My average temperature could be calculated as (0 + 40 + 1000)/3 = 347 degrees. My median would be (0, 40, 1000) i.e. 40 degrees. In this case the average indicates that we have a problem, the median does not.

So, in the case of so-called ‘median internet speeds’, what does this mean? Well, it depends on the methodology used to calculate the median. How was the measurement taken? When was the measurement taken? If it was taken at 5pm on a weekday, that would be different to if it was taken at 3am on a weekend, for example. Without such information, the measurements are pretty much useless for drawing any meaningful conclusions.

This is how ‘median ADSL speed’ is actually calculated on the much maligned “myBroadband” website:

“The column ADSL_SPEED_MEDIAN refers to the statistical median of the modelled peak download ADSL speed for each premises within a given DA. The specific speed measure that has been modelled is the line sync speed which refers to the cable distance between the relevant exchange or street cabinet and an individual premises. Other factors, as detailed in the Broadband Availability and Quality Report will also affect real world download speeds.”

So the fact that the actual signal gets slowed down by muddy, flooded pits and deteriorating, degraded copper is not reflected in these numbers. The fact that the signal is actually leaving the exchange via a ‘remote integrated multiplexor’ (sub-exchange), which slows the data down from 22mbps (ADSL2+) to 1.5-8mbps (ADSL1) is not reflected in these numbers. Talk about mis-representation of the data. It would appear that Australia’s entire broadband ‘strategy’ is being run along the lines suggested recently by Dogbert:

Dogbert on Dashboards

Dogbert on Dashboards

I was therefore very pleased to have stumbled across this crowdsourced survey of actual ADSL measurements, which formed the basis of a submission to the Senate Select Committee Hearing into the NBN (National Broadband Network – sometimes disparagingly referred to as the NBNNNNN i.e. “National Broadband Network – Not National Non-Network”). The team behind this excellent submission were more than willing to provide the raw data, which I turned into the following set of data visualisations:

When it comes to the Internet, everyone’s an ‘expert’ and everyone certainly has an opinion. However not all opinions turn out to be correct:
"I think there is a world market for maybe 5 computers" (IBM Chairman Thomas Watson, 1943)

Hence the need for technologies such as Business Intelligence and Data Discovery tools, which aim to support “informed, fact-based decision making”. While that will not stop people from turning a blind-eye to the truth, particularly when it’s an “inconvenient” truth they would maybe rather deny, at least it gets the truth out there. (Hurrah for crowd-sourcing, social media and “Open Data”…)


I was recently asked by a Rocket Software Business Partner, Pentana Solutions, to give a talk on the topic of “Innovation”. Specifically:

How do companies promote innovation
How do companies create a culture of innovation
How do companies prioritise and manage the Business As Usual Vs. Innovation

At first, I was a little perplexed. What do I know about Innovation? However, as I mulled over the topic, I saw parallels in my own work and home life. At work, in Rocket’s Sydney R&D Lab, we are innovating daily to build a truly user-focused, self-service, Cloud/mobile-enabled data discovery & exploration solution for our customers. At home, I struggle daily with the challenges posed by a study of jazz guitar: creativity, improvisation, innovation.

The first ‘lesson’ I considered is summed up by the words of educationalist Sir Ken Robinson, in a recent TED talk: “If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original“. Or as my jazz guitar teacher says, “Letting Go” – letting go of fear and inhibitions. Creating a culture of trust, removing or reducing fear of failure, creating an environment when team members feel empowered to think “outside the box”, these are all key elements to promoting originality, which leads to innovation. This ‘culture’ needs to be enabled at the individual level, at the team level, and at the organisation level. For the latter, the organisation needs to consider it’s ‘brand’, the image it wishes to portray. A stodgy, outdated website, or bureaucratic hiring processes are not going to attract the kind of “creatives” you want to employ in the first place: people with an aptitude for creative thought, a passion for innovation and change.

When Steve Jobs talked about his Macintosh development team at Apple, he talked about “..musicians and poets and artists… who also happened to be the best computer scientists in the world”. He talks about “trying to expose yourselves to the best things that humans have done”. Get out of the office, take a walk, get inspired by the ideas of others, mix things up..

”Habitual thinking is the enemy of Innovation”

(Prof. Rosabeth Moss Kantor, Harvard Business School)

“It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to.”

(Jean-Luc Godard)

Another important consideration is that Innovation can come from anywhere – it’s not just about product. Any process, any service can be improved. Sometimes the small things get overlooked, but innovative thinking couldInnovation Slide yield big improvements in unexpected areas. Be open-minded and willing to challenge perceptions. As Nolan Bushnell comments in his book “Finding the Next Steve Jobs”, Neutralize the Naysayers (“any idiot can say no”)

One often overlooked aspect of innovation is the thinking process itself. A great way to create ‘space’ for innovation is to give people time to think. Treat is as  part of everyone’s job, make it a KPI. “Hackathons” and “Innovation Jams” are great, but innovative thinking should become part of everyone’s default thought process: how can this be improved? Allocate time for the thinking process. People like to create, like musicians with a tune in their heads. Our job is to capture and focus this creativity. Give space to people. We need to orchestrate, provide a vision, then allow the creative ‘juices’ to flow.

Another key to allowing this ‘culture’ of innovation to flourish is, of course, hiring people with an aptitude, attitude or predisposition towards creative thinking. Hire for passion and intensity. For example, when we hire front-end developers at Rocket, we don’t just look at javascript test scores, we look for passion, energy, creativity. Does the candidate want to be challenged? Is the candidate comfortable having an opinion? Does the candidate show initiative, intuition?


”Innovation is a state of mind”

(James O’Loughlin, The New Inventors)




A key area when it comes to Usability and User Interface Design, is Simplicity. Over the 20+ years I’ve been working in the Business Intelligence industry, it’s often seemed like simplicity has been the last thing on the software vendor’s minds. Yet when attempting to design a product for an end-user, self-service audience, rather than a ‘tech-savvy’ or IT audience, intuitive usability is critical. If a 4 year old child can use an iPad intuitively, why should a 40 year old executive have to struggle with some counter-intuitive, poorly designed piece of business software? It doesn’t make sense.

In John Maeda’s book ”The Laws of Simplicity”, he comments  “Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious, and adding the meaningful”. Simplicity is about clarity, brevity, refinement, restraint.



Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” (Steve Jobs)


“What is sought in designs is the clear portrayal of complexity…” 

“…not the complication of the simple”

Edward R. Tufte, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information


Rocket Software constantly questions, reevaluates and revalidates its assumptions, talking to customers and partners, clarifying their assumptions and needs. We try to assume nothing. And as we continue to develop exciting new products such as Rocket Discover, I personally try to keep the following thoughts top of mind:

Inspire yourself to inspire others
Challenge the status quo
Suspend disbelief and cynicism: Believe in the art of the possible
Empathize – Listen – provide a ‘context to create’
Empower the team


The parallel between software design and music

As an aspiring jazz guitarist with a lot of musician friends in the software industry, I often reflect on the parallels between software design/development and music. For example:

  • how the “workflow” of product design should be harmonious and keep a relationship “to the tonic,” i.e. the objective of the tool or task remains clear;
  • how jazz musicians innovated to create new musical approaches, as we innovate to create new software products and new approaches to solving business problems;
  • how we try to minimum “boredom” in user interface design by minimizing needless mouse clicks, as musicians try to keep the audience engaged.
By way of example, I read the following comment in an email about music a while ago: “Turnarounds started when jazz players became bored with chords that lasted for two bars or more.” (This made me laugh! As the joke goes, a rock musician plays three chords to 3,000 people; a jazz musician plays 3,000 chords to three people). The email went on to say “These players thought up new ways to take a long tonic chord and play other chords on top of it to take the harmony to a different place.”
giantsteps-smallAs described by the ‘Completion Principle’, people almost involuntarily seek to complete that which is not complete.

When something is certain and known then we feel comfortable and in control. When something is not complete, we cannot close that item in our mind as we have to keep thinking about it.” (

Music itself is often a play on an audience’s desire for “completion,” hence the concept of “tension and release” introduced by common harmonic structures such as the II-V-I, which “resolves” back to the I chord (or the V-IV-I in blues).autumn-leaves-small

Interestingly, what is considered musically “acceptable” has changed over the years. From at least the early 18th century, one interval was actually referred to as the devil’s chord: “Diabolus in Musica” (the devil in music), what we now call the tritone or flat 5 (diminished 5th). Perhaps equivalently, it wasn’t that long ago that business software programs were often designed for “experts” rather than laymen, with little consideration to usability or intuitiveness. The concept of a “self-service business intelligence” product was almost an oxymoron.

Yet thinking about features and not about flow (workflow) is akin to thinking about scales and modes, and not about the underlying harmony and melody. Having a bunch of loosely coupled UIs or “studios” is a little like having a bunch of musicians playing who are playing for themselves and not each other, who are not in tune with the rest of the band.

It is certainly just as important to understand the form/structure of a tune as it is to understand the overall structure of a software solution. Usability design (UX) without an understanding of form and function (business needs/problems) is perhaps the equivalent of elevator music.

Once the form (concept, requirements) is/are well understood, however, then good developers can be trusted to improvise and innovate. Similarly with good musicians. Here is a tip I got from a great jazz guitar teacher, Jody Fisher (in relation to creating improvised lines between chords):

chinese_symbols_for_innovation_9599_2_40“You know, you can play almost ANYTHING to approach the next chord; you’d be surprised how freeing this can be…It works because any note has some relationship with any chord–of course it’s a matter of taste…”

In our world, I think this has parallels with giving developers “freedom to create” (or “fail-fast”). “Fast failure” is the new culture driving innovation: being afraid to fail kills ideas. Interestingly, innovation means create-new (Chueng Xin) in Chinese.

What is more important, essence or perfection? Comparing waterfall vs agile development could be analogous to comparing classical vs jazz. Classical has detailed “requirements,” painstakingly developed via the score, which is played as written. Jazz is more free-form, a general idea/form (theme) which is then built upon through improvisation (iterations/sprints).

My friend Adam Rafferty, who studied with Mike Longo (former pianist and musical director for Dizzy Gillespie) ,recently wrote about how Mike described the difference between “How To Play” and “What To Play.”

“How To Play” “What to Play”
1.Touch                                            2. Time
3. Tone
4. Technique
5. Taste
 1. Harmon
2. Melody
3. Rhythm
4 Counterpoint
5. Form

Adam suggests:

“What to play” can generally be written on paper in a book form – it’s “information” much like a cookbook.
“How to play” is a bit more elusive…some chalk it up to “feeling” but it’s much more than emotion. It’s intuition and experience.

Similarly in software development. Concepts (harmony), such as “material design,” or architecture (form) such as the “MEAN stack” are the building blocks, but it takes intuition and experience to turn these into elegant software. In fact, it’s sometimes “how to play” can equate to “what not to play.” As Miles Davis once said “it’s not the notes you play; it’s the notes you don’t play.” In his book “Simplicity.” John Maeda comments:

“The simplest way to achieve simplicity is through thoughtful reduction” (John Maeda, ”The Laws of Simplicity”)Simplicity

In my R&D lab we often talk about “simplifying complexity.” It’s much harder to make the complex seem simple than it is to make the simple overly complex. Hence the brilliance of someone like my favorite guitarist, Wes Montgomery.

The great Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki wrote: “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” Regardless of how much we learn or how expert we become, we can benefit from seeing ourselves as beginners. Keep an open mind. Think “outside of the box.”

To finish with an (alleged) quote from the infamous Yogi Berra:

“Anyone who understands jazz knows that you can’t understand it. It’s too complicated. That’s what’s so simple about it.”

And so it may be with good software design…


Putting the ‘business’ into ‘social’

Traditional BI ‘collaboration’ is one-to-many e.g. publishing infographics to a website or emailing a PDF – it’s like running a webinar where the participants are on mute (‘listen only mode’).

The future of collaborative BI must evolve to ‘many-to-many’ – including abilities for co-authoring of BI content, as well as co-consumption, annotation, discussion, sharing, editing. The basis of innovation is being able to build upon the work of others, contributing to the ‘body of knowledge’. Collaborating, in other words.

Yet historically, too many people, particularly those involved in Governance of BI systems, have essentially been ‘anti-collaboration’. Which has, ironically, made the situation worse by encouraging users to find ‘work-arounds’, resulting in, for example, the proliferation of spreadsheets. As Boris Evelson of Forrester Research recently commented to me in an email on this topic, “We increasingly hear from our clients that BI silos are now proliferating.  Basically these  platforms are now becoming the new spreadsheets”

The combination of Enterprise Social platforms such as IBM Connections with more modern Cloud-ready, mobile enabled, self-service BI tools helps move better decision making into the line of business, moving towards an ability to see and manage outcomes in real time. Recent research from Aragon Research suggests that, by the end of 2017, 75% of business will be harnessing mobile collaboration, helping to provide real-time analytics for the team, and embrace agility in the workforce.

The key to Collaborative BI is speed. Speed to a decision. Having better, more informed, fact-based conversations with the right people. As the Irish playwright G. Bernard Shaw famously commented:

”…if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas.”

Or, at the very least, we have one, better, idea.

And, to finish with one final thought I recently received from my favorite BI Analyst, Howard Dresner:

”One piece of advice for Collaborative BI. Stop using email!”