Falmouth To Host Second SmarterCape Summit
By: Michael C. Bailey
The second annual SmarterCape Summit is coming to Falmouth later this month, and this year’s conference will build on last year’s by exploring new applications for the Cape’s technological resources.
Paul J. Niedzwiecki, executive director of the Cape Cod Commission and one of this year’s speakers, described the first SmarterCape Summit as a “very tech-oriented summit, and it was really built around the OpenCape initiative,” an effort to establish a regionwide broadband infrastructure.
The fiber optic cable that forms the physical backbone of the OpenCape network is being installed now, “and that has much broader policy implications. How do we use the technology once it’s in place as we think about ourselves becoming a smarter, more sustainable region?” he said.
The Sea Crest Beach Hotel in North Falmouth will host this year’s summit, which begins on Monday, May 14, and continues through Tuesday, May 15.
IBM launched the Smarter Cities initiative in 2009 as an examination of changes in demographic and technology trends in metropolitan areas. The focus was initially placed on cities, due to their typically heavy reliance on various infrastructures and their greater utility consumption.
IBM currently has more than 2,000 complete and pending Smarter Cities projects in the US and internationally, which capitalize on advances in technology to facilitate information sharing, analysis, and dissemination for a wide variety of purposes. The overarching goal of Smarter Cities is to make cities more efficient through the strategic use of information technology, which has proliferated significantly over the past decade.
Since its inception, IBM’s definition of “city” has been expanded to include any large area with a concentrated population and a reliance on critical infrastructures such as colleges and universities, and well-defined geographic regions such as Cape Cod.
The SmarterCape Summit will focus on seven topics: the environment, the economy, development, education, healthcare, transportation, and government.
“It’s broad on purpose, because I think one of the main goals of the SmarterCape Summit this year is to broaden that definition of ‘smart,’ ” Mr. Niedzwiecki said, laying out some of the key questions that will guide discussions at the summit. “How can we do things faster, better [and] cheaper? How can this benefit business and benefit a more efficient government? How can we use it to point this new technology and this new capacity at our biggest problems?”
Mr. Niedzwiecki noted that the county has already taken some early steps toward creating a technology-based regional presence through the development of the Strategic Information Office, a “very robust data warehouse” that he described as the new iteration of the Cape Cod Commission’s GIS (geographic information system) department.
“[GIS] technology and the platform have changed significantly” to create smart maps that integrate GIS data, which have an ever-increasing number of applications, Mr. Niedzwiecki said.
The county is also developing the Regional Umbrella Services Systems (RUSS), an effort to explore regional projects that will be made possible by OpenCape. The CCC is forming a governance panel comprising representatives from all 15 Cape towns to generate more ideas for applying the RUSS to the region’s most pressing problems.
The Cape Cod Commission has already received a $500,000 Community Innovation Challenge grant award from the Massachusetts Executive Office for Administration and Finance for the first practical application of the OpenCape network, an automated “e-permitting” system for all participating towns to issue municipal permits, licenses, and inspection services.
Mr. Niedzwiecki regarded e-permitting as the tip of the iceberg in the realm of “digital regionalization,” a concept that embodies the county’s long-held philosophy that some municipal functions could be handled more economically and efficiently at the county level “and provide a high level of service at a lower cost” while addressing one of the common obstacles to regionalization: concerns over the loss of local control.
“For 20 years there’s been talk of regionalization,” he said, “and it runs into the same predictable roadblocks: one is a perception of loss of local control, and the other is a perceived loss of identity…digital regionalization jumps right over those two hurdles.”
“This is the future of county government, which is not competing in any way with towns to provide local services,” Mr. Niedzwiecki said. “It’s really about helping those towns coordinate, based around an information backdrop, in a way that they can provide better services to taxpayers at a lower cost.”
To learn more about the SmarterCape Summit, visit the official website at www.smartercapesummit.com.