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What Would You Ask Your Backhoe?

At the ICMA Annual Conference, keynote speaker Bob Chapman wrapped up with a story about the three people he’d most like to meet. While his brainstorming on this issue was interesting and expanded on his themes of personal leadership and caring, that “what if” question is one managers need to consider in a new way as well.

In an earlier post in this blog, Tom Miller of National Research Center likewise talked about the challenges of information overload and being prepared to ask the right questions.

Using THINGS to Answer Questions

In these days of the Internet of Things, we need to look beyond the personal and the verbal to consider the three things you’d most like to engage in a conversation.

Taking a medical analogy, non-invasive procedures enable the diagnosis of diseases or cancers that would once have required exploratory surgery. From a storm and wastewater perspective, video cameras allow us to travel our communities’ underground arteries via tether, but that still requires dispatching a crew to video each section of pipe. From a sensor standpoint, where internet-collected flow meters and rain gauges can be pre-installed in key locations, the notifications can come directly to you, letting you know where capacity may be overwhelmed or key infrastructure may be blocked.

Traffic control systems can be similarly networked, so that slowdowns in one area can lead to corresponding adjustments in signal timing, express lane activation, or transit dispatch along alternate routes. The same is true for automated or remote management systems in building HVAC.

Imagining Future Technologies

A key challenge managers face is not waiting to deploy the already-developed technologies, but articulating for the technology world the questions they would ask if they could.

  • What would your playground equipment say?
  • What questions would you ask your pavement?
  • Could your hospital tell you where antibiotic-resistant bacteria are lurking?

Just as political pundits can debate the differences between polls and forecasting models, fleet managers need to consider what types of vehicle sensors might be better predictors of future maintenance needs than just the odometer reading.

In leading our local government organizations, we need to engage in that type of technology visioning now, because our inquisitiveness and leadership will shape the smart community solutions that will be developed in the future.

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