By Michael Curri
Much too often broadband initiatives that should be successful end up falling flat – for a myriad reasons. Perhaps they do not get off the ground because of a lack of vision, planning, or leadership. Many fail during the strategy and build-out process as they lack focus and/or sufficient investment of time, energy, and resources. Some initiatives may have been successful building the network but fail because they are simply taking a “we built it – you use it” approach and not driving applications and adoption. And even the most successful broadband projects, with ample utilization and economic and social impact can be perceived as a failure if the outcomes are not measured and reported.
It is for all of these reasons that SNG encourages its customers (and all broadband project managers for that matter!) to design and run their broadband initiative with “one eye on the Broadband Lifecycle.” In this issue of Bandwidth, and the next two, we will be taking a look at 2 of the 6 steps of the Broadband Lifecycle. In this issue: step 1 (identifying gaps, needs, and demand) and step 2 (pre-planning and assessment).
Before you jump in with both feet (and fistfuls of dollars), ask yourself: does your community need (more) broadband? Is your region’s current infrastructure insufficient when it comes to meeting the needs of your entrepreneurs? If the answer to either question is YES – then the most important task in step one is to determine how a broadband investment can eliminate community shortfalls and create solutions for economic and civic advancement.
Critical here is to identify your community’s specific needs. Don’t make the mistake of simply following any “tried and true best practices” that you think may apply in your territory – as the gaps and needs for one region are not necessarily yours. Don’t scrimp on research in this stage – too often it is feared that research is too slow and expensive – or just unobtainable. However, we know it can be done. Strategic Networks Group (SNG) has for years been helping governments, at municipal, regional and national levels, to best understand where investment will make the biggest impact. [Most recently SNG has helped Alberta (Canada), Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, and Virginia with a variety of data collection solutions, including e-Solutions Benchmarking.]
Step 2: Pre-planning & assessment
Make sure you have your “ducks in a row” and all of your stakeholders/partners on board before moving forward with the next step (developing a strategy). What do you need to implement a successful broadband deployment? What leadership and partners do you need to achieve your community’s goals? What components need to be included your deployment? Keep in mind that having a well-represented group of invested parties in your community helps create the momentum you need for a wide-reaching, successful project.
Make sure you take into account your community’s assets: each community has both different needs and different strengths – and those strengths will be uniquely leveraged via the broadband-enabled “platform for innovation”. Too often communities take shortcuts. Instead of uncovering what the needed resources are, or how to leverage current efforts to best serve the specific and unique needs of the community, civic leaders race to copy what another community did. [Contact SNG for our numerous case studies in this phase, including work in Miami (FL), Akron (OH), the Canadian provinces of Ontario, Toronto, Manitoba, and Australia.]
No matter where you are on the Broadband Lifecycle, you can turn to us for leadership to help navigate through the challenges and pitfalls of each step, maximizing your project’s economic impact and civic advancement.
Next Month: Steps 3 (e-Strategy & decision to invest) and 4 (Build or expand network capacity).
By Doug Adams
Now that you have funding, how can you make sure that your project lives up to the promise that got it funded in the first place? Hundreds of broadband projects are being funded in 2010 – be it from Stimulus or some other funding source – but how many will truly become a community asset that drives economic and social benefits?
Key to making sure your project will have a return on investment with quantifiable outcomes starts with these four guidelines:
Don’t focus on engineering. It’s all about awareness and adoption.
Broadband planning should start with current and future demand of e-solutions by individual businesses, organizations and households. It is natural to focus on the tangible always – the network build, the nuts and bolts of it all – it is how we’re programmed… to follow a blueprint and build.
But building without utilization is a fruitless (although significant) exercise. It’s the utilization, the applications, and the resulting increased productivity, competiveness and innovation that your network creates that are the reasons for investment. Never lose sight of this. It’s the “off-balance sheet” benefits to the private and public sectors that are key for your broadband initiative to bring community value. And the key to deriving value is, and always will be awareness and adoption. Often requiring campaigns targeted at the individual business, organization and household level.
By always keeping your eye on driving adoption, the public investment will be seen as a successful part of community growth.
Use data to drive decisions – before, during, and after the project.
Broadband planning is part of strategic planning for a community / region. Without an assessment of current utilization, or a vision of what the utilization could be, how can an appropriate network be built?
Make sure you do the legwork (research) to understand what how local businesses need to do to be productive and competitive and how broadband – or better broadband – can help them achieve their goals. Do you have plans for applications that will support needs? What services can broadband support for public institutions? And will the network be able to meet utilization requirements?
Take ownership locally of your region’s future – local stakeholders need hard data and insights to make the right decisions about what kind of community they want to be 5, 10 years down the road – and how broadband helps get you there?
Investing in broadband is NOT just about the financials. It is about creating a “platform for innovation.”
It’s easy to see the immediate benefits that broadband will bring – be it needs that are blatantly apparent or discovered through assessment. What is not always as immediately evident is the long term transformational power of a broadband “platform for innovation.” One needs only to look back ten years to see how the world has changed – and the economic and social benefits that have accompanied this change – when broadband first emerged as a replacement for dial-up.
Looking back through our history, there have been countless – and sometimes unpopular – decisions to make an investment in infrastructure whose benefits would reveal themselves only when it was in place, and for decades to come. Roads, railroads, water and sewer systems, national defense, etc. are all examples of economic drivers that exceeded what could have even been imagined.
The opportunity cost of not having broadband is continued loss of jobs, industry and youth from a community / region – you cannot afford not to have it if you wish to remain relevant and competitive in an increasingly globalized economy.
Only when you stop looking at your broadband project yielding only immediate and finite benefits will you begin to see the true benefits for your community.
Frame the benefits. Measure them. Promote.
While all of the benefits of your network are not immediately measurable – measure what you can – and promote your success! Define success is measurable, tangible metrics – not with philosophical mumbo jumbo.
By defining goals and the criteria for measuring success, it is possible to collect the data needed for short-term return on investment. All public investments require accountability and transparency, so putting in place up-front monitoring and management process maximizes cost-effectiveness of cost-benefit analysis, but more importantly can leverage these processes and tools to maximize local economic and social benefits. Of course SNG can help you with each and every challenge you may have to ensure your community’s network investment has the measurable impacts and long-term benefits you need.