Mike Grigsby is a seasoned technology executive and a recognized thought leader in smart cities and digital transformation. Mike is an influential and strategic collaborator with a deep passion for helping organizations navigate the challenges of digital disruption across every facet of business operations. Having served in multiple CIO roles in both the public and private sectors, his background and experiences uniquely equip him to guide his clients to find success at the intersection of digital transformation and organizational change. An author and strategic advisor, Mike frequently collaborates and speaks on digital transformation, smart cities, public safety technology, transportation innovation, digital equity and inclusion, and digital government.
The digital transformation trend goes beyond consumers and organizations and creates a hyper-connected and collaborative society that transforms relationships between people. For connected citizens, communities, and society, we need smart cities. In this episode, Mike Grigsby discusses how to define and develop the smart city of the future and, most importantly, how to ensure that citizens and the community are at the heart of the transformation.
[00:00:00] KRISTINA PODNAR, host: The future of cities is taking a bifurcated direction today. One direction is the physical direction of improving infrastructures, such as the power grid and broadband connectivity, to support new applications. And then the other side is this virtual direction, which will include creating metaverse applications in a slew of other things. That's what we're talking about today.
[00:00:21] INTRO: Welcome to The Power of Digital Policy, a show that helps digital marketers, online communications directors, and others throughout the organization balance out risks and opportunities created by using digital channels. Here's your host, Kristina Podnar
[00:00:39] KRISTINA: Welcome to the Power of Digital Policy Podcast. Today I'm joined by Mike Grigsby, a seasoned technology executive and a recognized thought leader in smart cities and digital transformation. Having served in multiple CIO roles in both the public and private sectors. Mike's background and experiences are unique and they equipped him to guide clients to finding success at the intersection of digital transformation and organizational change, not something that's easy to do. Mike, welcome, and thanks for taking the time to share your experience and insights with us.
[00:01:10] MIKE GRIGSBY, guest: Kristina, happy to be on the show.
[00:01:12] KRISTINA: Well, I'm super jazzed about having a chance to catch up with you. First, many definitions of what makes a smart city, a smart city, or a smart municipality help us understand that definition because I've asked different friends and different colleagues, and the first thing that I always hear is, Well, if it's smart, it's not dumb. But that's not useful. What are we talking about?
[00:01:35] MIKE: Well, yeah, that's, that's not useful. It's accurate, but it's not; it's not useful. The term smart cities have been around for a long time, and it has evolved over time over the years. I think we continue to kind of peel off layers and get more and more into what it really means. But I think at the end of the day; it's the ability to be intelligent, to use technology in an intelligent way to gain effectiveness, to gain efficiency, to gain economies. And it's specifically wrapped around kind of municipal operations, right? How does a city function? Smart cities were in the beginning years; it was really focused on trying to help gather a lot of data. So that's one of the pillars of smart cities, but not only just gathering the data, but data has two purposes. One faster pattern recognition. We've gotta become more aware of what's going on around us, and then two smarter resource allocations. So now that we're aware of it, what's our appropriate and corresponding response to what we now know? And that, in a nutshell, is what smart cities are. It's its awareness, getting the cities better awareness, and then helping them have a better action plan, a better response to it.
[00:02:43] KRISTINA: I remember talking to you one time, and I really appreciated the fact that you said Smart cities are not smart parking meters, right? So we're going deeper than that, and it seems like the world is moving well ahead of the United States and, in some instances, maybe even the EU. What are you seeing as the opportunities in various areas globally that maybe we need to start thinking about for the United States or for Europe?
[00:03:10] MIKE: I think back to your point about smart parking or parking meters or smart water or anything. And that's the equivalent of saying hey, the tree is the leaves. Right? There's so much more that's going on around this. And I think over the years that we're now probably, we're 10-plus years into the real smart city era. And over the years, I think what we're starting to understand, and I think the biggest change has come from municipalities back toward an industry. One of the changes that we're seeing is municipalities and city organizations or civic organizations really starting to say; we have to have a better plan. We have to have a better strategy, right? These are great things. Smart parking is great. Smart water is great, smart lighting is great, but that in and of itself doesn't create a smart city and. If you get the cart before the horse, you're creating too many challenges for the city, right? Those distractions are something that I think cities need to pay attention to, and when I say cities, I could mean states, federal, counties, and townships. I think about it in the terms of a civic organization, and you know, where we're going now is just a smart integration of things that function both internally. How does a city operate? How does it function? And externally, what kind of experience are we creating for our constituents? Complexity has gotta be baked in there somewhere. You we'll never get, you know, it's like this, you know the saying, energy never disappears, it just dissipates, right? Or we just displace it. The complexity never really disappears. It has to be pushed somewhere. And we're starting to see smarter technologies pull that complexity back down into the programming so that the users or administrators don't have to, don't have to deal with that as part of their experience.
[00:05:00] KRISTINA: So when I think about smart cities done right, what should I think about? Is there a nirvana of, like, this is where everybody should get to, or is it based on individual use cases? What should we expect as we look for five to 10 or 20 years?
[00:05:13] MIKE: That's two-sided for me. That's a two-sided question because there is the city side here, what I'll call the administration side, and then there's the user side. And that question looks a little different between whether I'm a citizen or a resident of a community and what I should be asking for or looking for from my community. Or I'm an administrator, I'm a, I'm practitioner within the organization, and how am I delivering those services, and what should I be looking for? I think on the citizen side, on the constituent side, I think what you should be looking for is simpler interaction with essential services. How do I pay this easier? How do I connect with you more simpler? How do I engage with you better? I know just over the years, so many people, especially those my background is mostly, in the United States, from that perspective, but so many times, a resident's first interaction with the city is because they violated some code, right? What you, you gotta come down and you gotta pay this, this bill or this ticket, or whatever. Help me understand where and how I would have known that I needed to do that. Where do I get to show up? Right? Help me understand how to become a good resident and a good constituent. So you need to be thinking about those things. What's the engagement on the experience side? On the administration side, you have to be thinking about organizational ownership. And I have to start there. Too many times, municipalities and city organizations, kind of relegate these smart city projects to the IT department or the technology department, and it is so much bigger than that. You're into the operation side; you're into the business strategy side. It is too big for just one department to own it. It really requires organizational ownership.
[00:07:03] KRISTINA: What do you think then is the role of private companies in that process? Is this really something that our existing entities, our government entities, are ready to take? Or is it something that should be outsourced?
[00:07:15] MIKE: It's a dilemma, right? And I saw this; I'll go back to 2000, 2011 when I first got into the smart city space, and I started hearing the conversations from the industry coming in. I was working as a CIO for a public sector for a large police department at the time. And industry had this agenda, I'm not faulting for, but they had this agenda. They are, they need to match their, you know, meet their next quarter's numbers and so forth. So they have an agenda on that, and they came up with a narrative that supported their agenda, which was great. But that narrative is constantly looking for a problem to solve. You may pinpoint industry may be able to pinpoint or identify either an existing or soon-to-be existing problem within the municipal, within a prospective client. But is that organization really ready to tackle that problem? It's sometimes; you create more issues if you are reactive to a revealed need then being responsive to something known. And I give the example like this when, when you are taking, as an organization, when you take time to assess what's going on, it's great to hear the conversation from industry and say, Hey, we should be thinking about this. Now may not be the right time to address that. We need to be thinking about it. We need to be cognizant of it, and here's why. If we address this thing that the industry has a solution for, this thing may not actually be the problem. This thing may actually be tied to four other problems down the chain because we have an antiquated process or an antiquated legacy system, or we have something that's preventing us from moving forward. But if we address it here, we may be creating more, more pressure or more problems in backline. So the idea is organizations need to pause there needs to be patience. There needs to be intentionality in how they step into these smart city initiatives; developing a strategic plan is not sexy at all.
[00:09:27] KRISTINA: How do we ensure that we're really advocating for the right things within the operations, advocating for more humane, inclusive digital transformation? So what aspect and how do we actually do that for smart cities?
[00:09:42] MIKE: Good friend, he's a thought leader in the knowledge management space, Dave Snowden, he made the comment back in 2009, and he said that technology should be augmenting our human experiences, not replacing them. And I think if we start with that premise is that how do we do things smarter? How do we do, do them more intelligently, more spec economically, obviously, but how do we create better experiences for people, to enjoy what they're doing? I think we have to start from that standpoint. Like we are still at the end of this piece of technology that you just created is still a living breeding human. Okay. And it's you're not taking their hope, dreams, wishes, aspirations, everything into consideration or they're just trying to figure out how to live in the city. We talk about, and I, I know you, you've been in these conversations too, certainly, over the last five years, we've heard such an elevation on citizen engagement. Resident engagement, right? So many of our constituents are working two or three jobs just to stay afloat, just to keep them, there and maintain a quality of life. Engagement for them is going to look very different than other people along that continuum. It's going to look very different, and hoping that everybody gets to come to a city council meeting or everybody hopes it, right? It is just unreal; how do we bake that in knowing that they have those needs, knowing that they have those aspirations as well? How do we bake that in? And I think that is a really, really good conversation for us to have. I know, um, a lot of the digital inclusion, digital equity, and inclusion conversations are starting to think about how do we bring people into and, and help them participate in our growing digital economy. Those kinds of questions are really good for us to be thinking about. I connected with a startup company here recently, and I love that they are taking this spin on it, how that's just a twist on play on words. Everybody is familiar with this software as a service. They are developing what they are calling service as software. In other words, they're, they're putting and baking in their engineering, in their design. They are looking at the human element first and just hoping to connect with them through a piece of software, and it's, again, it's a play on words, but I, I really think that that really tells tailing how we have to think about these things.
[00:12:02] KRISTINA: That's making me smile because I just had a conversation with somebody else recently where we were talking about B2 v b2c, and he said, You know what, it's actually none of those. It's age to age. It's about human to human; it's actually true because that's sort of, at the end of the day, what we have to think about is that digital is facilitating an outcome or an experience or something. Still, it's a facilitation model, right? It doesn't remove the fact that you're a human. I'm a human, and we're connecting. It just so happens to be via the software that we're connecting today in this way.
[00:12:33] MIKE: Even something as simple as like automobiles, right? The automobile has rounds for a very, very long time. And it was originally designed to help us get from point A to point B faster, faster, and more comfortably. There are a lot of benefits to it. Well, over time, we've built all this infrastructure, all this policy around it, almost to the point that the automobile takes precedence over the human, right? And now we're starting to see this in a lot of cities, certainly over the last 20-plus years, starting to see more walkability. Let's create the shareable lanes and the bike lanes, and let's, let's remind ourselves that at the end of the day, cities are made up of people, not automobiles, not office buildings, not electricity and water pipes. Cities are made up of people. Those things are there to augment what we are doing and what we're trying to do.
[00:13:23] KRISTINA: I enjoy the fact that there's some aspect of autonomous vehicles when I get into my car. There are sensors all around me. Some things are just easier and simpler for me personally. However, the idea of giving up some autonomy is unusual, and the idea may be that you still have an experience that's natively human is unusual. So how do we actually ensure that still is baked into technology?
[00:13:48] MIKE: Many organizations are taking the human-centered design approach, which I think is a great step. Bake that into what you're doing. How do people interact with this? What are they trying to accomplish? Ask the question of what are we going for here. Let's not just do technology for technology's sake. Years ago, this was probably in the late nineties. I had one of the first autonomous robotic lawnmowers, and I loved it. It was a gadget. it was a tool. It was a, I mean it was a toy. It was, but it actually saved me time. I was living in Texas, and it allowed me to send my robot out and take care of that while I didn't have to stand out there in the heat and do that. Okay, that's a toy. But it actually served a purpose. It was a technology just for technology's sake. And that's kind of a comical answer or illustration. But the point is, so much of what we are doing technology-wise feels like it's the technology just for technology's sake. And the one thing that I would challenge everyone to do, whether you are a customer of technology or whether you're a developer of the technology, is to help people understand the why behind what you're doing. What, why did you create this? What was the issue that you're seeing, and why did you do this? A great example would be everybody has heard of 5g, right? We see all the commercials from all the cell phone providers and everything, and all we know is that Joe or Jill Q Citizen, all they know is that something is supposed to be faster. But we don't really know why? The average person on the street, and they don't know the benefits today, and certainly, they don't know the benefits tomorrow of what 5G is going to do. Okay? It makes it really challenging to invest and buy into what you don't understand is supposed to be accomplished. Now, whether you choose to participate in that, those supposed benefits, now that's completely up to you. But don't, don't, may say it just because it's not applicable to you. But we really need to do a better job of explaining what the technology is supposed to be accomplishing for us.
[00:15:50] KRISTINA: So that brings me to a fundamental question that I keep asking every one of my colleagues, and so today, Mike, you're going to be the victim of the same question. Is, I keep thinking about the role of educators in the digital sphere, right? Whether it's a smart city or if it's just getting our kids educated on data privacy or security. I keep wondering whose job is it to educate the citizen because I don't see where that's happening. But who's out there? Or whose job should it even be to be educating the citizen? Because everything that you're talking about has a component of education about information so that people can be included, they can have equity; they can participate, and we can understand their needs and how they want to experience them digitally. Chicken Egg education. How does this all evolve?
[00:16:39] MIKE: I'll even take your question one step further, forget about whose responsibility is, where do I go get the snapshot, the Digital Citizenry for Dummy's book that brings all of this together there's no one collective place to understand how to be a digital citizen. And that probably is one of the biggest challenges because once we, if we had it collective, maybe we could assign it to somebody and assign some accountability and some responsibilities to it. But there is so much out there; there's so much data, so much information, so much change, and so fast. How do we keep our finger on the pulse of this? Obviously, I've been in the tech space for the last 30-plus years. I don't know everything that's going on in the tech space, right? We could talk about autonomous vehicles, we could talk about artificial intelligence, machine learning, cybersecurity, the metaverse, Bitcoin, and NFT, and it's like we have so many different things that we could be paying attention to. Where's the snapshot of this? How do I go get educated even if I wanted to go do it on my own? I think it would be beneficial for us as a, certainly, us as a society, and I think you could look at this at a national level, regardless of country. I think you could look at this at a national level and say, Here are the basic fundamentals that everybody needs to know to engage at this level of the digital economy or in the digital sphere, right? And then we can start breaking that down into our K 12 education. We can certainly break that down into our secondary and post-secondary. The other side to this, too, is, I started realizing this as a former CIO when I would look at new projects, especially technology projects coming in. There was always a training component to this. The PAT formula was the provider of the technology would give us 40 hours of training. That was a train trainer. And then supposedly, after 40 hours, you were gonna have enough knowledge and, and know how to go back in and train the entire organization, it just doesn't work like that. So I started thinking about how this actually plays. And one of the things I started looking at, and I just, I kind of came up with the back of the napkin math on this, called my, uh, my domain expert demand curve, right? If you get hired into an organization to meet your job description, right, and you come in at this level, then over time, as you start to do and perform and produce for the organization, there's the first question of, Golly, , what can you do? And then there's, Oh my gosh, what else can you do? And so you start to take on this growth and evolution of your role, and you came in with your job description here, but 3, 4, 8, 10 years later, your job description is really nebulous and really kind of convoluted in a whole bunch of different things attached to it, and your job description's up here, but we haven't changed that. We haven't articulated that you're now accountable and responsible for all this new. And then we wonder why it's so challenging when you decide because you grow like this, you're now highly marketable, and you leave. How do we replace who's, who's grown and evolved, but we haven't as an organization, we haven't officially evolved with you. And so now you have to think about how do we change this? Perfect example of this would be, a lot of organizations are bringing new architecture websites. This new architecture allows many, many people to be content contributors to the website before either one person handled it or one department handled it. And you submitted all this. Well, now speed to execution allows anybody, and with controls, so you keep the training wheels on for people, anybody can become a content contributor to your website. Okay? Where is that in my job description? Where's the training that you're gonna provide me to be a? You hired me to be an analyst. You hired me to be a clerk; You hired me to be an engineer. Where is the content contributor in my job description? And do I now need to compensate you differently for that? Here's the training that goes along and so forth. So you can see that this technology change is continuously ratcheting up the base-level skill set. Just to come into an organization. Think about this. You may be in a dental office, and you have to be a content contributor. You may be a dental hygienist, and you have to be a content contributor for your organization's website. What, where does that fall in your job description? Is that just other duties as assigned or is it something more? And so these are the challenges we have to do, and we can't solve all of them. We have to be cognizant of them, and we have to exercise a lot of patience and a lot of understanding about how we're going to become, what we're evolving into, and who we're gonna be in the future.
[00:21:26] KRISTINA: So I see an opportunity for you to write a book, Mike. I'm thinking it's all about the citizen's onboarding experience to digital. And I think with the rise of the metaverse, you should definitely get the Metaverse title in there as well. We do read a lot in the headlines around the metaverse, and I personally don't believe that we're there yet. At XRSI we subscribe, or I shouldn't say us; I shouldn't speak for XRSI as a whole, but I certainly leverage a definition that says we're not there yet because we need a slew of technologies that have not matured yet. Anything from AR and VR to the various mixed reality aspects. We definitely need 5g, as you mentioned earlier. We need the NFTs, the blockchain. We need much better hardware, but that's also an opportunity possibly for smart cities to prepare because there's an opportunity to sidestep opportunities also to leapfrog. What would you say right now to smart executives who are forward-leaning and saying, Look, I know we're not in a metaverse yet, but I know whatever this thing is, it's coming at us. Let me not put out an NFT and claim them, and I'm in the metaverse. Let me actually think about what my citizens need and should be doing. You mentioned earlier budgeting, thinking about how you invest in digital while still keeping the lights on. What are the other steps that those folks should be doing right now?
[00:22:45] MIKE: The education awareness piece cannot be understated. I mean, it just, we have to get to that point, whether it's, whether we're constantly putting out in a blog on a website, or you're hearing it just over and over. It has to be a very long drip campaign to get these ideas seated into people's minds. There's a great book; the title is Long Obedience in the Same Direction. And, and that's kind of the approach and posture we need to take is we need to begin thinking, Okay, I don't know what the metaverse fully is. This is what an executive may be saying. I don't know what it. I know that it's coming. I know that this component is gonna be a part of it. This component is gonna be a part of it. This component is gonna be a part of it. Let's focus on these things, right? Because collectively, those will help us increase our digital skill sets, our digital literacy, and our digital maturity. We need to be thinking about those things over a long arc. We spend too much time trying to think about what we're gonna get done in the next year or in the next two years, or in the next five years. I agree wholeheartedly with you. We have way too many technologies that are nowhere near mature enough to give us that entry and footprint into the metaverse. Are there parts of the metaverse that are acting and actionable right now? Absolutely. There are. But it's an early term, right? It's, it's very early, and it's not; I wouldn't say it's very practical right now, but if organizations wait until the technology is practical to begin thinking about it and prepping you for yourself, you're already behind the curve, right? And so what I would challenge executives to do is to think forward, right? Don't play catch-up as much as get your organization to stretch. And that comes with a whole host of other challenges that, that you, you have on top of it. But keeping that mindset of being patient and deliberate. You're gonna give your organization, your, your constituents, your citizens or residents, your constituents, as well as your employees. You're going to give them a long runway to metabolize that over a longer period of time. And that is almost always gonna generate a much, much better response.
[00:24:54] KRISTINA: To me, it's personally inspiring to hear you say this, not because, well, they are wise words, Mike, but beyond being wise words, they're coming from somebody who's lived this. And so I really appreciate the fact that you've been through the battle. You have the scars, and you can speak to it from an actual practitioner perspective, not as a consultant who's going to just drop off a white paper and then run out the door. So that's really appreciated. I'm curious just what is like the three things that you're really excited about, beyond just the day-to-day stuff you might be working on. There's so much happening in the digital space. Lots of transformation. What gets you up in the morning, gets you excited?
[00:25:32] MIKE: I may be one of the few people that say this, but I can't say I'm excited for the tragic side of it, but what Covid did was it exposed how far behind and certainly the gaps that we have into this technology future, this digital future that we have. We found out literally overnight that we could do a lot more than we thought we were capable of doing. I don't mean to capitalize on the tragedies. It was, it was a horrendous thing that happened across the globe. What it did, though, was, like I said, it exposed, and it began raising the priority of this digital transformation, our need to digitally transform. That part of it, , what has resulted on the backside, is absolutely something that I'm excited about because we've been heading toward this for a very long time. I think the other thing that it, I think the other thing that it did is it reminded us that this is not just about the IT department, right? We talk about technology, and we talk about IT, and those two things are not necessarily insane, and your IT department, for the most part. In most organizations, IT departments are there to keep the functionality, keep things digitally functioning, lights on wheels spinning. Not to say that they're not involved in the innovation, but there is a very scripted organizational responsibility and accountability that IT departments have. That they should be involved in the innovation conversations is absolutely a must. The innovation conversations are also about business as a strategy and business as a whole. What are you trying to accomplish? Whom do you want to look like? And that's not just coming from it, that's not just coming from your tech folks, that's coming from your marketing folks. You're coming from your HR folks or coming from your policy folks, right? That's, uh, organizational ownership. So I like that that has also been elevated in the conversation. The other thing too is that people are beginning to understand that we can't do this overnight. And with a perfect example is all the IIJA money, right? All of this infrastructure bill money is coming, and cities still can't do it overnight. You still have to have this long arc. Okay? So if that's, if we acknowledge that, if we know that we can't do it overnight, let's take a step back. Let's push them now, pump the brakes for just a moment and think strategically; what do we need to accomplish? Can't get it all done. Right? Let's prioritize. And so, to me, it's forcing people to go back into good procedure. It's forcing people to good go back into the good methodology of how you're gonna get these things done. Right. Previously I've been a CIO in multiple roles; I also was on the industry side with a very large, global technology company. And I had a front-row seat to a lot of failed early on failed Smart City projects. And it wasn't that they didn't want it, it wasn't that they weren't committed, it wasn't that the technology was bad. It was the dynamics of not having a good strategy, not knowing what success looked like, and not prioritizing getting the right things in the bucket first. So many of us know the old; it was Stephen Covey, illustration to get the big rocks in the jar first, right? There's a reason why you have to prioritize and get those things in there first, and those cities that didn't found themselves either having to kind of rip and replace or kind of go back after it and so forth. So yeah, what gets me excited is really the understanding that more and more organizations, privately and publicly, are starting to understand that digital transformation is affecting every single organization. Nobody's immune to this, right? and they are starting to realize that as fast as change is coming, they're needing to implement a good strategy. And that means that things are going to start to go a lot better for a lot of organizations.
[00:29:32] KRISTINA: That's great. And you heard it here first directly from Mike thinks they're gonna get better, but only if you have a strategy. And if you actually do it the right way,
[00:29:39] MIKE: Do it the right way. Yeah.
[00:29:40] KRISTINA: This has been great. Thanks, Mike, so much for catching up and speaking with us today. It's been insightful. Really looking forward to having additional conversations with you down the road because, as you said, we could talk for hours about this topic, and we didn't even get into like a lot of the sustainability aspects or anything else I wanted to ask you about, but it's going to have to wait till next time. Appreciate it, and thanks to everyone who tuned in today. Thanks for making time and continue to do good digital policy work. Take care.
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