The cloud co-creators of Cary, N.C.
- By Stephanie Kanowitz
When Dan Ault came to Cary, N.C., about seven months ago as the town’s assistant manager, he had a goal of turning it into a smart city. By training employees to use, configure and develop cloud platforms -- an approach he previously applied in Elgin, Ill., as organizational development coordinator there -- Ault is building internal capacity and creativity. GCN spoke with Ault to find out more about the Cary efforts and lessons that could help other smaller cities. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How do you define a smart city?
Our smart city definition is connecting the right people at the right time with the right information. It is that simple. It’s taking big data and macro data and getting it down to micro data so that you can make the best possible decision to promote prosperity in a community and reduce conflict.
Why is it important to have employees who can use cloud platforms?
Building that internal capacity and training employees -- maybe they’re not all building apps or configuring things, but they at least know enough about it -- is beneficial for a lot of reasons. I think that helps them feel that they’re creating. It’s co-creation, not buy-in. You hear a lot of people talk about buy-in. I don’t want that. That means I’m trying to convince you of something, and I want co-creation. I want you to make it.
The other thing is from a security perspective, instead of a small team of people focusing on security, everyone is able to participate. I think that that is really important given where technology is taking us. If you look at the Microsoft ransomware attack, it was solved by a 22-year-old who lived in his parents’ basement, so I think that’s something that we really need to look at -- not having just a small team in IT that’s solely responsible for security, but getting everyone to be able to identify things that are out of sorts.
Do you have formal staff training?
There’s formal and then there’s informal as well. The informal happens all the time and is happening more and more as more people get comfortable and become Salesforce admins, if you will. The formal training is the Salesforce Trailhead training, which is a gamified training program they came out with a couple years ago. There’s about a dozen people who are a part of that. Then we conduct some sprints a little more often than quarterly. On Fridays, there are several sessions when employees come up with ideas and just build them together in the sandbox.
Which employees are typically participating?
It’s primarily mid-level people with the title of analyst or mid-level managers. They tend to be a little hungrier. They tend to have the right type of job where they can more easily dive into this sort of thing.
What have you put in place so far?
We have a pilot in the Public Works Department, and that is slowly expanding into Town Hall. Think of it as a pilot 311, and we’ve started the use of Salesforce as part of that effort. We also use Chatter, which is the collaboration tool that’s built into Salesforce. I describe it like a radio frequency -- just like fire and police would use except it’s kind of a mix of LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. What it allows you to do is tap into different frequencies, whether that’s a request or it’s a group or a person or a topic, and that’s how you keep from getting overwhelmed. Just like there’s billions of users on Facebook, and in theory you could connect with any one of them, but in your feed, it’s not overwhelming because you’re defining it. However, you can search and set different alerts. Once you get the organization used to collaborating in that common space, it’s really hard to go back, and the rest of the adoption and the co-creation falls into place.
Where are you with cloud applications?
Right now it’s primarily electronic signatures, in some areas document management, and then anywhere that’s using Chatter, which is every department.
What does the end result look like?
The goal is to be able to use a gamified-type system to allow people in test environments to configure and reconfigure the system -- set it how they want it -- and constantly come up with new ways of doing business. That’s something I see being pushed more and more to the edges of the organization.
Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in northern Virginia.