Jon: Hi. Welcome to Shift, PwC Canada’s podcast series, and we’re digging into key digital trends and topics that can make your business transformation a reality. I’m your host, Jon Finkelstein, and I’m also the Creative Director of PwC Canada. Welcome to another episode of Shift. We are on the road, we are in Vancouver and today we at Vancouver's City Hall. It's a very cool building by the way, it's very art deco. But what's interesting is we're in old world but we're talking about the new world. We are talking about smart cities and cities of the future. And I have the great pleasure of being with the Chief Technology Officer Jessie Adcock City of Vancouver, welcome to Shift.
Jessie Adcock: Thanks for having me this is super exciting.
Jon: We're on your home turf.
Jessie Adcock: No kidding in this fantastic old building.
Jon: I'm super excited to talk to you because what our listeners might not actually know is the City of Vancouver is actually one of the lead smart cities in the world, in the world!
Jessie Adcock: Yeah, I've been hearing that lately.
Jon: Is that right? That's right.
Jessie Adcock: I think I'm hearing that, yeah. We weren't before but we have kind of caught up and we're doing some really cool things around here. And I guess lately people are starting to notice that.
Jon: So before we get into all the really cool stuff that's going on in this city, I love to sort of give you the moment to tell the listeners kind of what you're up to here as Chief Technology Officer for City of Vancouver.
Jessie Adcock: The stuff that we're up to might not seem so exciting in the grand scheme of all the great things that are happening in the world and in technology, but I think when you start to layer in the fact that we're doing this in government it does get a little bit exciting. And the fact is that we're sort of just changing the way we operate. We're changing the way we look at opportunities. We're changing the way we create solutions, how we make decisions. And so, I guess it's a sort of a turning point an evolution where technology is becoming part of our DNA whereas I think before it was sort of this peripheral component that helped enable the things we did, but now it's being integrated into all aspects of what we do. And so, along with that comes all of the glorious change management things we get to do, like the process, and the culture, and people, and projects, and portfolio management, and all sort of things.
Jon: So tell me, as CTO. Tell us a little bit about what's your job? What's your purview? What are you being asked to do?
Jessie Adcock: Yeah so I have a pretty broad remit. I'm guided by our digital strategy, which kind of provides me with sort of the goal post of what it is that I operate within. One of the things I do is I lead up the team, the fantastic team that runs our digital channel, so our Vancouver.ca website, our VanConnect mobile app, and our 311 contact center, I lead that team. I also lead the team that is responsible for our digital infrastructure and asset strategies, so looking at our fiber optics, public wifi, and the stuff that we need in terms of infrastructure for the future. The third area is I dabble a little bit in terms of trying to be a participant in the local tech economy. Another piece that I work on is the digital maturity of our organization, how is it that we as staff can change the way we work? And then I'm responsible for all of our core infrastructure, so application development, hardware, data centers, phones. And then I also oversee our enterprise data and analytic strategy.
Jon: That is a really big remit.
Jessie Adcock: Yeah, it's huge.
Jon: Yeah. Congrats.
Jessie Adcock: Thank you.
Jon: A lot of people might go, wow that's a lot of stuff and that's scary, but actually when you think about it there's a tremendous amount of opportunity impact that you can have when you're talking about everything from as an organization how do we embrace digital, as a city how do we embrace digital, what is the IT implications of that? And that's really good because the buck kind of stop with you, because all these things are inextricably linked.
Jessie Adcock: Yeah. You know the city of Vancouver is sort of like the perfect size for digital transformation to be overseen by sort of the technology part to be overseen by an individual. In my career I've done digital strategy, on the business side I've done digital channel development on the IT side, but I did it in large organizations where you're right all of these pieces were sort of distributed. Digital transformation could sometimes be hung up by the fact that you might not have the data you need or you might not be able to achieve the creative that you want to achieve because you're backend infrastructure wasn't conducive to your design, or some of your transactional stuff was dictated by compliance in my case in banking. Whereas here I started as the Chief Digital Officer, I kicked off the process of transforming our digital service delivery. And then you can only do so much until you hit a wall because then you hit basically a wall that has been put up by our technology back office, and until you transform your back office you basically pause on transformation the front end to the end user. And so, I got the opportunity to then lead the back office transformation, in the process build this highly integrated digital IT data team, the results are amazing to be able to orchestrate that change across what is typically an organizational boundary.
Jon: Yeah it's amazing how ... I mean we've talked about this in various podcasts and even just in my own sort of day-to-day working with clients, it's amazing how you have sort of a CX or a citizen vision, which makes total sense. It's like, "Why are we doing that? And why aren't we doing that? And this other thing makes a lot of sense." And then you start to do it, and then a lot of organizations realize that you can't do it because your IT or your infrastructure doesn't support it, or your back office doesn't support it, and then it can die.
Jessie Adcock: That's right.
Jon: And go, "We tried really hard but yeah we just couldn't. We just couldn't make it happen." And then people are left disappointed across the board, citizens and people. And so, I love the fact that you get to figure out both ends of it, because I think for anybody listening it's so important to be able to marry those two things.
Jessie Adcock: Yeah I agree. I think oftentimes too ... And this is where the government context is really interesting, is that people don't realize that these government bodies have kind of predated a lot of brands and a lot of industry players, so a lot of private sector. And so you've got years and years of compounding purchases, acquisitions, policies, decisions, that haven't all necessarily been master planned to an end vision or a common goal. And so, technology acquisition in a lot of the public sector organizations that I've talked to has been much like very cyclical and you don't necessarily buy inline with an end state.
Public sector bodies have amalgamated their technology stacks not necessarily by kind of master planning and design, it's just been organic growth of, "I've got this problem, I need a technology to help me solve it." And so you go and you go acquire usually a single purpose technology to solve a single purpose problem.
And so, now what we have is we have this like clash between what people have come to expect from the interaction they have with private brands like Amazon, or Google, or Facebook, or whatever, and so they expect, "Well why isn't the city doing x, y, and z? It's a no brainer." Well we get it, it's not that we don't know it's a no brainer. It's that sometimes it's not like technically feasible or sometimes it requires a little bit more complexity to overcome. So it's not as straight forward as just it seems.
Jon: You raised an interesting point for me, which is governments are monopolies.
Jessie Adcock: Yeah.
Jon: Governments are monopolies and so I guess I'm really wondering why do cities feel the need to do any of this smart city digital services at all? Why do it? What's the point?
Jessie Adcock: It's become a situation where you don't have a choice. So it went from being a discretionary decision, we can take our time, we can just fix that gap, we can address that problem, we can do these things in silos and in an isolated context. But two things happened, one is that citizen behavior and citizen expectations has changed, so they require us to deliver more services with the same pot of tax payer money. So we gotta get smarter about how we deliver the services to them in a way that we are enabling them to feel satisfied, but also how we run our business, so we have to be smart about that.
And the other shift is that technology has gone through the roof. Technology is now all IP connected, so like IOT plays a big role in what we're doing. So smart city went from being this I think label applied by industry to a vertical. Let's sell our technology into the vertical, the smart city vertical. And it's now just kind of gone into this phase where I'm like, "It's gotta be a you." Everything being thrown at us is smart city so it's not like you have a choice. You want to get data you have to deploy sensors or you have to collect that data. And then to consume it you have to visualize it. And then once you have it you want to make it open. It's like a whole body of work. Yeah, so now you don't have a choice anymore.
Jon: So how would you describe for the uninitiated? How do you describe smart city?
Jessie Adcock: Okay. Cities are there for a purpose. We deliver certain key services. And we enable people to have thriving personal lives. And in order to make sure that we enable them to have sort of the most healthiest environment possible, we have the ability to improve how we deliver services through data and technology. We can use data to use predictive analytics to prevent things like crime or overdoses before they happen. We can help people, guide them through transportation systems. We can improve the quality of water. We can do all sorts of things now that contributes to sort of increased wellness amongst communities. And a lot of that ability to do that and have a positive outcome for your community is amplified if you add a little bit of data and technology to it, as opposed to just trying to do it on your own in an unintegrated sort of way.
Jon: When I've always thought of smart cities, I've always thought about them as the technology and the data but not as much about what it means for people. It's like, we have smart street lights.
As much about what it means for people. It's like we have smart street lights and there are sensors then that can provide predictive whatever so that buildings are having an issue, they don't ... they don't fall down.
Jessie Adcock: Yeah, I mean it's quite ... it's quite different now. I think that you'll have a spectrum of people who will define that smart city thing a little bit differently. If you ask a software sales guy he's gonna say it's the vertical probably, right? Or his technology and how it fits and is gonna make city management better. But if you talk to some people and the recent smart cities challenge in Canada was really outcome focused. They were like, "This isn't about the data and the technology. This is about how are you using the data and technology to improve the outcomes for your community and the society?"
Jon: You mentioned, "Hey, let's not focus on gadgets per se," but I did ... I think read somewhere that you guys lead the way in wifi.
Jessie Adcock: Yeah. We're the largest public wifi hotspot in Canada.
Jon: How'd that happen?
Jessie Adcock: The smartphone has revolutionized society and it has completely changed how people behave, think, act, decide, travel, whatever they wanna do. And so, we knew that public wifi was going to be an important component of our future. Our challenge was is that we could not fund it out of public coffers, but it's an important component. And so, we just set out, looked around the world to see who had done the best deals, we found a lot that failed at first . And we just tried to learn from all these lessons we tried to build our program and we're really lucky that we had a couple of partners like Telus and Shaw step up and help us out and we ended up building out this fantastic network.
Now, probably not a week goes by where another city doesn't call us to say, "Could you help coach us or share your documents with us or tell us how you did stuff?"
Jon: Was there any backlash or concern about privacy, about cybersecurity? 'Cause that's certainly one of the themes we ... we've been talking about.
Jessie Adcock: Yeah, yeah. I took a few questions around that, but what I always maintain is that people need to be vigilant with their own information. You cannot delegate personal responsibility to an authority, to an organization, to your mom and dad, to your spouse, to your parent. You cannot do that. People need to realize that every time they push Accept on a tease and seize, every time they enable their geolocation information, every time they use ... fire up Apple Maps or Google Maps or MapQuest, every time they play Candy Crush, every time ... like that data is being repurposed and sold and that is not the city's fault, right?
Jon: So, you've laid the foundation for, basically, smart city, integrated services, digital, all this stuff in the city of Vancouver. Where is it gonna go? Where is your future vision? I'm sure you get asked this all the time.
Jessie Adcock: Right now if I was forced to answer it, I would say I'm trying to design agility, scalability, flexibility to go with the flow because the arc of technological advancement is like moving to vertical. I've ... I ... I'm struggling to see how we can keep pace with the change, like the technology that today is cutting edge, can kind of be replaced in like a one year period now. It's not even like, "Oh, this technology has a horizon of 20 years." So, you have to and this is where coming back to outcomes and the community is really important, because that's kind of our north star. It's our ... we are here to serve the community and let's keep our eyes, not on the tech, but let's keep our eyes on the outcomes that we want.
Jon: So, you've been very successful in your post and being able to actually go from strategy documents to actually delivery. People are probably wondering how did you do it? What made it successful? And what were some of the biggest barriers that you overcome? In other words, if I'm listening and I'm in an organization that's similarly bureaucratic, as one might think a government or city might be, how do I move the ... how do I move the dial? How do I move this thing?
Jessie Adcock: I think whoever is in the position like mine has to have flown a few planes in their life, right? They have to have run a few large multi-stakeholder projects. You have to make sure that it ... that it resonates with people and they can see themselves in that. I focus a lot on culture and people more ... less than I do on technology and process. So, making sure that I prioritize people and how they're feeling and making sure that people are being communicated to, they know where the change is happening, then also having ... making sure that your senior management is really bought in so that when you do need to make those tie break decisions, that they're there and they're willing to make those tie break decisions, and then knowing where you're trying to get to. So, having some milestones about where you're trying to get to.
And then, my big ... my big thing was then bringing a little bit of help from industry in to kind of compliment the skillsets we already had. There was just a few skillsets that we hadn't incorporated over the years and it's normal for government not to incorporate those.
Jessie Adcock: UX, for example, web analytics, product management, just different types of architecture domains, those types of things. Stuff that wouldn't have normally just transpired through the type of procurement cycles that were happening.
Jon: When you think about developing your city for ... or, when you think about developing your strategy for citizens, citizens need to be central to what it is you're designing for. How did you use citizens and how did you iterate based on their needs?
Jessie Adcock: I'll talk a little bit about our smart cities challenge submission 'cause that was ... I'm really proud of what we did there and I'm ... I'm really excited to tell that story, actually. So ... so the smart city challenge for your listeners that don't know is a competition that the federal government's been running. This year it's got three categories, three prize categories: a 50 million dollar prize category, a 10 million dollar prize category, and a five million dollar prize category. We put an application forward in the 50 million dollar prize category and we were just, a week and a half ago, named as one of the short lists. So, we're into the five finalists. We're super excited-
Jon: Congrats. That's amazing.
Jessie Adcock: Yeah, it's ... it's awesome, actually and when I answer your question about citizen involvement, it's gonna get even more awesome because we put forward a bid that was guided by citizens. You know, we talk a lot about digital transformation and stuff, but the other piece of wanting to transform government is this sort of like parallel philosophy that's been emerging and like a more of a philosophical topic around open government, transparent government, and participatory government. So… What we wanted to do with our Smart City challenge was go for more of a grass roots approach then this top down approach of we'll just pick what we're going to put forward as our project proposal. We really wanted to try to create a use case or an example where you can audit your submission from like high-level you know, 9000 word paper down to the… the citizens that provide an idea.
What we did was we started our engagement process really early, and we activated a whole bunch of channels. So we had the usual social channels and online channels and surveys, but we also created a portal for both citizens and businesses. And so at this portal it was basically an ideation portal, and it's still live today actually, if you go to smartertogether.ca you can have a look. But, at the ideation portal what we were able to do is moderate a conversation. We achieved a reach of, you know I think we had over 150 thousand interactions with different people, like it was a fairly, fairly robust experience and 40% of the ideas that came back were related to mobility, and 50% of the vendor proposals that came back were related to mobility.
And we were able to take that, take the narrative and the dialogue that we received through the public process, and actually build a lot of that into the rational of why we went with the proposal that we went with and so we talk about that in our proposal, of how we kind of used all this data and it, like even some of the quotes that you can find on the ideation portal have found their way into our submission itself.
Jon: I love it.
Jessie Adcock: It's so cool, because it is an example of that thing that we want to showcase, which is like this open government process right, where we did end up being the basically the curators of the proposal, but it was like this massive crowdsourced idea. We had the data to kind of back it up and show traceability. To me, that's an indication of how far we've come, in that that type of engagement would have seemed absolutely impossible and insurmountable and just not doable at all a year or two years ago. But now, we've kind of made it a lot less daunting, and a lot more conceivable to have this massive conversation with this massive audience.
Jon: I love technology, I love kind of gadgets and emerging tech. Is there anything that you're seeing around the world from a sort of connected city, smart city tech piece that you go, "Wow, that is really, really cool, I would love to see that in Vancouver someday."
Jessie Adcock: I think the AR, VR stuff is going to be really interesting. From digital twinning, to be able to like ... it's almost like Second Life-ish, right, like you can almost design outcomes that are going to be in like a near reality state before they happen. So, you can like picture the future before it happens in real life. I think that's going to be interesting. I think the idea of overlaying some of these... these AR, VR use cases into city planning.
Jon: I look forward to an environment where tech is really improving our lives and where it's meeting the needs of what we need as opposed to not, you know.
Jessie Adcock: I think we're there. I think we're getting there. I think where we probably need to pay a little bit of attention is probably like social media channels, because I think social media channels we've kind of turning a corner now where they're probably taking more from us than we're getting in return.
Jon: I agree.
Jessie Adcock: I think that's the turning point that maybe us as society ... we always have these things that we just drive by? I think social media is something people are driving by right now in terms of I wonder if, you know, I think we need to pay a little bit of attention of where does something become unhealthy.
Jon: Sad but true.
Jessie Adcock: Yeah.
Jon: Well, that wraps up another addition of Shift. Jessie, thank you so much for joining me and sharing all the amazing stuff that City of Vancouver is doing to become one of the worlds leading smart cities. The impact that you've had, the approach that you've taken, it's fascinating, and I can't wait to see what happens next. By the time this thing airs though we'll know whether or not you won your city challenge, so I'm got, I don't know if it's bad luck to cross one or two fingers.
Jessie Adcock: It's okay, cross them.
Jon: I'm going to cross my fingers and toes that you guys win, because that would be not only an incredibly coop but I mean financially amazing, so good luck on that.
Jessie Adcock: Thank you.
Jon: Thank you. Good luck and thanks again.
Jessie Adcock: If you are listening to the Shift podcast series make sure you share it with your friends, make sure you leave a comment because Jon is reading them, and share the link out on social media.
Jon: And subscribe.
Jessie Adcock: And subscribe.
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