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Not long ago this joke was buzzing around the Internet:

Question:  Why was the computer late to work?

Answer: Because it had a hard drive.

David Letterman does not have to look over his shoulder but the corny little joke is loaded with possibilities for a discussion about the power of the Cloud and communities.

As the Top7 Intelligent Communities of 2013 make their way toward New York this week for the annual dialogue among 250 invited global thought leaders (including Cisco’s Dr. Norman Jacknis, who will give this year’s “Revolutionary Community” keynote talk), the ingredients for the secret sauce used to re-energize communities for the 21st Century will be revealed by its “chefs. “ I am guessing that one of the revealed secrets will be that the idea of being late for work has become passé.  Connectivity, when invested in properly, unleashes a new knowledge workforce and revives communities that have been looking for ways for their local economies to flourish.  Certainly broadband connectivity and more affordable access to the cloud remain big drivers for community revival and at least part of the secret toward solving many problems, including commuting and productivity.

So is vision.  Attendees will also hear from people like BlackBerry co-founder Mike Lazaridis , who will discuss why he believes quantum computing will be the next silicon for his community, Waterloo, Canada, the 2007 Intelligent Community of the Year.  He has invested CAN$250 million in a fund to begin to make it so.  He has the right environment.  Waterloo, a city of only 120,000 people, produced 10% of all the publicly-traded companies on the Toronto Stock Exchange in 2007.  This was not an accident.  It shares traits with Intelligent Communities everywhere.

Waterloo and the celebrated seven are at the center of a global discussion designed to inspire communities and their leaders.  The event in New York demonstrates how the best places in the world got that way.   These are places you never heard of.  Adding to the drama will be a major event taking place at Steiner Film Studios Stage Six on June 7, when one of the seven learns which was selected by an international jury and an India-based research company as the 2013 Intelligent Community of the Year.

The Intelligent Community of the Year is a reflection of what is taking place each day, as the Cloud, broadband and the holistic concept of the Intelligent Community movement continues to find investment from many different sources.

Most important is what is taking place in other parts of the world.   As the Top7 gather in Brooklyn and Manhattan, many other places will be watching every move and idea they put forward.  Among these are the Intelligent Communities of Australia.  Australia is attempting to transform itself into a digital nation through the largest infrastructure project investment in its national history.  Mr. Lazaridis’s investment fund is impressive, because it is personal.  The National Broadband Network Company (NBNCo.) is an AUS$43 billion investment which uses taxpayers’ dollars.  It is complete with a national cloud strategy, designed to lift the entire country to a level that will make it competitive.  At its core is the need to provide ubiquitous access at affordable prices to a nation that has fallen behind.   I will be there shortly after the ICF Summit for a series of speeches, one with the architect of the NBNCo., Sen. Stephen Conroy.   To give you an idea of how seriously Australia and its communities take this investment and issue, Senator Conroy’s other official title is Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy .  He is in the middle of a raging and necessary debate about the future of the nation and, without saying so, whether the virtues of  the cloud and Intelligent Communities will ultimately prevail.

In 2009, fiber-to-the-premise was becoming the standard for high-speed connectivity.  According to the FTTH Council, it represented 63% of all fiber subscriptions across the Asia–Pacific broadband market.   At that time Asia accounted for more than 30.8 million of the world’s 38 million fiber-to-the home connections.  That was four years ago.  Today places such as Intelligent Communities Suwon, Korea; Singapore and Taichung, Taiwan no longer wonder about or waste time arguing over whether broadband is essential.  It is like asking whether electricity is a good idea.  Australia is just coming to this conclusion.

But it is there.  Two Intelligent Communities, Ballarat and Whittlesea, are in touch with their peers in New York and long ago began their transformation.  Each is an NBN test site, with broadband rolling out and cloud services taking root in the local economy and social infrastructure.

In Ballarat, the third-largest city in the state of Victoria, the former mineral and agricultural boom town had its economy decimated.  It experienced near 20% unemployment.   In response, city government, community leaders and the state collaborated on a long-term economic development plan focused on attracting ICT companies, leveraging higher education and fostering digital inclusion. The prospect of the cloud was central to this vision.  In 2013, Ballarat has the largest technology park in Australia, which is home to 30 companies employing 1,400 people.  Broadband penetration, while not yet 60% of homes, is poised to accelerate through early roll-out of the National Broadband Network.  Local champions, working with the city’s universities, have helped spawn a wave of startups and research institutes. The community has also invested in its at-risk youth and indigenous population with specialized training in digital literacy.  It has taken a page from the ICF playbook and practiced Digital Inclusion.

But if every community problem was a job, we would have no end of problems.  While dated infrastructure is never an economic asset or the formula for wealth creation, an aging population cut-off from the modern economy and society is a closed door.  A door slammed in the face of people wishing only to contribute and to remain social assets.  This is where Intelligent Communities and the cloud get exciting for me.  A few weeks ago, at Yarra Plenty Library, a place whose CEO, Christine Mackenzie, is driving the community of Whittlesea forward, the Yarra Plenty Digital Hub was opened.  It has a broad mandate, including a cloud computing strategy.  Its virtues are many, but all come home with a story told by Senator Conroy.  A woman who had never before used an iPad began to cry because she felt so inadequate.  After quickly learning how to use it, she became confident and hope began to seep back in.

Hope has always been the essence of positive action.  It is the real secret sauce for the human community.  While it was a hard drive for Australia, its Intelligent Communities are making sure its people are never late for work.

Stay tuned for the final couple blogs from this series, or click here to reserve your copy of our cloud resources for local government, as well as a copy of the complete compilation of this blog series when complete.

To read this blog in Spanish, click here.  for Portuguese, click here.

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