COVID19: No City Gets Smart in a Crisis: Three Ways Tech Vendors Can Help

Ted Cuzzillo,
Principal Analyst – Data Analytics

Summary Bullets:

• Technology vendors should stay away from cities during the height of the COVID-19 crisis unless they’ve got a relationship already.

• Make sure your solution fits the city’s ecosystem and be ready to educate city staff.

The pandemic seems to some data technology vendors like as a great time to be heroes with the frantic staff in cities’ public health departments. But the advice from those close to the action is clear: If you don’t have a relationship with the city already, stay home for now — and get ready for what comes next.

For now, as one observer noted, city public health staffs are getting by on old-fashioned techniques that were first validated during the London cholera outbreak of 1854.

In the meantime, technology vendors should prepare for the long approach — especially if the solution is innovative and the vendor is small.

Those close to city governments offer three points of advice to vendors:

• Task number one is to stand back and consider the city’s ecosystem. How does your solution fit? As COVID-19 shows us, everything is attached to everything else. Don’t be a hammer that thinks everything is a nail.

• A former chief innovation officer at a San Francisco Bay Area city, Deborah Acosta, told GlobalData of a proposal for a traffic intersection made of layered sensors that, the vendor said, would ease stalled traffic — even as the city struggled to provide neighborhoods with streetlights.

• Educate first. City staffs are typically best qualified to fix potholes and other classic chores, not interpreting data. Today, they need to do both and in a hurry. Vendors should invite city staffs to discover, within time allowed, why certain technology and installations will benefit the city and how they would work.

• Innovative vendors should encourage city contacts to avoid issuing requests for proposals, RFPs. These typically describe a solution, which limits the vendor’s ability to innovate. Instead, start with a request for qualifications, an RFQ. When a vendor — but not yet any specific solution — has been identified, the vendor works with the city for a short period to form a solution collaboratively. With the solution agreed on, the city simply gives a go-ahead without the usual requirement to issue an RFP. The RFQ process is faster and allows innovation — both factors certain to be critical after the pandemic peaks and as we rebuild.


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