An 'Intelligent' Recipe for the Successful Rebirth of New Orleans
Devastated by hurricane Katrina, New Orleans now enjoys its greatest opportunity of all time. Business intelligence technology must be leveraged to ensure a successful rebirth of the "City that Care Forgot."
- By Eric Kavanagh
- September 11, 2005
As the Biblical waters recede, New Orleans and Louisiana will rise again.
For those of us far from our spiritual home, watching the footage online evokes emotions that defy words. Oh, the humanity...
But while death and destruction exact their pounds of flesh, the seedlings of hope sprout anew and abundantly. Indeed, the Crescent City sits perched upon its greatest opportunity ever, its biggest single chance of all time.
Already, the streams have begun, gathering strength in numbers and size, forming creeks and rivers that gush, ultimately erupting in a veritable ocean of cash. From the halls of Congress to the homes of Bengalese, money sprouts forth in amounts unprecedented for the Pelican State—billions and billions and billions of dollars. Consider it the lottery of lotteries, the ultimate jackpot.
Suffice it to say, the stakes are high. All of which begs the question: how to spend the money wisely?
Technology for Progress
One advantage of starting late in a technology race is that you can avoid the pitfalls of legacy systems: archaic software and machinery that bog down progress. New Orleans and southern Louisiana cannot claim bragging rights over the likes of Seattle, San Francisco or Austin in the high-tech universe; but now: money aplenty is on the way, computers are cheaper and more powerful than ever, and Mother Nature has provided a forced, fresh start.
What to do?
First things first: Have you ever seen a child surf the Web? In an after-school facility, I once found myself awed by the Internet savvy of a seven-year-old, who blazed past me en route to a computer she used to whip up her favorite Web site in mere seconds. Children take to the Internet faster than bicycles and band-aids.
What’s the hidden message here? Buy kids computers! Forget about text books; get them iBooks and other computers with Web access and appropriate learning tools. Let them learn all day long, whenever, wherever they want. Do this through the school systems and after-school programs whenever possible to ensure that all children enjoy the same access. A mere 20 years from now, the benefits of such an investment will far outweigh the costs.
Seeing is Believing
Meanwhile, make sure to keep tabs on where all this money goes. Just 20 years ago, way back before the World Wide Web, effectively monitoring the distribution of such funds would have been impossible (especially in the days of Edwin W. Edwards). Not so, today. We live in a new epoch now, Web-enabled, interactive, 24/7, worldwide. What that means for you, your children and grandchildren in this difficult time, is that every federal dollar spent in relief should be revealed online—complete transparency.
Citizens, demand that your elected officials conduct this distribution process openly, via the Web, with daily if not hourly updates. Make sure you can see exactly how much money comes in, and more importantly: where it goes. Ask that every canceled check be scanned, its image placed online and linked to the project that resulted in its cashing, the contract which enabled the transaction, who else bid for the job, which person authorized the expenditure, and why the payment was necessary. The Internet affords that capability, but someone must take the initiative to make the process of transparency a reality.
(Relief checks to individuals should be exempt from public scrutiny to protect privacy, but we should at least see aggregate numbers; and data mining technology should be used to mitigate fraud, just as is done quite effectively these days in the credit card industry.)
A Performance Dashboard is Key
The mechanism by which this process can be viewed online is called a performance dashboard. Wayne Eckerson, director of research and services for TDWI, explains: “Performance dashboards are the new face of business intelligence and business performance management. They provide a layered interface that conforms to the way people work. Like peeling an onion, surfers can move through successive layers of information in a carefully guided and systematic manner.”
Through such a dashboard, concerned citizens can track the progress of projects, double-check numbers to ensure that budgets are honored, verify that contractors keep their commitments, assess and analyze progress from any number of angles. They can access all sorts of information about who’s involved, what’s going on, how and where they can help. Rest assured: with millions of eyes poring over proposals, contracts and construction plans, the bar will have been raised for diligence, accuracy and integrity.
Jobs, Charm, Lake Must Be Preserved
Don’t stop there. Demand that displaced Louisiana workers take part in reconstruction efforts. And don’t let one or two developers take the cake; make sure that competition is plentiful so that excellence prevails. Use building and zoning commissions to ensure that the timeless architecture of New Orleans is preserved. There’s no place for suburban, cookie-cutter sprawl in the Crescent City. Plant more trees for future generations: New Orleans is nothing without its trees. And how about a water treatment facility on Lake Pontchartrain to slowly but surely save it from the toxic cesspool it has become?
There’s also no place for the same-old-same. If this catastrophic disaster should do anything positive, it should teach us to change behavior. Having spent half my adult life in New Orleans, including seven years working intimately with the city’s Downtown Development District, I’m abundantly aware of how things work (or don’t) in the Crescent City. While many residents of the Big Easy care deeply and work hard for the betterment of their community, the inertia there has been suffocating. A city can only stand in the way of progress so long, before progress steamrolls right over it.
In Chinese, the word for chaos is the same word for opportunity, and as any good PR person knows, the art of public relations is making lemonade from lemons. Where else but New Orleans can lemonade taste so sweet?
Please, my fellow New Orleanians, I beseech you: Seize this opportunity as the world watches and lends a helping hand. Put all prejudices aside. Work together. Let’s get it right this time, shall we?
Laissez les bons temps rouler!
Eric Kavanagh is the president of Mobius Media, a strategic communications consultancy. You can contact the author at [email protected].