HxGN RadioPodcast

Lessons learned from the world of sports

In this episode of HxGN Radio, we discuss what city leaders can learn from the shifting landscape of sports leagues. We also talk about how money, short-term thinking and politics can doom even the most well-intentioned initiatives.

JW: Hello, thanks for tuning in to HxGN Radio. I’m Jack Williams, the Director of Industry and Portfolio Marketing for Hexagon Safety, Infrastructure & Geospatial division. And today I’ll be your host. In this podcast, we’re going to be talking about cooperation and ultimately collaboration, specifically real-time, cross organisation and cross-functional collaboration. And what better way to introduce this topic than to weave in sports. We’re just coming off the Olympic Games in Tokyo, which were delayed due to the COVID 19 pandemic. And two other recent events that highlighted the perils of cooperation in my mind. First, the recent NCAA football conference realignment in the Southeastern United States, which some say is forced cooperation that is killing the sport and the attempt to create a European-wide soccer league and the resulting pushback from the EPL league and others who said force cooperation would kill the longstanding regional leagues like the English Premier League.

If anything, I think there’s a valuable lesson to be learnt from the shifting landscape of sports leagues by city leaders, executives, non-government agencies who are contemplating cooperation initiatives and that is money, short-term thinking and politics, which can doom the most well-intentioned initiatives before they even get off the ground. On the other hand, what we call true collaboration, which is where mutual value is provided to all participants can be a game changer. With me to provide their insights on the topic are Chris Klimm, Product Manager and Mike Baker, Product Manager, both for Hexagon Safety, Infrastructure & Geospatial division. Welcome to the show, Chris and Mike.

CK: Hi, Jack, happy to be here. And I think this is a great topic that needs to be discussed, finding new ways to communicate and share information is hugely important to the success, I’d say, of any organisation. And why I believe collaboration should really be utilised whenever possible to help build real strategies between organisations.

MB: Hey Jack, like Chris, I’m glad to be here and ready for an interesting discussion.

JW: Great guys and pleasure to have you and I enjoy talking to both of you, so let’s get underway. So, guys when we talk about cooperation and I’m talking cooperation versus collaboration, I do want to talk on some of the peril of short-term thinking, not playing the long game. And like some of the examples I gave from NCAA football or the English Premier League, it’s not clear that playing the long game, so to speak, has the potential to invite backlash.

When we apply that logic to the business and technology world, what do you think are some of the potential hazards of not thinking things through when cooperation or data sharing or data interoperability initiatives are introduced, meaning when cities or organisations think about, hey, let’s all cooperate or some entity says, hey, we all need to play ball and cooperate and do what’s best for everybody. So, we’re going to enact a data sharing initiative or enact some interoperability initiative. What are some of the reasons that while on the surface, these are well intentioned ideas, the short-term thinking, the politics and the greed, sometimes get in the way and make these projects unsuccessful Chris, do you have any thoughts on that?

CK: I do. I think the biggest obstacle I see is lack of buy-in from one or more of the stakeholders. If a stakeholder doesn’t see the value in the collaboration product, it’s really what’s in it for me or what’s in it for us attitude. And when that develops, the interest and the motivation for that stakeholder or organisation is not there. And that can really defeat the overriding goals of the project. And I think the other thing I see that sometimes makes these things unsuccessful, is fear plays a role. The fear that one stakeholder has more power in the partnership. And when I say power, decision-making power. Are my decisions being heard? Do they hold as much value as the opinions and decisions of the other partners?

JW: Chris, I definitely relate to that. I feel like bringing back the sports’ analogy. Typically, when a group of organisations or entities get together, let’s say to form a league, sometimes on the surface, everybody acts as if they’re acting in everybody’s best interest, but usually it’s just one or two entities that have the power and gain most of the value from the relationship. And I can definitely see how that happens in the business and technology world where you have a cooperative or collaborative type of project or initiative introduced. But in the end it’s usually one or two agencies or one or two organisations that end up getting all the value and the others just basically being forced to cooperate. So, that definitely resonates. Mike, do you have anything to add to that?

MB: Sure. So, I think one of the things that we’re seeing today is that the systems that we’re trying to integrate and collaborate on, are becoming very complex and very dynamic. And so, you have all these parts that intersect with each other and they have relationships, but it really requires a different approach. Like Chris said, you have to have buy-in, but at least what I typically see happening, is that we really wait until the end to try to fit everything together and then what happens by not doing it at the beginning or collaborating up front, then we wind up seeing a cost run over. We don’t seem to realise it’d be cheaper to do our collaboration upfront.

And so, for me, I think it’s still a little bit of not only what Chris mentioned, but also just a technology side of how to move data from these different systems, have them interact with one another, but then also do all that upfront versus waiting till the end of the project and realising that information got left out or things were in the wrong format. So, for me that’s another key element.

JW: I like that, Mike. Just laying the ground rules and doing some upfront planning on how things are going to work. What’s the true intention, which makes a nice segue to my next question which is, when it comes to these data sharing initiatives, either at a citywide level or between organisations or, heck, even between a larger entity in between departments within the same company or organisation. When we say, hey, let’s cooperate, really the goal should be let’s collaborate. No matter what the end game is, to truly be what I call collaborative as opposed to just cooperative, stakeholders or players if you will, don’t just need to be able to see data or information for some of the other players, they need to be able to actively do something with that data and with others. So, take action on it. And Chris, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the differences between what I’ll call traditional cooperation, aka force cooperation and true collaboration. Chris, can you give me a little thoughts on the differences between those two?

CK: Sure. And I think it’s like you said, cooperation sometimes is forced. And I think you the example you gave in the sports of the NCAA and the English Premier Leagues, that’s an example. And then like Mike said, to avoid that you need to lay that groundwork up front. You need to lay out the goals and the parameters that everybody understands and that sets you up for some true collaboration. Every stakeholder has to work together to meet common goals. And that’s how success can be measured. You can’t measure success how an individual organisation performs. It has to be the outcome of all of the organisations, the collaborative outcome.

JW: Hey, Chris you want to sign up to be the president of the NCAA because I think he hit the nail on the head there. Mike, I’ll pose the same question back to you. How is collaboration different from cooperation?

MB: So, I think we’ll start with how they’re alike. So, they’re alike in that you wind up having two or more people, two or more organisations and they’re going to work together to achieve a common goal. What I see with cooperation is oftentimes it falls into a coordinated response. And by that, what I mean is that the activities get siloed and so each organisation goes off and does their own thing and then the pieces come together in. It’s like when our kids do school projects, the teacher puts them in a group but ultimately what happens is each child winds up doing their own little piece, and then you fit it together at the end, and you wind up with the picture of the horse being three times bigger than the picture of the barn. And so, in this coordinated approach, we just wait till the end to fit together.

Whereas in a collaborative approach or with collaboration, what we wind up seeing is the activities are done together, not separately. And that usually this… I’m going to call it this connection between these activities oftentimes is very fluid and very dynamic. Going back to what I mentioned earlier about these systems being very complex, in a cooperative or coordinated approach, everybody goes off and does things at the end and when they come back at the end, they realise things don’t really fit together. Whereas if they collaborated up front, as things change, the project can change with it. So, even though it might be a subtle difference, to me it’s not subtle at all. It’s the working together in a fluid, dynamic environment versus going off and doing your own siloed thing and then coming back into the end and hope when it all fits together.

JW: Mike, that’s great insight. I like the way you put that, it’s really the ability to be dynamic and fluid and do your work front as opposed to trying to piecemeal all the pieces together at the end. I’ve been involved in many school projects because as I recently just went back and you’re right. So, everybody goes off, does their own piece and then at the end you try to take together five different pieces from five different people and stitch them together and make it sound like a cohesive strategy or plan or output and it’s tough. So, excellent insight. So, let’s take a quick pivot and jump to another important point when discussing NCAA football, soccer or football to our European colleagues, trust in leadership and something so ingrained and I’m totally on board with this in the American culture is college football.

It evokes passion amongst fans. There’s the beautiful pageantry. There used to be more of the regional rivalries, but thanks to conference realignment that’s going away to some degree. It’s perplexing that it all might go away due to what I would call lack of leadership and selfish intentions, chasing the dollars, the short-term thinking and not truly caring about your ultimate constituents or stakeholders and in the case of sports, it’s the fans. It’d be great if the leaders at the top, the conference commissioners or NCAA, the organisation themselves, the president to work together and save the sport we all know and love.

Where the little guy has a chance, where everybody gets a slice of the pie so to speak and fans can truly enjoy what I believe is America’s true pastime. When it comes to things like data sharing initiatives, interoperability, collaborative initiatives, to me it takes a strong reason group of leaders who trust each other, who focus on the big picture and who ultimately serving their constituents, in this case let’s do it as citizens and doing what’s best for the community. And just as in sports, you can’t have trust without good leadership. And sometimes these initiatives really break down, not due to what I would call some of the technical challenges, but due to let’s say political challenges and the differences between agencies, departments, other organisations and other groups.

All these different stakeholders might have different views. And it takes a level of trust, leadership and a foundation that can help, guide and provide those parameters, those swimming lanes, if you will, where trust and ultimately a collaborative environment can thrive. So, Mike would you say that’s accurate when it comes to stakeholders and trust and leadership and some of the politics of play? How important is this in a true collaborative environment?

MB: I think it’s critically important. If we go back to the whole idaea of coordination and cooperation, we go back to that example of where we go off and we work on our siloes, we work on our individual pieces, we automatically create distrust, we automatically create fear because we’re wondering if the other group is getting their work done. Jack, how many times has your child been in a school project and they’re working on their part and you’re sitting there wanting to call the other parent to make sure their child’s getting their part done? And so, when we go to this whole idaea of cooperation and coordination, it really automatically creates this idaea of mistrust and you miss these insights.

However, when you move to a collaboration where the team is working in unity, everyone has an impact on the whole and the decisions are being made as a group looking at all things. Now, I will say it does require discipline and it requires trust, but you don’t really have as many bottlenecks through the process. And you really decrease the possibility for adjustments that have to be made further on. So, to me the whole idaea of trust is critical in a collaborative environment.

JW: Yep, great points Mike. Chris, what are your thoughts on trust and leadership and how important it is in a collaborative environment?

CK: I think what Mike said is very true. Trust is so important. And I think trust needs to be developed from the very beginning of a collaboration project. And so, what does that mean? It means that stakeholders need to be able to speak their minds and not only speak their minds but listen to the other stakeholders. Everybody involved needs to have the time and space to air their views, speak their minds without fear of being chastised or not listened to. And I think that is what will foster real collaboration.

JW: Totally agree, Chris. And like I said, it analogises with the sports world almost to a [inaudible]and so good leadership, long term thinking, trust, setting those parameters in place and building some cheques and balances I think is perfect. So, that’s good stuff. So, I alluded to it in the previous question, but I’m going to talk about it. Another thing that we think about when building a collaborative environment, rolling out a data sharing smart city project, or some sort of regional data sharing programme are the barriers, what makes this challenging? It sounds good on the surface; you feel like you read news articles or have even over the past 10 to 15 years about all these data sharing interoperability initiatives. And I think people just assume of this stuff happens, especially, I would say at the government level. From the technology side, I look at it, you got two main groups of barriers.

One’s the technology barriers, which is not trivial at all, integrating to different systems of record that each entity or organisation participating might have, integrating with the plethora of IOT devices, sensors out there that are just coming on board more and more each day, the different applications. And then I got a second group of barriers, which are the people barriers, which is things like politics over data ownership. What’s the way in which we’re going extra change data? What’s the format? Under what rules can we do something? If we want to change the way we’re doing things, do I have to go back to some central entity and get their approval? Those people barriers or political barriers are also very important. And what happens is these barriers get in the way and doom projects before they start. I can’t tell you how many project charters I’ve seen where you’ll get a group of stakeholders that want to do something really good and then ultimately it’s doomed by political data ownership or who’s sharing what? Who owns what? When can they do? Why are they in charge? What’s the deal?

And it never gets off the ground or agreeing on a technical standard or schema on how they want to share data. Most of these initiatives while well intentions never make it past the implementation phase. Chris, can you talk to me about these barriers and how they can affect collaboration the way you see it? What are some of the pitfalls to look out for if you’re an agency, a customer or organisation? Somebody who’s looking to enact a collaborative environment, what are some of these pitfalls because they’re out there, what should they be looking for?

CK: So, as you said, there still are technical barriers to sharing data. When you’re pulling data together, it’s from many different systems of records, it’s in many different formats. And while there’s been great progress, developing open exchange formats, many of these systems are still proprietary and today don’t support those open standards. So, therefore when you’re trying to share data across multiple organisations, there’ll be custom interfaces that need to be designed and developed and that can take time. And I think it helps solve some of those technical barriers. It’s very important that the tools, the technology you’re using versatile. You need to have a powerful business rules engine that can transform and integrate that data to solve some of these complex challenges. Also, being Cloud Native, where you don’t have to reach on-proem into these systems that data’s available in the cloud is obviously another benefit.

But if I think of other barriers to data sharing, what we’re seeing unfortunately, is many organisations still today have a don’t share data approach and to them this is often the easiest way to mitigate any real or perceived risk. I don’t want to be responsible if the data is wrong or inaccurate or sensitive, so I simply won’t share it. And this of course leads to data hoarding and unnecessary limitations on data collaboration. So, we need to change that mindset. We need to change that culture from I don’t share data to a share data unless. And with that mindset, organisations will start to focus on how to satisfy those regulatory requirements and those data protection standards.

JW: Chris, I think you nailed it on the head, they don’t share data mindset. It’s prevalent in sports just as well. It’s the norm to not share data, to not act in a truly collaborative way. And I think from a technology point of view when looking at data sharing initiatives in that realm, while you do have political issues, you do need leadership, you do need trust, it would be nice to have foundational platforms that are neutral in a way that do facilitate the trust and collaborative…. Give you the tools, that foundation, the swimming lanes so that everybody has confidence that we’re setting people up for success.

Ultimately, it does come down to people and personalities to some degree but having a nice foundational technology that allows you to get out of that don’t share mindset and helps encourage, but yet still give people the confidence that everything secure, you are in control of your data when you want to share it, how you want to share and you can change that and no one central entity is demanding or controlling the whole environment. So, excellent points, I’m going to steal that Chris in future conversations I really like that. Mike, do you agree with these barriers? The technological and political barriers, do you have any thoughts you want to add to that?

MB: I think I definitely agree. I think one of the things that we had done in the past as technologists, we say, well standards will just solve the problems, but the thing about standards is there’s so many of them. The [inaudible]thing is going back to your analogy of football. Every college team will run their own offensive scheme. So, each one of them has a different standard if you will. Alabama does it better than most and oftentimes you can even tell the conference based upon what offences run. So, this whole idaea of that a standard’s going to solve everyone’s problems, I think that we just see standards linking.

People are going to run or choose what works best for their system. And so having something that will be able to cut through these technical barriers I think is a requirement, but able to cut the through it and still have the entity’s trust that their data’s going to be held to the highest compliant standard they have, that data’s going to be shared in a way that they want to be shared I think is going to be critically important.

JW: I agree, Mike. And to bring all this together or to, don’t laugh here, to hit a home run, you need that right technology in place. You need that right foundation in place that really can help overcome these technical barriers and these political data sharing data ownership barriers in order to get a collaboration project or data sharing initiative or smart city cooperative initiative off the ground, you need the right technology in place. And that’s where I would say the new HxGN Connect platform and its benefits really come into play. This HxGN Connect, the cloud native, collaborative workspace where no single entity can boss other people around, everybody gets mutual value. Mike, we’ll start with you. Can you tell me a little bit first about what HxGN Connect is and what makes it valuable for collaborative?

MB: Sure. So, it’s a cloud based collaborative platform and I know those words doesn’t give a lot of insight, but for me with the transportation utility background, I see a common, unified picture of any situation via the map, but then also the ability just to be able to send a chat, maybe to someone who’s in a different department within my organisation, or to create what we refer to as a collaborative channel, where we may discuss something that may be going on, maybe a particular piece of equipment or asset needs to be replaced. And so, it’s really this ability to bring the data in from maybe disparate systems and give us that common operating view. And then from there, work to resolve any problems or incidents that we may see that arise.

JW: Chris, can you maybe expound upon your thoughts on HxGN Connect for those out there who might not know what it is and maybe build off what Mike said and maybe what makes it valuable? What’s the special sauce that really makes it stick out in terms of helping collaborative projects and initiatives? What makes it valuable?

CK: So, when we sat down to design HxGN Connect, what we put first and foremost was bringing people together. So, I know a lot of software obviously needs to focus on the technical challenges, but I think you have to take a step back and say how can we bring people together? And so, from the ground up, it’s been designed to have a collaboration space, where you can easily reach out to other organisations, to invite other organisations to that channel that Mike talked about and easily communicate, post information, post videos, post chat, and have that collaborative experience. And I think the other piece of HxGN Connect that’s very important is on the back end, we have this very powerful rules based integration engine. And we talked about the technical challenges of bringing all these different types of data together.

Well, that engine is very powerful and it’s got a very easy to use interface to make it a lot easier for end users to connect up to these other data sources and bring those data sources together. And then finally what Mike started with its cloud based and so that really helps. You think about being able to get that information out to a platform that everybody can access and so now it’s much easier to invite people to share data aet cetera.

JW: Excellent guys and just to maybe summarise what I heard, sounds like Connect gives you the ability first off to just integrate with different types of systems from different organisations, tech even the different systems or applications and devices within an organisation, bring all that data in into a unified view, an operational picture, allow you to very easily interact and see what’s going on with everybody who’s participating in that space. And not only view that data, but when situations arise, be it major emergencies, or crisis, or even small day to day things where sharing data, given a heads up, or just helping other people be more efficient, you can actually act on that and then resolve an issue or share information and really create a truly collaborative environment. That sounds very exciting and I can just imagine all the different things you can do with that.

And maybe that’s a good way to talk about HxGN Connect. Mike, can you give me a couple examples of how you’ve seen HxGN Connect used that would be a good use case if you will be it private sector, public sector with NGOs, whatever the case may be? Because I can see how something like Connect could be applied in multiple industries and first off, can you confirm that’s correct? And second, maybe give me an example or two of how you see or how you have seen HxGN Connect be used?

MB: Sure. And you are absolutely right. You have use cases across all industries. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve worked a lot with the transportation and utility industry. So, I’ll just start in the transportation one. Right now, road construction sites, we have an average of about 125 desks per year due to workers at those construction sites. And so, for me, one of great use cases for Connect, is to set up a safe construction zone. To have a safe construction zone, you need to have some thought where that work zone gets laid out, we’re going to bring in temporary traffic control devices such as cameras and traffic counters, radar. And so, Connect can be used to monitor those construction zones and then since those construction zones move, Connect just goes ahead and monitors that moving construction site and by having it or by being able to collaborate with other organisations such as state police, local police, we can actually make these construction zones much safer and try to realise the zero fatality goals that many of our DOTs have.

And so, for me in the transportation space, these safe construction zones would be a great use case for Connect, but then also it saves lives and really would make those zones safer for both the worker as well as the driver. If we move over into utilities, there’s just so many opportunities where utilities could share their construction projects, their unplanned events. Right now, one of the big initiatives across the country is getting fibre to areas is that maybe don’t have access to high speed internet.

Well, just being able to monitor where you may have incidents where that fibre gets cut, they’re putting new fibre in my neighbourhood and they’ve cut my internet twice in the last 10 days and so just being able to use it as a way of seeing what’s going on, where these construction or this new fibres being placed and then if there is a fibre cut, just managing the crew of knowing when they get there and when the service might be back for our citizens. But to me, the list is endless and we could go on and on in the transportation and utility space on use cases for Connect.

JW: So, Mike one of the things you mentioned there, so in the transportation space, would you say some of the value in Connect is that environment, especially let’s take construction zones is very fluid, it’s very dynamic. They’re moving every day. It’s not what I would call a static setup if you will. And it sounds like a lot of the value in Connect and that type of environment is that you got good situational awareness, you’re able to share that information out and collaborate, but B just due to the architecture behind the scenes, it can shift and lift and move as the zone moves. And probably some of those cloud native capabilities really help out there, would you say that’s a fair statement?

MB: Oh, yeah I think that’s definitely a fair statement in that if you think about a paving down, an interstate it’s going to move along once the sections get done. But the great thing about Connect it’s very dynamic. You don’t necessarily have to stop and set up a new one, if the sensors move, Connect realises that, just keeps processing the telemetry that comes in.

JW: Oh, I can see a lot of use cases for that special events, homeland security operations where they’re they go around and monitor large events and gatherings. So, excellent stuff Mike. Hey Chris, how about any use case examples for you in HxGN Connect? Where it’s been used or some great use cases in any industry, why don’t you go ahead and provide your thoughts?

CK: So, let me focus on public safety and if you think about a city or a region, anytime that there is a major threat, all of the different agencies, so whether that threat is a train derailment, a bomb threat, a natural disaster like a hurricane, there are all of these numerous agencies that need to efficiently work together, share data to mitigate risks, resolve situations and I think HxGN Connect really provides the platform to do that. With HxGN Connect, they can share their incident data. What incidents are going on right now? They can share their resources. Where are their units? See everything in real-time, share their assets. Where are my major assets, my hospitals, my train stations? Any information coming in from alarms and sensors, all of that information gets brought in and then they can visualise that data on a common operational picture, providing shared awareness across all the public safety agencies.

And so obviously that’s very powerful, but that’s the data side of it. And the data side of it is really just one part of the solution. Then the other part is given this common operational picture in all of this data coming in, how do we collaborate? How do we task? How do we make sure everybody’s doing their job? And so, the HxGN Connect provides that channel to allow them to post the information, to communicate when certain things are done and work together really to the resolve the threat.

JW: Excellent points guys and it’s been great talking to you and those use cases, I could sit here and think of other industries where something like Connect that provides that collaborative foundation that solves those technical and political barriers when it comes to data sharing and then acting on that data could apply. So, I really appreciate the time and going back to some of the sports examples I laid out at the top of the programme, I believe looking at well-intentioned initiatives let’s say forming a conference in NCAA football big 12, while they start out as well intentioned initiatives where everybody’s working together, they can go by the wayside due to political barriers and not having that proper foundation that encourages trust and collaboration. And ultimately what happens is the people who suffer the most are the fans in the sports world or in the public sector world, your citizens and community.

And so, I think while well intentioned, sometimes sports can learn from the technology side and the technology side can learn from the sports side and really try to get back to more of a trusting, teamwork driven collaborative environment. So, thanks again. I appreciate it. And hopefully we’ll get there on American football and soccer, European football, sports realm soon. Chris and Mike, how about you? Do you guys have any additional thoughts you guys would like to share before we wrap up Chris?

CK: Well, maybe just one. One area that we’re investing a lot of time in research is artificial intelligence and machine learning. And these technologies can actually be very helpful when collaborating and sharing data. One issue with data sharing today is there’s so much of it. There’s data being created by all these sensors, social media and a lot of it is unstructured. So, we’re looking at using AI to be able to quickly extract pertinent information from large [inaudible]so you get information at a glance, but really I think that’s a topic all to itself, so maybe a good topic for another podcast.

JW: Hey, I like that, Chris. Anytime I can get you and Mike on a podcast, I will take you up on that. Mike, anything you’d like to leave us with?

MB: And I guess mine is Chris does a great job and so I think mine maybe be a little bit more philosophical. And we think about sports, we think about individual sports and we think about team sports, but the world in which we live in, it’s a team sport. It takes these organisations to collaborate with each other to solve our problems. And so, I think for Connect gives a great platform for us to support that dynamic and flexible collaboration that’s really needed. And so, I’m really excited about the future of Connect, not just some of the things that Chris mentioned, but other things that we have on the roadmap. And so, it makes anxious to see where all we can take it.

JW: Mike, I like that inspirational vibe there and I will say this, it sounds like something like Connect we talk in the details of technical challenges and stuff, but isn’t it really just about bringing people and data together? And through that by laying the foundation. Yes, we as human beings still have to finish it out, but Connect just at least provides that platform, that space that ultimately can bring people and data together. And I look forward to talking to you guys more about it. This has been a great conversation and I appreciate you both joining, and for all of you out there listening, I look forward to talking to both you two again on maybe a future episode. Thanks for tuning in to HxGN Radio for more great stories and podcast visit hxgnspotlight.com.