Bloomberg D4GX 2017 Immersion Day

In this September, I was awarded as an Immersion Fellow by Bloomberg Data for Good Exchange (D4GX) 2017. Every year, Bloomberg’s D4GX Immersion Day fellowship program explores how data science research in New York City’s universities can be used to impact the public sector. This year’s focus was on governance and community-driven missions in major cities, including NYC, Philadelphia, Paris, and Bogotá, Colombia.

In this program I worked with Grand Central Partnership (GCP), one of the largest business improvement districts in the world. As a data scientist, I explored the data generated from GCP’s daily operation and identified key insights and analytical routine for a better data-driven management.

Foregin Policy Colloquium, Washington DC

Recently I was invited to attend Foreign Policy Colloquium (FPC) from May 30 to June 2 in Washington D.C. at the George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs. FPC is an exclusive four-day program inviting 75 Chinese students and scholars from all top U.S. universities focusing on international cooperation and bilateral relations between U.S. and China.

FPC is held by National Committee on U.S.-China Relations (NCUSCR), who is the one of highest ranked organization on U.S.-China relations. The organization initiated the ‘Ping Pong Diplomacy’ during Nixon’s Administration and started the formal relation between U.S. and China. Till now NCUSCR has been playing a key role connecting two countries’ cooperation and communication from foreign policy to business.

Through this great even I had chance to interact with key players in the American foreign policy arena, including current and former Administration officials and members of Congress. The speakers include well-known figures from academia, think tanks, media, business, lobbying groups, and the military, among others. We had a great opportunity to discuss current hot issues including global security, regional conflicts, policy, trade and finance, economic development, and technology innovation.

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I also had the honor to attend a reception hosted by the China Embassy and met with Ambassador Cui Tiankai, who is a famous diplomat and current the Chinese Ambassador to the United States.

 

Through this event I’ve also met great talented peers from other universities. Their majors include International Relation, Global Affairs, Law, Business, Public Policy, Economics, Finance, and Public Administration. I’ve had wonderful conversations and made many new friends who’s based in New York City, Boston, Washington D.C. and California. With the common interest in U.S.-China cooperation, we hope to continue our conversation even after this event.

 

Forefront Fellow: Urban Design Forum

I’m glad to announce that I’m named to be one of Forefront Fellows by Urban Design Forum.

“Forefront is an annual program led by the Urban Design Forum dedicated to cultivating emerging leaders in urban design, development and policy.

Kate Larsen - 2017 Urban Design Forum Forefron Fellows

Each year, the Forum invites 20 individuals under the age of 40 to become Forefront Fellows. Fellows meet monthly to investigate critical issues facing New York City, develop design projects and policy papers, and receive feedback from their peers and established leaders in the field.

The theme for this year is Design for Arrival, which explores how urban design, development and technology can strengthen historic and emerging immigrant communities in New York City.”

 

We are selected by NYU C3 Program!

We got an official letter from NYU Campus Coding Collaborative (C3 Program)! We are the one of two projects selected by C3 among all the winning teams in HackNYU 2016.

The Campus Coding Collaborative (C3) cultivates opportunities for students by providing tools and guidance to create new technologies to enhance the University. It serves as an university R&D, allowing students, faculty, and administrators to collaboratively develop and test new solutions to university problems.

Project 100NYU is a online platform interacting with students to explore school activities. The project enhances student engagement with the university, and celebrates unique integration of NYU campus life with city life of NYC.

Is Sidewalk Labs a Strategic Move for Google?

In 2015 Google announced a new project ‘Sidewalk Labs’, to enter urban domain and smart city market. The founders vision it as an “urban innovation company” that producing and investing technologies that enhances city operation and improve quality of urban life. Daniel L Doctoroff, former deputy mayor of New York City for economic development and former chief executive of Bloomberg L.P., will be the CEO leading the office based in New York City with a team from Google, and they planned to build technology itself and also invest in partnerships.

Google’s ambitions and investments never limited to its core business and they have gradually extended beyond Internet search engine and online advertising, and into new domain including autonomous vehicles, wearable technology, and biotech. Although Google is not the first mover entering the smart city market, regarding the fact that IBM and Cisco already have significant scale of business and years of practice in this domain, they still believe this is a good timing and it brings extraordinary business opportunities for Google.

The idea of Sidewalk Labs seems perfectly align with the main philosophy of Google, and there are multiple perspectives to interpret this move: Sidewalk Labs can be seen as a new project, a new initiative, or eventually a new platform for Google to enter physical urban domain. In most straightforward view, Sidewalk Labs acts as an investment vehicle, which diversify the corporate’s portfolio. However, as Larry Page mentioned that Sidewalk Labs as ‘relatively modest investment yet with a decidedly long-term bet, which is very different from Google’s core business’, Google seems to expect more from this new project beyond an investment vehicle. Due to its nature as a private company, a corporate, and an organization, Google visions Sidewalk to create potential core competencies and become an innovation enabler. Therefore we consider Sidewalk Labs as a crucial strategic move for Google to increase its design dominance and market share in a long term.

The Nature of Google

A deep understanding in core competency of an organization is essential for any further analysis on its business strategy and innovation management. C. K. Prahalad and Gary Hamel define core competency as “ a harmonized combination of multiple resources and skills that distinguish a firm in the marketplace”. In this context, Google is a distinguished firm with not a rigid coherent core competency, but fluid core competencies. Google is a great example of the fluid core competencies among American enterprise and tech firms. Although it still remaining design dominance in advertisement and search engine services, its core competency is evolving and fluid. Forbes described that Google is “transforming into a device and telecoms infrastructure company” with shift of core competencies. Google remains its software competency but has been actively developing a strong hardware outsourcing competency (Google Nexus), online marketing (Google Store), telecommunication infrastructure (Google Fiber), and hardware design (Google Glass). The company with a market cap of $365 billion has cash to burn on “long-term, 10X bets” project as Sidewalk Labs and it’s done so before with projects like Google X (autonomous cars), Calico (aging and disease) and Food 2050 (agricultural tech).

Although various new projects and end products from Google might be overwhelming, it is strategic for the organization to peruse a diversified portfolio of business around shared core competencies. To sustain fluid core competencies, Google ensures the radical adjacency between new projects and existing ones. Therefore keeping fluid yet adjacent core competencies is an important strategy for Google, and it will remain this strategy on Sidewalk Labs.

Google is also a learning organization. It frequently creates, acquires and transfers knowledge, and modifies its strategy to reflect new knowledge and insights. In order to successfully enter urban domain, Google needs a platform that enables systematic searching and testing of new knowledge, an R&D lab to deliver demonstration projects, and an enabler to implement end products in physical environment. Therefore an understanding of such high level nature, strategy and demand of Google as a learning organization is essential to analyze future role of Sidewalk Labs.

The Role of Sidewalk Labs

Sidewalk Labs is officially defined by Google as a “a new type of company that works with cities to build products addressing big urban problems. It is building an integrated platform with a set of urban applications to accelerate innovation in cities around the world.” Mr. Doctoroff, the CEO of Sidewalk Labs, claims that “the company plans to build products, platforms and partnerships to tackle issues such as making transportation more efficient, lowering the cost of living and reducing energy usage.” Although this is a very general and vague statement, it is clear that Sidewalk Labs will focus on three levels regarding the scale of business: product, platform and partnerships.

Sidewalk Labs acts as an R&D organization that studying, inventing, and testing new end product. Especially it utilizes domain knowledge and expertise in cities to convert technology into sellable products. LinkNYC, the gigabit wireless network, is the most recognizable product to emerge form Sidewalk Labs since its formation.  LinkNYC serves as a new type of communication infrastructure that offers free public Wi-Fi, phone calls, a tablet for web browsing, USB charging and way-finding tools. During an interview with a design and business website Co.Deisgn, Sidewalk Labs shared their thoughts on this project, that LinkNYC will have a positive impact on cities, provide valuable public services for citizens, and offer a valid commercial model. Through this project, Google for the first time got involved in development of a physical device in public space, and it is highly potential that Google will utilize such physical urban hardware as a vehicle for their related software and information technology, such as Google Maps and Google Fiber.

Sidewalk Labs will create platforms carrying end products for their implementation at a scale in cities. Mr. Doctoroff mentioned that self-driving cars as one area where Sidewalk Labs could help cities better prepare for the future, and they plan to enable products to be implemented in an urban scale globally. This message reveals that Google intends to use Sidewalk Labs as a platform for its end products. Although the media have been focusing on free Wi-Fi, public service and digital equality of LinkNYC, the ultimate goal of this project might be much more ambitious than media’s interpretation. The fact that LinkNYC as gigabit wireless network and ICT (information and telecommunication) infrastructure hints the potential for Google to use it as an operation support system for its physical product (autonomous car) and digital product in a physical urban environment.

Sidewalk Labs can also become a civic technology enabler based on the private-public partnership and Google’s strong knowledge and design dominance. Google considers there is a huge space between civic hackers and traditional big technology companies, as Mr. Doctoroff mentioned, “Sidewalk Labs is an urban innovation company devoted to improving city life for residents, businesses and city governments, in particular by developing and incubating civic technologies”. Private-public partnership is a vital component in this contest, since market share in smart city and civic technology does not only base on design dominance, but also relies on successful implementation within urban policy and political scope. Lately Sidewalk Labs initiated a second project ‘Flow’ that they partnered with U.S. Department of Transportation focusing on future transportation coordination system nationwide. As a learning organization, Google needs domain knowledge in urban policy and new expertise in cities from Sidewalk Labs to gain its future design dominance in cities. This reveals the further role of this organization that it builds physical infrastructure (project LinkNYC), creates political environment (project Flow), and prepare urban domain expertise for Google’s ultimate products in transportation, housing, retail, etc.

Conclusion

The CEO of Sidewalk Labs emphasizes that they are different from projects by IBM or Cisco, that Google intended to create a broad tech platform, and to earn revenue, they could sell the platform or individual tech products on a subscription, fee or commission model to city government or interested private parties. But at the same time he clarifies that they do not want to be a consultant.  His comments reflect that they expect Sidewalk Labs to serve Google to gain core competence in digital-physical integration in urban domain. The competition in smart city is fierce but there is no choice for Google if they want to maintain design dominance, since an organization that has failed to invest in core competence building will find it very difficult to enter an emerging market.