One of the first things I ever wrote after becoming a general industry analyst looked at how Microsoft, in the late 90s, was building for failure. I wasn't talking about products, but how the company was laying out its campus.
Recently, I've been asked about companies that are building so they will be around in 100 years and Apple's new campus came to mind. Granted, this will be partially a monument to Steve Jobs (my buddy Roger Kay thinks he is crazy), but it is also clear that Apple is designing it to ensure that it will be around in 100 years.
However, my biggest concern is for the U.S. and the fact that our aging infrastructure has the country at increased risk and IBM's Smarter Cities effort stands out as a way to help prevent this. Unfortunately, I don't think even IBM is big enough and what we need is a massive effort to rethink cities and revisit arcologies. By the way, if there is one video you should watch, just for historic significance, it is Steve Jobs' presentation to the Cupertino City Council on his new office building.
1990s Microsoft and Building for Failure
The COO at Microsoft, at the time I started covering the company, had come out of IBM at a time when IBM was near failure. I surmised at the time, by looking at how that COO was building out Microsoft's campus, that his primary goal was to ensure that Microsoft's buildings could be sold easily when Microsoft failed. In effect, he was designing the campus for failure and the resulting inefficiencies would partially contribute to silos and execution problems, which have pretty much defined Microsoft ever since.
It didn't start out that way. At the core of the Redmond campus are the first buildings, which were highly integrated and consistent. The company started building for success, but then after what appeared to be a staffing change and a deeper focus on costs rather than investments, it went down the wrong path.
My belief then and now is that if you build for failure you are effectively planning to fail and I think that is a bad idea. That COO is long gone from Microsoft, but his legacy lives on.
At Apple, Failure Is Not an Option
If you go to Apple's headquarters, you'll see an integrated set of buildings that make it not only easier for employees to collaborate, but the design favors tight central management and security. It would be really hard to sell any part of this campus - far harder than on Microsoft's - but the structure supports efficiency and says that "failure is not an option." And product after product and year after year Apple rarely fails.
In its proposed new building, which is bucking something we call the "Silicon Valley curse," the design is even more integrated and the resulting massive circular building would be even more difficult to sell. But, the buildings it replaces on an old HP campus would have been no easier to sell and that campus was also designed, using the best minds at that time, to work as a unit.
This brings out another point and that is that even if you design for the future and for success, time brings forward ideas that make what you thought was right obsolete and, eventually, you'll have to upgrade or tear down the old and replace it with something more in line with current technology and organizational thinking.
The new Apple building will be vastly more energy efficient, vastly easier to secure and vastly easier to manage than the aging HP building it replaces. It also will be a showcase for Apple and a legacy for its founder Steve Jobs.
Oh, before we move on, the Silicon Valley curse, which says that, anecdotally, every successful company here that has done or planned to do (in the case of Novell) a signature headquarters complex has subsequently failed. Silicon Graphics, whose old headquarters is the Computer History Museum, is the poster child for this. We'll hope that isn't the case here.
IBM Smarter Cities
But while snazzy new buildings and discussions of productivity are great for those of us building companies, the rest of us have to live in homes and cities that are aging and were generally built with little consistency. The result is that as cities cut operating budgets, crime is increasing, service failures appear to be increasing and we are not only becoming less able to rely on city services, we are becoming less safe. For instance, in my own city at the heart of the Silicon Valley, murders so far this year have significantly exceeded all of last year and there have been two home invasions in my own neighborhood (I personally caught one).
IBM is stepping up to try to address problems like this with its Smarter Cities Challenge. A city that is stepping up early is Rio, which has suffered through natural disasters and is now preparing for the Olympics. What will result from this effort, as covered by this video, is likely be the most easily managed older design city in the world. Particularly, with regard to natural or manmade disasters, the city will be able to better use limited resources to respond to a crisis and to prevent a crisis in the first place far more successfully.
This is an extensive international effort by IBM. For instance, in this video, efforts to leverage citizens to redesign their cities to better suit them is demonstrated in the UK. But in all cases, this is the application of a combination of sensor data, computer infrastructure covering everything from security cameras to stop lights, and both citizens and city employees to provide an environment that is better optimized.
The goal is to deal with the reality of fewer police, fewer firefighters and fewer folks maintaining critical systems while providing a safer city with a higher level of service. They get there by optimizing resources, which you can't do unless the resources are measured and integrated into a managed system. IBM is working with cities all over the world to make these managed systems. For more on this, go to City Forward - this is largely philanthropic on IBM's behalf and part of its program of giving back, so it is well worth the read if interested.
At the end, if successful, it won't just be cities connected inside but connected outside, sharing information in a collaborative fashion to make each stronger, everything from being able to better monitor and catch criminals, to taking information of a disaster in one city and using it to protect another.
Wrapping Up: Building the City of Tomorrow
An arcology is the concept of determining how you would build, from scratch, the city of tomorrow. Much like Apple is building its new headquarters to take into account what has been learned in the decades since the old campus was built, we've learned a lot about how to build cities that can't be applied without rebuilding.
Underneath, and over in some cases, our homes and businesses are an aging structure of pipes, wiring and transportation systems that generally weren't designed to work together or to be easily upgraded. Even cities such as Paris and New York are showing signs of failure, which suggests that it may be time to at least start thinking about starting over, because they will reach a point where the cost of sustaining them as they are will simply be too high.
Japan is building a city of the future, as is China (this one is amazing) and perhaps, here in the U.S. we should be thinking of doing the same. In technology, we know that from time to time, it is far cheaper to replace something than to continue to patch it. We are reaching that point with cities and perhaps it is time to revisit Walt Disney's vision and build for tomorrow.