Amazon has announced the shortlist of cities that could host its second North American headquarters, known as HQ2. The company received 238 proposals from locations across the region. It’s now narrowed the list to a total of 20 cities, including Toronto.
Toronto is the only location outside the U.S. to have made it to the shortlist. Amazon opened the application process last September, giving cities across North America the opportunity to support up to 50,000 high-paying jobs.
It will be a complete second headquarters for the company, providing extensive economic growth opportunities to the successful candidate city. Amazon will invest over $5 billion as it develops the facility.
Toronto is the only Canadian location to have made it to the shortlist. Canada is establishing itself as a leader in several areas of emerging technology, including artificial intelligence. Amazon is likely to have retained Toronto as an option because of the availability of technical talent around the city. The arrival of the company would further boost the already thriving Canadian tech scene.
Amazon’s original requirements for HQ2 stipulated it must be built near a metropolitan region of over one million people with availability of technical talent. The company also wished to have direct access to commuter transit and an airport not more than 45 minutes away. Toronto has evidently satisfied these first requirements but it will now be in competition with urban areas across the U.S.
“Enthusiasm and creativity”
The other 19 shortlisted cities are distributed across the U.S., including locations on the east and west coasts. Pennsylvania is the only state that features twice on the list, with both Philadelphia and Pittsburgh potential candidates. Across the country, cities including Atlanta, Austin, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Los Angeles, Miami, New York City and two regions in the vicinity of Washington, DC have made it through the first stage of Amazon’s application process.
The company thanked all 238 initial applicants for their interest, saying they showed “tremendous enthusiasm.” It evaluated every proposal it received based on predefined criteria. Amazon will now work more closely with the 20 shortlisted cities to obtain detailed information on their proposals. It needs to establish whether the community can feasibly support the scale of its building and hiring ambitions.
“Thank you to all 238 communities that submitted proposals. Getting from 238 to 20 was very though – all the proposals showed tremendous enthusiasm and creativity,” said Holly Sullivan, Amazon Public Policy. “Through this process we learned about many new communities across North America that we will consider as locations for future infrastructure investment and job creation.”
Amazon’s currently headquartered in Seattle with regional satellite offices across the globe. The company employs over 540,000 people globally and has invested $100 billion in its infrastructure over the past five years. Amazon said it expects to conclude the competition to host HQ2 during 2018.
How Canada’s new digital service for government is approaching culture change
The digital transformation of organizations begins with an internal cultural shift promoting agile strategies, a hunger for innovative practices and the ability to change direction quickly.
As serial entrepreneur James Bilefield pointed out in an interview with McKinsey, culture change can be the biggest challenge of any major organizational shift:
“In my experience, culture is the hardest part of the organization to change. Shifting technology, finding the right talent, finding the right product set and strategy—that’s all doable, not easy, but doable. Hardest is the cultural transformation in businesses that have very deep legacy and cultural roots.”
That all seems taxing enough. Now imagine the organization in question has more than 100 departments and 250,000 employees. That’s exactly the challenge that the Canadian Digital Service (CDS) is facing.
CDS is a team working within the Treasury Board Secretariat to help the government design and build better services. Structured on the delivery of useful tools, the team is also helping government departments to build greater capacity for digital problem solving. The CDS team retains control of their communication tools allowing for their work to be shown out in the open. And through the government’s Interchange Program, they’re able to recruit private sector talent on short-term assignments.
Pascale Elvas, Director of CDS, has an up-close view of the government’s hunger for change and how many roadblocks there are along the way.
“We’re trying to get departments thinking about digital differently,” says Elvas. “We want them to really understand their users, the citizens that they serve and to unpack the problem.“
Traditionally, the government puts out a request for proposal (RFP) — the average size of the RFP and bids related to it is 8,000 pages long — detailing its requirements, a solution and asking vendors to build that solution. However, this traditional method is far from agile project development.
“By the time it’s deployed, it’s already obsolete and there’s no room for course corrections along the way,” says Elvas. “We’re trying to get departments thinking about digital differently. We want them to really understand their users, the citizens that they serve and to unpack the problem.”
Since Elvas joined CDS a year ago, the organization has grown from three people to 45, they get more than 40 requests from departments per month, and they’re recruiting just to keep up with demand.
Elvas says a change in perspective within government departments is at the root of the work being done by CDS:
“It’s getting departments thinking about digital in a different way, and not necessarily starting with an end-state solution from the outset. So allowing the discovery work to happen, to talk to real users along the way, to iterate and to adapt and course correct based on the insights gained through that work.”
Elvas and her team at CDS are advocating for whole new methods of addressing and carrying out projects, reworking the culture around tasks within the government, in order to put the needs of the citizen at the forefront.
“Part of this work is about culture change: It’s about breaking building projects down into smaller chunks, it’s about building microservices, it’s about using different methods, it’s about moving away from waterfalls to agile, it’s about active prototyping and constant iteration, moving to user needs over government needs, and iterating along the way based on user feedback.”
CDS follows the efforts made by both the Government Digital Service in the U.K. and the United States Digital Service to transform government in the 21st century. While everyone can agree that governments around the world need to revolutionize their use of digital tools to improve user experiences, the way forward can often appear muddy at best.
In one ongoing project, Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) is using CDS to open up data on household energy use in a transparent and reusable way. The initiative is particularly insightful as an early CDS project, as it involves working with legacy database systems, and includes user research sourced from various, unique data sets — specifically, provincial and municipal governments.
The expectations NRCan approached the project with, the kind of solution they already had in mind, changed radically after working with CDS to address the problem with a user-based mindset.
“When NRCan came to us,” says Elvas, “they came to us with a very specific solution in mind. NRCan wanted us to build them a database. They already had an internal database, so they wanted a database that was searchable by the public and that was more of a client-facing version of their internal database.”
“Now in doing the discovery work and talking to department officials and understanding their business, we discovered that what they were asking for wasn’t exactly what they needed. Building an API will enable all kinds of new services to be built and for private sector partners to use the data to do all kinds of other neat things — and open the door for much deeper service redesign work.”
CDS is hoping they can build on the success of projects like the API for NRCan to get government departments to reassess how they approach digital problem solving.
“We hope that by demonstrating an alternative way of doing things, we’ll move away from the traditional waterfall approach of launching an 8,000 page RFP with set requirements to really using service design and other methods to unpack the problem, understand the users and to build smaller solutions that can be iterated along the way.”
Digital skills gap impacts 54 percent of businesses
A shortfall of technically skilled workers is threatening to upheave digital transformation.
A new report from Capgemini and LinkedIn has found 54 percent of businesses are now feeling the pressure from the digital skills gap.
Technologies such as AI, IoT and cloud computing are evolving rapidly as they’re deployed inside more organizations. Skills training can’t keep up with the pace of development, creating a growing demand for capable digital talent.
Human talent crucial to business transformation
As reported by Diginomica, CapGemini and LinkedIn found 54 percent of 1,200 global organizations said they’ve been affected by the skills shortage. This has resulted in them having to revise their digital transformation plans, causing a subsequent loss in competitive advantage.
While many transformation strategies include automation as an element, it’s clear human talent remains critical to successful deployments.
The survey identified six key areas that firms can improve on to attract more skilled workers.
- Align leadership on a talent strategy and the unique needs of digital talent
- Diversify recruiting approach
- Create an environment that prioritizes and rewards learning
- Chart a clear career development path
- Give digital talent the power to implement change
- Provide flexible and collaborative ways of working.
Employees willing and eager to upskill
The study authors found employees are generally willing to learn new capabilities. Most respondents expressed a desire to keep their skills current, with 55 percent saying they’d leave a role with an employer unwilling to provide training.
Importantly for firms looking to attract talent, 58 percent said they’d be more likely to apply to a company that prioritizes digital skills development. Accessible workplace learning initiatives are therefore a critical strategy component for businesses looking to attract and retain digital talent.
“In an increasingly digital economy, those organizations that bridge the talent gap will enjoy a competitive edge over those who don’t,” wrote CapGemini and LinkedIn in the report. “A defined digital strategy that meets both business objectives and the preferences of digital talent is critical for a sustainable and successful digital transformation.”
With competition for digital talent only set to increase over the next few years, companies should start their training initiatives now to retain their leading edge. Maintaining agility in the digital economy will require flexible upskilling programs that encourage independent learning and improve recruitment effectiveness.
Microsoft says we need to talk about AI values
It’s time for guiding principles for AI, says Microsoft.
The company has called for the tech industry and governments to develop a consensus over the values and principles that will govern AI.
Principles and values
Microsoft has repeatedly explained its desire to create artificial intelligence that assists humans without having a negative impact. In its list of the Top Ten tech issues for 2018, the company reiterated its desire to base AI on “societal principles” that are followed by every participant in the field.
While many enterprise executives are already convinced by the possibilities that AI usage present, there are still major technical and ethical challenges to address, including the risk of bias, consumer rejection and irresponsibly developed applications.
Microsoft said its ongoing work to “democratize AI” is already creating “building block” best practices for companies to follow. The company said a cross-industry effort, with input from lawmakers, needs to start now before AI gets entrenched in society.
“Over time we’re likely to see the emergence of a new generation of governmental policies, regulations and laws that will govern the development and use of artificial intelligence. But these are early days,” said Microsoft.
“Before that can happen, there needs to be some consensus about the values and principles that should govern AI, followed by best practices to implement them. Only then will it become clearer what types of regulations or laws make sense.”
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