Eliminating the Distance in Alaska

The Alaska  Distance Demonstration Project is a proposed effort to improve the tools and methods of using technology to eliminate the barriers to sharing ideas, making decisions and launching competitive new business enterprises.  

The following is a proposal originally shared with some close friends and colleagues in January of 2018 and an initiative I’ve continued to promote and explore. The COVID pandemic has rapidly advanced many of these ideas, yet at the same time shown the potential for Alaska of more fully embracing this approach as not just a temporary coping strategy but as a long term strategic initiative for the states economic development.

Alaska is a large state, positioned in a unique place on the planet only hours from most of the developed global economies, but minutes away from rural isolation. Distance defines our communities, our culture, and our economic opportunities.  Distance also constrains our community and commercial ability to collaborate, make decisions, and grow our businesses. Technology, for all its capability, is excellent at disseminating information (web, webinars, email, social media), but remains fragmented in supporting collaborative human processes of exchanging ideas, connecting as humans, and making decisions. 

Large organizations such the oil companies, university distance education and integrated healthcare providers have been able to develop internal corporate solutions and teams to support the technology and methods to minimize the impact of distance on operations, but Alaska’s community groups, small businesses and the startup innovation ecosystems have been left behind, with a few remarkable nodes of technology, but little to use without significant effort and risk of delays or poor results for an innovation pitch meeting or a startup business meeting.  Access to Google Hangouts, Skype, Zoom, GotoMeetings and other online tools have offered fragmented solutions, mastered by some; but, none have been integrated with methods of organizing, facilitating and concluding synchronous and asynchronous meetings. 

Equally important to the challenges of the technology has been the lack of training on the use of technology and the traditional skills of meeting facilitation. Meeting organization, facilitation and follow up methods of traditional onsite face to face meetings do not meet the needs of asynchronous and synchronous methods using mixed modality of communication.  This hidden constraint is as challenging as bandwidth limitations. 

Improving our use of technologies and methods to work across distance is essential to Alaska’s future and potentially a source of new globally needed solutions and services for export to a world that shares our challenge and the potential value from improvements. 

Project Objective – Using lean startup methods and a “innovation to launch” process, research best practices (discovery), demonstrate in the startup ecosystem (MVP and validation) and implement statewide (development/execution) a distance communication infrastructure that reduces the impact of distance on businesses and community groups working in Alaska, collaborating with other people in the state and working with partners and customers outside the state.  KPI – Baseline survey of tools, effectiveness, constraints, impact. 

Project Goal – Improve the competitiveness and effectiveness of Alaskan based organizations leading to Alaska becoming the global leader in collaborating and communicating across any distance using technology?

Strategy 1 – Develop and combine training in meeting and decision making facilitation over distance and time, with the best available technology in a one year pilot project. 

Strategy 2 – Take the lessons learned from the pilot project to spin off innovative new projects with sponsors and entrepreneurs to develop and commercialized improved processes and tools for distance collaboration and communication.   

Purposed – Improve the quality of communication between people and groups using technology, distance meeting facilitation skills, and mixed modes of synchronous and asynchronous participation (face to face, phone, video). The project does not seek to eliminate the need for face to face interaction; but to improve the decision to use and design distance communication, when it’s more convenient or timely to work across distances that could be in the same building, across town, another community in Alaska  or a global destination. The project will use a standardized and integrated training and technical set of tools to improve participation by using best practices and reducing the learning curve of meetings and apply best practices for personal engagement. The intent is not to define the only methods and tools that can be used, but to demonstrate what best practices look like and make them accessible, when needed (just in time) to people who do not have the time or need to develop a new solution. The project seeks to encourage people to use what works easily, and perhaps what people become familiar using. 

What’s next – I’m looking for collaborators and investors in this initiative to to explore how to eliminate distance in Alaska, develop new products and services, increase Alaskan global business opportunities, and create new global ventures that share our innovations that eliminate distance including intellectual property, products, methods and services.

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