Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Development in a Box

Stephen F. DeAngelis is founder, President and CEO of Enterra Solutions. He is a Visiting Scientist at the Software Engineering Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. Here is an extract from his TCS article:

In this new convergence of people, processes and technology, there is the heart of an entirely new opportunity for post-conflict reconstruction. To realize the potential, it's necessary to create a flexible framework -- one that brings together private- and public-sector capabilities for the post-conflict task. Tom Barnett, author of The Pentagon's New Map and I have been at work on such a framework, which we call "Development in a Box." We see its development in four stages.

In the first stage, best practitioners -- from both government and the private sector -- set to work on the challenge of post-conflict reconstruction in a particular country or region. Best practices, standards and performance metrics are established -- determining, for example, that "this is the most effective rapid manner in which to set up a central bank." These best practices are then recorded in a catalogue for core infrastructural platforms.

In the second stage, the best practices catalogue is put into action -- local institutions are established according to its guidelines. As part of this process, the needed technology platforms are put in place -- we provide pre-configured information systems and associated technologies, such as container scanners for port security. In effect, we jump-start the systems and establish trust within the country, which is a node in a larger geo-political ecosystem of "trusted nations." These nations, in turn, make it possible to connect that node safely to the larger networks of transactions that we call the global economy.

The third stage is truly revolutionary. Here, best practices and information systems converge. The best practices, standard operating procedures and compliance rules for each institution are transformed into executable software code that governs the operation of each institution. Business logic, best practices and governance operate directly through the information systems. Additional automated rule sets are embedded that connect the institutions in a secure, compliant and efficient manner to global partners such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization and the World Health Organization. The node-state, once verified, joins the larger network under conditions of real trust and efficiency.

In stage four, the local population takes over. Locals are offered training to operate the core infrastructural platforms. Training involves the local community in the transfer of intellectual capital, and aligns the natural ambitions of local leaders with the local population on the one hand, and the global community on the other. It is in the self-interest of the local community to master best practices, best technologies, and global connectivity and integration. All of those, in turn, lead to local self-sufficiency and stability, shortening our term of providing aid.

The process is neither instant nor generic, and no, it will not magically surmount local resistance to social and economic connectivity with the world at large. That effort requires expert knowledge and "boots on the ground," and the modification of templates to account for specific cultural needs. The task of setting up a banking system will be similar the world over, but will have to be modified somewhat in Islamic countries to account for beliefs regarding interest charges. Nevertheless, a significant part of the reconstruction task will be common across boundaries. The framework harnesses a corporate best practice -- productization -- creating a post-conflict reconstruction system that can be replicated quickly, effectively and cost-efficiently in country after country, region after region.

"Development in a Box" is only one example of the fruit that public-private collaboration can bear in the post-conflict setting. Other innovations are sure to follow. No government agencies, acting on their own or in combination, are going to create anything remotely similar. Extreme innovation is a private-sector capability.

At the same time, it's necessary to recognize that the private sector, acting alone, will not be able to create a full suite of institutions and systems. That requires public-sector guidance and best practices. Nor is this an argument that private companies ought to be feeding at the development trough. The private sector has had its own series of failures and embarrassments; by itself, it is not the answer either.

Nor should it be. The case for "Development in a Box" is based on the recognition that the public-private distinction is increasingly obsolete in a global, interconnected world. Globalization and technology acceleration blur the boundaries between public and private. To integrate new states into the global economic and political mainstream, it is necessary for us to blur those boundaries still further. Our own modern, globalized, interconnected society is the result of ongoing public-private collaboration. Exporting that collaboration is the key to successful stabilization efforts. Command-and-control bureaucracy cannot deliver stability -- even if it supplements military capability with civilian agency expertise. The British Colonial Office was an effective tool for its time -- but in our time, a massive inter-agency structure won't dance. Flexible, spontaneous, boundary-free collaboration -- as exemplified by "Development in a Box" -- is the framework that we need today.


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