AN IN-DEPTH LOOK AT PROJECT MANAGEMENT AND ECONOMIC TRENDS AROUND THE GLOBE–ONE CITY AT A TIME
>>ON THE MAP
BY SANDRA A. SWANSON
THIS CONNECTED CAPITAL CITY IS TRYING TO BUCK THE BAD ECONOMY WITHDIGITAL INNOVATION AND SUSTAINABILITY.
For six centuries, Seoul has reigned as the economic center over what is now known as Korea. It first gained prominence as a commerce hub thanks to the wide Han River, which cut through the city and provided a key trade route. But that all changed in the aftermath of World War II when Korea was divided along the 38th parallel. Then, in the early 1950s, North Korea's attempt at a forced unification sparked the Korean War, which nearly decimated the city. Seoul survived a seesaw of takeovers to become a thoroughly modern metropolis now looking to make its mark through digital innovation and sustainability initiatives. And the local government is actively setting the city's agenda, whether it means subsidizing green projects or pushing for a networked city with nearly unprecedented levels of connectivity.
But Seoul faces rough waters as the ripple effect of the global credit crunch hits. The country's economy relies heavily on exports, but those numbers were expected to drop nearly 30 percent in January, according to the Korea International Trade Association. And the value of the Korean won against the U.S. dollar plummeted 26 percent in 2008 and declined another 7.7 percent in January.
To further add to bad economic tidings, South Korea's economy shrank by 5.6 percent in the fourth quarter of 2008—the worst decline in a decade.
“All economic data of late show Korea's economic activity is rapidly deteriorating amid the global recession,” Choi Chun-Sin, a director-general in the Economic Statistics Department of South Korea's central bank, told The Wall Street Journal in January. “The chances are very high that Korea's economic growth will be much [lower] than our forecast.”
In a New Year's message, the city's mayor Oh Se-hoon said the government would target job creation—to the tune of 195,000 new positions—in an attempt to “solidify the fundamentals for economic recovery.”
|Korea's rank in French business |
school INSEAD’s list of the world's
most innovative nations
|That's quite a jump. In 2008, Korea ranked 19th. The criteria consisted of eight variables: |
government policies and regulations, social infrastructure, individual capability, technologies,
market economy and capital, knowledge, national competitiveness and wealth.
Mr. Oh is also looking to innovation as a way to fuel growth. “The vision I have established for the city is focused on software, not hardware,” he told Newsweek in December. “When I took office, I started to emphasize things like culture, design and the creative city. I faced some resistance. So I spent a lot of time persuading people, giving lectures on my ideas. It's fortunate that Korean society is very open to accepting new things and new ideas. I also began to emphasize the importance of changing the working attitudes of public officials to become more creative. Now society and the general public have accepted these ideas.”
One of the driving forces shaping projects is the government's desire to evolve Seoul into a “ubiquitous city” or “U-city”—a place where technology allows for the delivery of public and private services anywhere, anytime.
As the Seoul-based country manager for U.S. wireless network provider Firetide Inc., James Joe has worked on more than one project that falls under that umbrella.
“U-city is the concept that should be worked into any project for the city of Seoul,” he says.
That means whether they're residential, medical, business or governmental, projects with major information systems should be built to share data.
“This is a concept unique to Korea,” he says. “To work in the U-city framework, most applications are now designed for ‘anytime, anywhere, any-device’ connectivity. So for a successful project implementation, the project manager needs to consider how to deliver this ubiquitous presence as part of any project [he or she] is involved in.”
With that in mind, it helps to have project managers who can step outside of their high-tech mindset and adapt to the average stakeholder.
“When we consider U-city projects in Seoul, these projects require technologies that are easy to use, so any city resident can take advantage of them,” says Mr. Joe. “These types of projects require that project managers get themselves in the shoes of the users—and understand how to combine IT, design and architecture to deliver services that are seamless to access and are available anywhere, whether you are in a park, in a government building or on the streets of the city.”
Mr. Joe and his team helped give Seoul's Cheo-nggyecheon waterway project a high-tech wireless upgrade that lets visitors use touch-screen kiosks to view maps, local history and information on nearby attractions. The network also supports underwater video cameras that monitor wildlife and sensors that track the Cheonggyecheon water level, temperature and flow.
Last year, Mr. Joe was also involved in a project to upgrade Seoul Forest Park. He and his team added a wireless network to the 286-acre (116 hectare) site, allowing an array of digital services. In addition to free public Internet access, the network provides some peace of mind for parents who can request necklaces that will help pinpoint a child's location in the park if he or she gets lost. The park's wireless network also has healthcare applications—visitors to a medical booth can check vital statistics such as blood sugar and then opt to send those results to the city medical center for evaluation.
AT ONE WITH NATURE
Fifty years ago, the Cheonggyecheon stream wasn't exactly a tourist attraction. Decades of neglect had turned the waterway into an open sewer lined with makeshift huts. And then, the stream was covered by an elevated highway.
Today, the 5.39-kilometer (3.5-mile) stretch of land has a very different look. The stream flows with clean water once again and attracts about 65,000 visitors daily. The $386 million restoration project is a highprofile example of Seoul's determination to blend urban existence with environmental awareness.
Between July 2003 and September 2005, the project team constructed 22 bridges, created streams, dismantled roads and built sewers.
The director of the Cheonggyecheon Restoration Project Headquarters, Jang Seok-hyo, reportedly walked through the restoration site daily in an effort to keep the project on schedule.
Even the renovation process was green. For instance, 96 percent of the 872,000 tons of concrete and asphalt removed from the site was recycled.
But along the way, the project team stumbled upon some environmental challenges. Some of the structures uncovered during the restoration dated back to the late 1950s, clearly past their lifespan. And the riverbed—contaminated with lead, chrome, manganese and other heavy metals combined with carbon monoxide and methane gas produced from the stream—was only accelerating the erosion.
The team also had to adapt the project to local stakeholder needs. For instance, project leaders agreed to keep sidewalks clear during construction and operate free shuttle buses to business areas.
The project wasn't just about revitalizing the dormant stream, though. Part of the initiative's budget was devoted to subsidizing a revamp of the shopping districts near the stream.
The Cheonggyecheon officially opened to the public in October 2005, but the improvements haven't stopped there. In December 2008, the Seoul Metropolitan Government announced a KRW1.65 billion project to make an 880-meter (2,887-feet) section of the stream more pedestrianfriendly—increasing the walkway's width from one meter (3.28 feet) to four meters (13.12 feet).
More than 10 years ago, Seoul government officials proposed a project aimed at building the city's status in IT and multimedia. The KRW1.6 trillion Digital Media City is targeting both local and global companies that specialize in software and digital content for broadcasting, games, movies, animation, music and other media-related industries.
According to the project's official website, the goal of Digital Media City is to “form a world-class IT and media complex by bringing together digital media and entertainment industries, which have been selected for their strategic importance for future economic growth.”
A Digital Media Street will serve as home to retail stores and technology companies as well as research and development institutions. A showcase for Seoul's high-tech prowess, the street will feature light fixtures and utilities that can be controlled digitally, and credit-sensing devices at retail stores that will eliminate the need for checkout lines.
The 388-acre (157-hectare) megaproject is slated for completion in 2010.
But Mr. Joe first had to figure out what to do when some “things” got in the way.
“[The] Seoul Forest Park project presented a unique challenge—too many trees,” he says. “Wireless networks require line of sight, so the design had to address that.”
To work around more than 400,000 trees in the park, the team had to get a little creative.
“We placed mesh nodes and access points apart from each other,” Mr. Joe explains. “Mesh nodes were deployed on light post towers, which are much taller than lamp poles, and access points were deployed [on] the middle point of the park's lamp poles.”
Along with high-tech endeavors, Seoul's government plays an active role in the slew of green projects sprouting up. One example: Since 2002, city leaders have encouraged building owners to create rooftop gardens by providing subsidies that can cover up to 70 percent of a rooftop project.
“We try to make more parks and green spaces in the city but the high prices of land here make it much harder. Rooftop gardens are a quick and easy solution,” Choi Hyoun-sil, deputy director of landscape division at Seoul Metropolitan Government, told The Korea Times.
Seoul is also trying to take its transportation green. Since 2004, the city government has replaced 70 percent of its urban buses with ones that run on compressed natural gas (CNG). And by 2010, the more than 7,700 city buses will meet that standard, according to The Korea Times. “The CNG engine system will be extended to local shuttle buses, garbage trucks and door-to-door delivery vehicles,” the paper reported in January. “Other diesel vehicles will have to go through pollution tests or will be banned from operating in the city.”
One ambitious project that blends the city's environmental and economic goals is the development of the Magok District in southwestern Seoul. Construction on the district is slated to begin next year. And by 2015, the area is scheduled to finish its transformation into a research and development hub for IT, biotechnology and nanotechnology. In addition, Seoul government officials envision Magok District as a testing ground for energy-efficient technology. For instance, 40 percent of Magok's energy use will come from new and renewable sources, such as hydrogen fuel cells.
“The world's largest hydrogen fuel cell power plant will be opened in the area to provide 10 percent of the total energy requirement of Magok,” according to the Seoul Metropolitan Government website. The metropolitan government will also ensure that all buildings within the district meet the national standards for peak energy efficiency, which should reduce consumption by more than 33 percent, in addition to lowering greenhouse emissions.
For additional energy efficiency, Magok will use LED (light-emitting diode) lighting exclusively.
1 The rank for the Seoul Metropolitan Government website in municipal e-governance performance, according to a biennial survey conducted by U.S.-based Rutgers University E-Governance Institute and the Seoulbased Sungkyunkwan University Global e-Policy & e-Government Institute.
AN EVOLVING DISCIPLINE
Ambitious projects like Magok are fueling demand for project managers.
“The mayor … has emphasized ‘innovation in the government’ and it requires new management skills, including project management,” says Young Min Park, PMP, CEO of Seoul-based PMsoft Korea Ltd., a project management training and software implementation company.
“The greatest challenge we have is to improve the project management maturity in our clients’ organizations,” he says.
Mr. Park isn't the only one who says project management is still evolving in Seoul.
“Project management is rather a new notion in the market,” says Yoonsuk Choi, a product manager for Seoul-based KTH, a subsidiary of Korea Telecom. “There aren't many official education programs.”
Even the terminology surrounding his job role has changed in recent years. In the late 1990s, Mr. Choi says multinational companies like Yahoo! Korea used the term “Web producer.”
“Nowadays we're using other terms like ‘project manager’ and ‘product manager’ for that,” Mr. Choi says. “I think it's mainly because we're rooted in the software industry and more and more influenced by Google and other software giants.”
As Seoul finds its footing with project management, it will likely explore new possibilities for collaboration, says Hyokon Zhiang, CEO and founder of Seoul-based consulting company Innomove Group.
“Personally, I see two trends around my projects,” he says. “One is working with non-traditional team members as opposed to full-time employees. This includes working with freelancers, professional agencies, part-time workers and contract workers.”
The other trend he has observed is more open collaboration with other companies. “This is certainly true on the Internet,” he says. “With the advent of the Web 2.0 trend, companies are mixing products and services with each other more freely. And it is not an exception in Korea. It certainly requires a different perspective than when your product is only yours and sold by you only.” PM
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