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Bold, Audacious, and Ultra-Broadband

Case Western’s CIO Lev Gonick leads his region’s OneCleveland project into the future.

Gonick on the OneCleveland concept:
"I was thinking about how we could make
a bold, audacious, IT-informed effort
with the objective of community transformation."

Prior to coming on board as Case Western Reserve University (OH) CIO and VP for IT Services, Lev Gonick’s distinguished career in higher ed IT has included posts at Cal State University-Monterey Bay and Cal Polytechnic State University. He has written, taught, and thought about learning infrastructure, networking, and campus technology integration for two decades, and his professional activities have included national and international technology initiatives. Gonick’s current thinking on university and civic technology leadership has most recently spawned OneCleveland, a university-city project that leverages advanced IT to achieve community priorities.

About OneCleveland: When you began as VP for IT services and CIO at Case four years ago, did you already have thoughts of developing a city-wide or regional broadband network? I was attracted to Case because of the remarkable coalescence of higher education, health care, cultural, and arts institutions in the city. As I was discussing the possibility of moving from California to Ohio, I outlined a stream-of-consciousness thought process about the way in which a great university can leverage its core competency in information technology to help other institutions like museums and hospitals evolve together into something new, exciting, and maybe not yet fully understood.

Was Cleveland open to your ideas? Yes; there had been early collaboration in the University Circle area of Cleveland, in terms of connecting with fiber optics. I wanted to extend that to a broader region and, in some ways, redefine the relationship between the university and the broader community. You have many partners in OneCleveland. Which institutions first came to mind? The Cleveland Clinic, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Cleveland Symphony, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame—all of those and others were included in the early thinking about the relationship between Case and what has evolved into the OneCleveland project for which we’ve developed an ultra-broadband network-and-applications strategy.

What was the driving force behind the efforts? It was a community transformation agenda articulated by the then-new president of the university, Edward Hundert, and the mayor of the city, Jane Campbell, during about the same time frame that I was thinking about how we could make a bold, audacious, IT-informed effort with the objective of community transformation. Our insight at Case was to use the IT infrastructure as an undergirding and binding force: We wanted to connect organizations and institutions that had historically been sil'ed, and, physically, significantly disconnected from one another.

And how has OneCleveland evolved from all that? We really have a three-legged stool: connecting, enabling, and transforming. The “connecting” part was very readily doable here in Cleveland because there was an abundance of dark [unutilized] fiber available. It was just a matter of creating a business case for lighting it up. More challenging over the last couple of years have been the other two legs.

What about “enabling” and “transforming”? “Enabling” turns out to be our focus on a series of applications that use the network in a fashion such that if the network didn’t exist, the service or offering really couldn’t be delivered. For example, our OneCleveland subscribers successfully wrote a grant application for curatorial presentations by the Cleveland Museum of Art staff, through the 23 libraries in the Cuyahoga Public Library System, using advanced, high-definition videoconferencing. The grant proposal wouldn’t have been possible without OneCleveland. That’s an example of reinventing the public library to become, among other things, an annex for the world’s great museums. The result is “transformative.” So, OneCleveland is much more than what it’s often identified with—an extension of your wireless network. It is much broader than just an extension of a technical infrastructure; it’s a platform for innovation.

Could you tell us about the technology components of OneCleveland? Sure. All the subscriber institutions on the OneCleveland supercampus connect to each other using advanced fiberoptic switching at 1-gigabit—and we also provide up to a 1-gigabit access to the Internet among three classes of users, with the smallest getting 10 megabits per second. Each of the organizations connected by fiber also has a wireless canopy over its campus and in the immediate neighborhood. Those wireless services are architected to connect with one another, creating a virtual meshed canopy over much of the region—enabling the free guest access you hear about.

Are you working on any high-end video applications? We’ve very recently soft-launched a service with our colleagues at CampusEAI—which is to prototype, working with a number of commercial television broadcasters, a high-definition video-over-IP network. The Fall 2005 incoming students will experience multiple channels, including interactive video services for everything from virtual office hours and working with librarians, to health care and a host of other things.

Who are some of the OneCleveland development and vendor partners? In the last year and recently, our efforts have been on development of applications that the university in part helped to facilitate, working with major corporate partners. Cisco, Intel, IBM, Sprint, Polycom, and others—now including Sun Microsystems—have taken an investment position in OneCleveland through the delivery of goods and services that enable application development.

OneCleveland is an outstanding example of leadership on the part of a higher education institution, isn’t it? Yes, it’s a good example of community leadership and service, and an informed one. As our president likes to say, a university can remain a healthy and great institution only to the extent that the city within which it lives and works is healthy and great.

OneCleveland seems to be the model for others. How will you help other “Ones”? We’re committed to creating a consortium; an institute for digital cities here at Case, as an umbrella for the many cities that we are involved with, or who have independently developed their own university-city relationships.

What are the future challenges and opportunities? The number one challenge is governance. OneCleveland is a big tent, and we’ve invited in as many folks as we can. Finding a compelling reason for them to stay in, while bringing others in, represents predictable yet significant challenges. As we move forward, we need to create a broad sense of consensus flexible enough to account for the autonomy of the organizations involved. Beyond that, over the next year we’ll be involved in significant development of a series of applications that demonstrate the value of our ultra-broadband and wireless infrastructure; our success will be measured against them. Our goal is to show success that extends beyond the “connect.” Reducing the cost of connecting is important, but it’s not transformative. We want to stand on that “transformation” leg of the stool.

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