Surat selected as India Smart City!

Today while we visited municipal authorities at Mughal Sarai, Surat’s city hall, we learned some very exciting news.  Surat has been selected as one of the first 20 cities in India’s nationwide, multi-year Smart Cities initiative.  As the Times of India explains, “The selected cities will be equipped with basic infrastructure, efficient urban mobility and public transport, IT connectivity and e-governance mechanisms.”

Congratulations to Surat Municipal Corporation and our new colleagues on this great honor!

Read more details in the full article here

Photo:  Team Surat members outside Mughal Sarai on Thursday, 28 January 2016


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Surat, the Silk City

Our Smarter Cities Challenge: Travel to the city of Surat, India with a small team of other IBMers, work with city leaders, and in just three weeks, develop a plan to help make the city “smarter.”

Surat (pronounced, “SUE-raht”) has mills that produce vast quantities of silk, cotton and manmade fibers. It is known as the Silk City.  It is also a huge hub for the diamond market: 90% of the world’s diamonds are cut and polished here. These industries provide so many job opportunities that people have been migrating to Surat from across the country, and the city’s population has been growing exponentially.  Surat is the world’s fourth fastest growing city.

January 26 is Republic Day in India, which observes the adoption of the Indian Constitution in 1950.  Our team celebrated the holiday by driving out of town to a salt marshy area called Dandi, by the Arabian Sea.  There, in 1930, Mahatma Gandhi staged an act of civil disobedience, to protest British rule in India.  He and an ever-increasing crowd of followers marched to Dandi to challenge a British-imposed tax on salt.  A huge statue of Gandhi holding a handful of salt stands outside, near a plaque that reads: “Here on April 6, 1930 A.D. Gandhiji broke the Salt Law, picked salt and challenged the rule of the mighty British which ultimately won for our motherland freedom on August 15, 1947.”

Gandhi statue at Dandi - Surat SCC - GHZ


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by | January 27, 2016 · 1:20 pm

What’s next – staying smarter after the SCC challenge

It has been 3 months since my Indian adventure – new year, new goals and new questions – what am I going to do in 2016 to at least match 2015? Working in Allahabad was definitely once in a lifetime opportunity  – I honestly do not anticipate going back as it is not on the typical tourist or work path for IBMers or adventurous tourists. However, the experience has encouraged me to take the passion for #experteering a bit more seriously – and not as a random thing that happens even at the most supportive companies.

I tried to express this on my LinkedIn post a few weeks ago. The idea is that we can all lend our skills anywhere, anytime. Today’s Oxfam report on the huge inequality of wealth distribution really hit it home for me. There is not that much I can do to change that – but I can do something, I control something. So my resolution is to lend my skills every year – it may not be as exotic and well organized as a typical Smarter Cities challenge or a Corporate Services Corps engagement (pretty sure it won’t!). In fact, it may be more local or less corporate and consultative – but all I can hope for is that it will be rewarding and impactful. Have you browsed through the Catchafire or Moving Worlds websites? Some amazing things out there… just takes time and a bit of a risk – and off we go… who knows, maybe I will see you working in Congo on a coffee farm….probably not with Powerpoint – but see you somewhere! Get smarter and make smarter….keep me posted.

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‘‘Great owls, you all make’ – Yoda

While working in Taichung on the Smarter Cities project, our team was asked a few times about how the 5 of us worked so well together as a team, and what the formula was, to our success. They were fascinated by our teamwork and camaraderie it seems! One gentleman said, ‘you need all the 5 fingers to make it a helping hand’, and added that we were the 5 fingers of the ‘SCC helping hand’ for Taichung! What a nice compliment, really!!

It is true, we worked well together, and my team mates (we call ourselves #RADDS, a concatenation of our first name initials) deserve a salute and a blog from me, for making this a great team!

Before I start, I suggest you get a cup of Oolong tea, the one with ‘vanilla’ flavor (hmmm!), one of those lovely moon cakes as well, and curl up your feet, because it is going to be a long ride into my memory lane!

First, count the blessings!

Our blessings were very special! “Anne-the-magician-McNeill” who brought us together and prepped us diligently for the project, and stayed the course with us. You know, she convinced me even before I set out on my journey that it was going to be a great experience. And yes! Of course She was right. Ms. Lisa Chen who welcomed us in Taiwan, put us on a tight schedule, fed us amply, immersed us in local culture & values, pampered us, praised us, and journeyed with us, ‘Toujours’, with the ‘grace of a swan’ and a smile! Thank you Anne and Lisa! We are appreciative of these blessings!

mazu temple blessings

Next, I strongly trust that the IBM’s core values that we as a team, innately believed in, helped us culminate all our experiences and expertise, and lead to the inherent success of this project!

While we leveraged our expertise and creativity, we also inadvertently settled into a teaming approach. I call it the #RADDS approach (see chart below). At the center are 4 key contributing factors, and surrounding rays represent our beliefs. Our goal was singular, i.e. Client Focus. We took advantage of all the stakeholder meetings, tours and loads of information shared with us; we listened intently (both in English and in Mandarin), we read and we discussed a lot. We seamlessly collaborated while practicing our approach and working towards the goals.

RADDS approach

We also instinctively respected and valued each other’s expertise and opinions. We took all possible va’ria’bles into consideration and we performed like a relay team of five! When you have a common goal and intent, it’s easier to work well together, and for long hours too. We were a typical hardworking, smart IBM team, I guess. Here it is, from our team to yours – an abridged list of what we practiced and appreciated:

  • Use the power of influence, effectively and kindly
  • Be open minded, each day, every day
  • Be persuasive, but with kindness
  • Be genuinely inclusive
  • Hear an opinion, give an opinion
  • Collect all opinions, make them count and use them judiciously
  • Make team decisions; do not split and parse
  • Ask for and hear clarifications; do not assume
  • Be patient with each other (even at 2am)
  • (Try to) balance work and life, even on a hectic SCC project
  • Soften the edges over a Taiwanese cold beverage
  • Bond over Japanese barbeque and French dinners
  • Bring a camera, take a lot of team pictures. They will be the proof of the magical friendship and times you experienced!


The City of Taichung was also a major influencer for our working together nicely; its warmth, kindness, open mindedness and the passion to do things better and that relentless, unwavering care for the citizens of Taichung! How could we not be part of it? Taichung, Thank you for sharing your magnanimous beauty, character and generosity with us and influencing us so!

There we were, five strangers

One destination, with one set goal,

Taichung, with your charm, you allowed us to be one splendid team!

22535477533_28a8422606_o.jpgThe delightful #RADDS. Huddled from left to right – Rebecca Butler, David Kinsey, C’est moi, Armando Calderon, Dmitri Kharitonenko

Work – Life balance

The message of work – life” balance is universal! I noticed that, we defined it here at home, but we seldom follow it, while others thrive on the idea and practice it diligently (smiley). Even, Mayor Lin of Taichung made sincere efforts to entice us, to get us off our MacTops (Macs and Laptops) to venture out. We obliged, but only sometimes, because we didn’t have the luxury of time (so we told ourselves).

However, I enjoyed working with my team (and great Taiwanese food that was served) during those late hours, because it was inspiring, creative and result oriented!

What would Yoda say?

Bringing your attention back to my 4 team members, if Yoda were to meet them, he’d like them right away, and he’d say to them – ‘Great owls, you all make’.

Yes, they are very smart and they always look out for others (owls). They are excellent writers and great story tellers too. So I pray, beseech and implore them (with many Taiwanese ‘18 day’ cold beverages) to blog again soon! And if I may, here is how I’d describe each one of them to you (anonymously and in random order) in a ‘troem’ (tricky poem):

One shows the gestures of kindness, as special as the yellow Orchids on a Taichung mountain!

One has the gracefulness to make the ginger blossoms take note, blush and stand up straighter!

One has the regal stride and the aura of awesomeness!

One has the cheerfulness to win many hearts, and many times over!

 (Can you guess, who is who??)

The Salute

The ride ends here, with my salute to Rebecca, Armando, David and Dmitri. Thanks for coming together as a team, for sharing your expertise, and creating an atmosphere of excellence! You all have influenced me remarkably and in varied ways. Thank you to each one of you, for the laughs, your kindness and genuine warmth of friendship!

May this season of celebration, sharing and of caring, make you all merrier and kinder!

May your hearts ‘hum’ with gentle happiness, always!!

 Hope you have a great rest of the year! Happy Holidays & Happy 2016!

Zhídào xià cì!        直到下次!!

4 owls


From Team-Taichung: @rebeccajbutler @oacalderon1 @dkinsey28 @dkharitonenko @Sperepa

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Call it Vision 6/6 or Strategy 2020

Input – Six IBM experts who had never met before, working together for a cause in a country that is not a birthplace or place of work for any one of them.


Team SCC Athens

Output — A dozen recommendations along 6 major categories with nearly 30 potential projects to help Athens become a Smarter City. With the final presentation done and final report ready to be submitted, we are all on our way back home after 22 days of immersion in a foreign land that we had never visited before.

Whether it was the 100+ individual stakeholders we met and interacted with or the documents and demos we reviewed or the workshops we conducted. Or the countless hours of debate we had amongst the team on the traffic, parking and transportation related issues of the city and corresponding potential process, policy, engagement, information technology & analytic solutions. How these 3 weeks went by is quite a story in itself, but the impact this piece of work will have on the outcome for the City of Athens and its citizens is what will matter most.


Unparalleled and memorable experience is all I would say it was for all of us. Thank you Mayor Kaminis, Dy Mayor Kafetzoppulous @Cityof Athens and  @ibm #Smarter @citieschallenge @IBMHellas for the opportunity and thanks again IBM Greece for hosting us.

I, for one, am glad to have been part of this unforgettable odyssey.

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Team Taichung Goes Back to School

Our SCC Team Taichung has been home for a week now, and it almost seems like a dream as we’ve quickly “re-entered” the routine of our normal lives at work and at home. We’ve talked since our return about our amazing Smarter Cities Challenge experience… the fabulous people of Taiwan, wonderful history and culture, delectable food, and the remarkable partnership with the City of Taichung. We are grateful to our IBM Taiwan colleagues for all of their support, and for their continued work with the City of Taichung as SCC Team Taichung goes back to our “day jobs”…

As much as we enjoyed everything I outlined above, one of the highlights for all of us was a very special visit to Toujia Elementary School in Taichung for a volunteer opportunity. We thoroughly enjoyed this bright group of students who entertained us with their award-winning “English singing” performance (like a mini-musical) and a solo by jazz drummer David, after which we led them in Halloween games and served them lunch. It was a wonderful way to spend a couple of hours between business briefings!

SCC Team Taichung@Toujia_Group on Stage SCC Team Taichung@Toujia_Kids ArmsUp SCC Team Taichung@Toujia_David Drums

Toujia is an impressive school with an atmosphere that clearly fosters learning on many levels. They are particularly proud of their arts and swimming programs, and their students are bright, polite and attentive. We hosted Halloween games for 60 students, rotating groups of 10 through our 6 games – very fun! We then had the chance to speak with the Principal over a brief cup of tea, and he presented each of us a small paper owl (a special symbol for this area) made by the students.

Lunch is served for students in their classrooms and everyone has the same food. On this day, it was a nutritious selection of chicken, a vegetable and another side dish, along with rice and soup. Each of us donned an apron, hat and mask to serve one of the 6th grade classrooms, assisting three students. In Armando’s class, they surprised him by presenting him a local dessert of “dried longan” as well.

SCC Team Taichung@Toujia_Bec Serves LunchSCC Team Taichung@Toujia_Classroom SCC Team Taichung@Toujia_Armando Dessert

The day reminded me very much of my volunteerism at home with the Noon Optimist Club of Western Des Moines, through our mentoring and service projects with local schools. Several of my SCC colleagues are also active volunteers in their local communities, with a heart for helping kids. As a result, this was such a special day for us!

Before we left Taichung, we were deeply touched to receive a gift from Toujia School with a set of books created by and about their school. What a wonderful way to remember our experience! The students of this special school will forever hold a place in our hearts, as will all the wonderful people we met in Taichung. Thanks for the memories…

SCC Team Taichung@Toujia_Gift Books SCC Team Taichung@Toujia School_Collage+Intros

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The food, the card exchange and the cuteness quotient in Taichung, Taiwan.

The Food

While our teammate David Kinsey’s Blog “Have you eaten? (li tsiah pa bue?) is still fresh on my mind and my taste buds, I want to say a few words about my experience and impressions of the Taiwanese cuisine!

The cuisine of Taichung has all the big data characteristics – the volume – they are typically 7+ course meals; the variety goes with it and with such a flair; the velocity with which they set the tables and finally the veracity of the nutrition quotient is pretty good! Here is to you Dmitri!!

The nutrition itself is more protein based such as soups, broths etc., and far less carbohydrates. It also contained many vegetables to my liking – the super thinly sliced cabbages, pearl white mushrooms of all sizes and shapes (Enokitake, Matsutake, Shimeji etc.), squashes and even the bitter melon that was barely bitter. One bowl of sticky rice was a nice addition. I was not a big fan of rice before. But I loved their sticky rice, a small bowl of grains cooked to just perfect softness!

Then there was this ever present, mildly sweet, red bean served in petite portions but in different variations as paste, in soups and in its own natural form. It always found its way to the table like the inevitable ingredient!

The lunches were always group meals. Lunch menus packed with surprising items, steaming hot and made with fresh ingredients. Meats were almost always thinly sliced. I ate fried chicken one time. And it was one medium sized portion chopped into smaller sizes. Perfect! Portion control is what I need!

The palate purifying Saba vinegar with honey was a surprise element to me, even though I was aware of the goodness of the vinegars. Again it was served in a petite vial. Loved it! I begin to wonder now, if it also helped avoid the ‘food coma’ after an afternoon meal.

There was always the quintessential teas of various flavors, fruits, leaves and flowers. It smelled delicious and calmed me nicely! And then, I went and discovered the Ginger soda! Yummm!

On a final note, we all transitioned and adopted the use of chopsticks. We all did very well. Now we can even pick single grains of rice with them! Touch down!

I have my own chopstick set (a gift) that I will carry with me and help nudge the chopstick waste one pair at a time! Thank you Lisa for the tip

20151016_073009 IMG_0610 IMG_0613!

The Card exchange

In Taiwan, (and across Asia, I am told by our revered globe trotters on the team), card exchange is a ritual that is done with personal attention, the eye contact, the acknowledgement, with both hands and a bow. It feels professional and very courteous! So it was easy to learn and do.

I will now always share my business cards with purpose, intent and respect. And make the exchange count. Viola!

IMG_0553 IMG_0554

The cuteness Quotient

What can I say? The cuteness quotient here is ‘off the charts’ to-say-the-least. It is patronized by kids, grownups, pets, of all ages and at all times with an unparalleled dedication. All messages, advertisements, marketing and you name it, is cute. Cuteness factor is embedded in everything and it is omnipresent. The trash cans are oh! So cute; the bus stops are inviting with such cuteness that you want to park your car and take a bus ride.

The restaurants and parks and recreation areas are filled with it to the brim! It is to create a family environment I believe. Well it worked wonders on us! We all stepped down the ladders of adulthood and turned into mirthful more approachable human beings!

They have a bear for everything, for electronic industry, for agriculture, education etc. It is common to see officials wear shirts with bears and dolphins on them and ladies with trendy high fashion clothes carry cute little bags with cuter animals on them. You have to visit Taiwan to see it to believe it!

IMG_0592 IMG_0844 IMG_0424 IMG_0447

From Team-Taichung: @rebeccajbutler @oacalderon @dkinsey28 @Sperepa

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