Efharisto and Antio Thessaloniki!

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During our short three weeks the IBM Smarter Cities Challenge team met with more than 40 organizations and 70 individuals spanning government, business, and academia. The generosity of knowledge sharing gave us a diverse introduction to the city. We walk away from the project sad to leave such a wonderful city! But also with a view that Thessaloniki, and Greece broadly, is a place of rich heritage, vast beauty and incredible potential.

Amidst dramatic challenges both economic and social, Thessaloniki has shown itself to be a city of immense resilience. This was one of the factors that played into the city receiving the competitive IBM Smarter Cities Challenge grant ahead of more than 100 other applicants.

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IBM’s Rahul Chenny, Xenia Zoppas, and Lia Davis during stakeholder meetings at Thessaloniki’s City Hall.

Under the leadership of Mayor Boutaris, we saw noteworthy progress toward modernization and openness that has improved the city for citizens and businesses. His administration has elevated the culture of the city, and it has become a model for other municipalities seeking best practices to address economic challenges by facilitating trade and harnessing tourism and culture.

One of the most promising observations was the deep wealth of human capital including entrepreneurs, students, NGOs, tech developers, and creatives. This collective means the city has a high concentration of data producers and potential users.

We believe that Thessaloniki’s move toward an Open Data approach is quite achievable, with a solid beginning underway. With the right level of commitment, open data could fuel local innovation, enhance city insights, decision-making and transparency, and improve services for residents and visitors.

Our key findings based on stakeholder sessions will not be surprising as there was a consistent echo across all communities on the barriers to openness and data sharing. Five areas came into focus: policies, varied views on open data, organizational silos and cultural practices, technical governance, and resources.

As we looked across these issues our belief is that they can be resolved with the right level of public and private sector commitment. An Open Data dashboard that benefits all stakeholders would be one important outcome, but there will be many other city, citizen and private sector benefits as well.

We’ve outlined our top-level recommendations to Mayor Boutaris, Lina Liakou, Deputy Mayor and Chief Resilience Officer, and other city leaders. We focused on these five key areas: public policies that require data sharing, clarity of mission for greater unity across stakeholders, steps to strengthen and further collaboration, technical governance to promote trust, and creative ways to address budgetary and resource constraints.

The favorable response means we are well on our way to assembling the detailed report that will be shared early next year.

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The IBM Smarter Cities Challenge Team with Thessaloniki’s Mayor Yiannis Boutaris, Deputy Mayor & Chief Resilience Officer, Lina Liakou and other city leaders.

Again, our sincere thanks to all who met with our team. A resounding take away was the sense that Thessaloniki is teaming with professionals, public servants, entrepreneurs, and academics who are making a positive impact on the city.

It was an honor to serve Mayor Boutaris and Deputy Mayor Liakou on this important project. We would also like to thank the leadership of Aristotle University for inviting our team to speak with students. As well as the Deputy Mayor for Tourism & International Relations Spiros Pengas and the more than 40 attendees who participated in the Open Data Design Thinking workshop which we hope will serve as a model for other organizations as the city’s open data efforts progress.

We look forward to sharing our findings and continuing the dialogues in the months and years ahead as the city advances its Open Data initiative.

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Thessaloniki: Many Stories, One Heart

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Team Thessaloniki completed week three, the final stretch, of our assignment to help the city further its Open Data initiative.  One of the key outcomes for the city will be a prototype dashboard, a hub for a variety of stakeholders to share and use data, and the roadmap for ensuring its effectiveness.

We think an important success factor will be populating the dashboard with a large cross section of data within a particular domain. One that is critical to the city and its economic competitiveness.

Tourism is one of great resonance to the city and could be a good place to start.

In collaboration with the Deputy Mayor Spiros Pengas we hosted a Design Thinking workshop that brought together over 40 stakeholders in the city’s tourism ecosystem.

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IBM’s Tim Coates kicks off the workshop

It became clear quickly to the IBM team that tourism would uncover vast opportunities for data sharing. The City of Thessaloniki is awash in rich culture. Often referred to as the “co-capital” of Greece, the city is renowned for its vast architectural and religious heritage where in, and around the municipality, there are numerous and notable historical treasures. The Paleochristian and Byzantine monuments of Thessaloniki, the tomb of Phillip II, father of Alexander the Great and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as well as several Roman, Ottoman and Sephardic Jewish architectural structures.

In addition to history, there is a vibrant arts community that has helped the city receive the European Capital of Culture designation, as well as named a best mid-sized European city of the future for human capital and lifestyle. Throughout the year numerous annual events are hosted including the Thessaloniki International Trade Fair, the Thessaloniki International Film Festival, and the Thessaloniki Song Festival.

Mayor Boutaris, who has been named ‘the best mayor of the world’ by the City Mayors Foundation, has led a transformation of Thessaloniki to strengthen its reputation as a tourist destination. His belief in public and private partnerships is widely credited with increasing visitors to the city (in turn generating revenues without the need for expensive investments). For example, collaborations with neighboring Turkey and Israel, have increased tourists to the city due to its strong historical and cultural ties with both countries.

Our workshop was organized to uncover and seek out solutions to some of the challenges in the tourism sector. We used Design Thinking in order to uncover the key data sets that would be of most value to open and share – and also because the methodology is ideally suited to fostering strong collaboration.

Like so many public services, a diverse mix of travel agents, hotel owners, entrepreneurs, convention organizations and others all share an interest in promoting the city. But data is held by different organizations or not at all. The lack of a central tourism organization to collect and share needed data makes bringing these constituents together complicated.

By asking participants to explore the travel experience through four ‘personas,’ characters facing experiences we heard in our interviews, we were able to identify and prioritize a range of data sets for the municipality. These ranged from segmentation information of visitors by age, nationality and interest; mobile phone usage; an event calendar; conversations on social media and a breakdown of leisure vs business tourists.

The excitement and energy in the room was validation that Thessaloniki will gain significant benefit from an open data dashboard, it also stands to gain from more closely connected and collaborative stakeholder communities across all policy areas.

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Thessaloniki’s Tourism Ecosystem, including Thessaloniki Convention Bureau, Thessaloniki Tourism Organization, Thessaloniki’s Hotel Association, the Chamber of Commerce, city employees, entrepreneurs, and independent travel agents who took part in a Design Workshop with IBM’s Rahul Chenny, Xenia Zoppas, Georgios Pakos and Tim Coates.

Now we work to weave in key outcomes from the workshop into the final recommendations for the city. We do this having also experienced Thessaloniki as active tourists ourselves. If we could figure out a way to remain here for several more weeks we would. The opportunity to immerse ourselves in all that this great city has to offer has been an experience of a lifetime!

More on IBM’s Smarter Cities Team Thessaloniki
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Team Salonika Heads Back to School

screen-shot-2016-11-14-at-11-11-35-amWe’re off to a strong finish as we begin the final week of our Smarter Cities Challenge project in Greece. We’ve met with 40-plus municipality officials, members of the technology community, and private organizations who have all been extremely gracious with their time and willingness to share knowledge.

A highlight has been meeting with the local academic communities. We were honored to be invited to the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki to give a guest lecture to students. The university is the sixth oldest and among the most highly ranked academic institutions in Greece. Named after the philosopher Aristotle, who was born about 30 minutes east of Thessaloniki, it is the largest university in the country and the Balkans with more than 80,000 students.

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The team was hosted by the school’s Urban & Regional Information Research Lab and attendees included graduate and post graduate students studying urban planning, civil architecture, engineering and computer science. The lab conducts research and offers scientific and technological services in the field of innovation systems and intelligent cities. We were asked to speak on four topics:

  • Background on the IBM Smarter Cities Challenge initiative, including the grant awarded to Thessaloniki and the work underway to help the municipality with their open data efforts.
  • Introduce the Design Thinking concept and the ways IBM is using this approach to foster innovation.
  • Share details on IBM’s approach to Artificial Intelligence and Cognitive Computing with an understanding of the history of Watson and commercial progress.
  • An understanding of IBM’s open platform for developers, Bluemix, with a demonstration of how student developers can experiment and build with the technology today.

The 50-plus students and faculty who joined the interactive discussion shared terrific and insightful views. Many probed further regarding sustainable approaches for improving cities, raised issues related to data privacy, and also the unique cultural challenges Greek cities face. A group of coders were especially eager to learn more about building apps with Artificial Intelligence and Cognitive. Others asked about real-world examples of how these new technologies are benefiting society today and the ways they’ll collaborate with these technologies in their respective professions in the future.

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IBM’s Georgios Pakos, Lia Davis, Priscilla Parodi, and Rahul Chenny speak to students and faculty during a guest lecture at Aristotle University

Our sincere thanks to the university’s Rector, Pericles A. Metkas, the head of the Urenio Lab Dr. Nicos Komninos, and all the students and faculty who warmly welcomed us to the university.

It reaffirmed our belief that the city is overflowing with bright minds who have the know-how and skills to make a positive impact for Thessaloniki.

More on IBM’s Smarter Cities Team Thessaloniki
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Thessaloniki: Many Stories, One Heart

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The Universal Language of Post-it Notes

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It’s Saturday night and the Post-it notes are flying as the team conducts an impromptu design thinking session to outline key issues identified during our discovery sessions over the first five days.

After 20 plus stakeholder meetings with organizations spanning government, academia, private sector, start-ups, and NGOs, the team appreciates the complexity of the landscape and multitude of challenges.

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A few trends are coming into focus and we’re eager to plot out potential solutions and a framework for the recommendations report. Especially since the local media has already begun to report on our presence and expectations are high to deliver.  The meetings last week were far from speed dating sessions, quite the opposite.  Many ran about two hours in duration, some even longer, as the various participants in the local ecosystem have much to offer in the way of insights and knowledge sharing. Thankfully these meetings included espresso and κουλουρακι to keep the team laser focused (thanks to our hosts’ Nespresso machines were located at all meeting sites!).

Though Sunday for most of the team is traditionally a day of rest, a unanimous decision over lunch today was that we will do an additional stakeholder meeting tomorrow and skip our tourist excursion in order to ensure we’re prepared for the week ahead.

Still, we’re making time to fulfill our civic duty and assist the local economy.

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We were able to squeeze in a fun Friday evening visiting an amazing restaurant just outside of the city, Duck Private Cheffing, for an open kitchen dining experience. And today we visited the Ancient City of Vergina to tour the tomb of King Philip II. We all agree that if we had the power of King Phillip we could get this project done much sooner!

More on IBM’s Smarter Cities Team Thessaloniki
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Thessaloniki Smarter Cities Team // Week One

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Our philanthropic assignment to spread the gospel of ‘open data’ has officially begun with the Smarter Cities Challenge team arriving in Thessaloniki, Greece. The city, the second largest in the country, features more than a million citizens, an exceptional university community with more than 100,000 students, a rich history with multi cultural experiences attracting local and international tourism, and a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem.

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Thessaloniki was selected from more than 100 cities with a grant of service from IBM’s Corporate Citizenship. City leaders want to foster a broad environment for data sharing in order to improve the city and increase economic competitiveness. Over the next three weeks we’ll establish a well defined road map that can be used by the city to implement an open data platform designed to fuel local innovation, enhance city insights, decision making, and transparency, and improve services for residents and visitors.

As we’re working from the country where the Olympics were born, we learned quickly that our project will be a record-breaking three week sprint, including a few hurdles. While the city has a wealth of intellectual talent and a progressive outlook towards data and technology, the community has faced intense pressures. A massive recession is underway throughout Greece, there is an ongoing issue with brain drain as young professionals seek opportunities in other markets, and the region is managing a significant refuge crisis. As a result, the city is dealing with budget and resourcing limitations as they work to modernize.

The first three days have been dedicated to meeting with Mayor Yiannis Boutaris, his leadership team including Lina Liakou and Babis Tsitlakidis, and third party stakeholders — more than a dozen fact finding sessions have occurred thus far — to align with the goals of the municipality. Our team was asked to present to the Mayor and key constituents to detail our approach and now we’re working quickly to ensure there is a consistent and unified view of what ‘open data’ is and an understanding of where the domains of data reside.

These meetings have been inspiring. While facing many challenges, the people of the city are eternally optimistic and creative in finding solutions to ensure they’re providing quality services to their citizens and those new to the community.

As we dive in, we’re guided by a highly engaged IBM General Manager, Spyros Poulidas. A respected European business leader, Mr. Poulidas has provided a great deal of insight on the micro and macro economic environment our team must be sensitive to as we collaborate with local officials. Xenia Zoppas, who leads Marketing, Communications and Citizenship for IBM Greece, has also helped us with her strong client and influencer relationships to quickly immerse ourselves in the local ecosystem.

It will be an exciting and intense three weeks and our IBM team is fortunate to include individuals with very diverse skills. An executive architect and member of the IBM Academy of Technology from Bangalore, a Bluemix developer specializing in Watson from São Paulo, a communications and marketing professional from Washington with a background in public sector and cognitive computing, from New York a finance and planning expert and a serial entrepreneur experienced with start-up cultures, and a government and public sector industry advisor from Germany who is fluent in Greek!

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The IBM Smarter Cities team (L to R) including Xenia Zoppas, Rahul Chenny, Priscilla Parodi, Anil Arora, IBM Greece General Manager Spyros Poulidas and Deputy Mayor of Thessaloniki Lina Liakou, Lia Davis, Georgios Pakos and Tim Coates.

Demonstrating our commitment to agile, the team has already overcome missed flights, lost luggage, and little sleep, to hit the ground running. And we’ve embraced the culture, relying on strong espresso and a little Mastica to keep the ideas flowing.

More on our efforts to come … μέχρι την επόμενη φορά (till the next time)!

More on IBM’s Smarter Cities Team Thessaloniki
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Thessaloniki: Many Stories, One Heart

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Smarter Cities Challenge Team Experiences a Slice of Limerick and Irish Cultural Heritage

Arriving in Limerick just over two weeks ago, the team came with little context outside of the challenge goals, past tourist visits and what we read in preparation for the Limerick Smarter Cities Challenge.

We have had the good fortune to gain context through our interactions with the Limerick City and County Council, the dedicated people we met during our 42 interviews and through meeting a lot of the Limerick locals.  While this will prove the most significant in allowing us to get a better sense of cultural context, we also had experiences that added a great deal of spice.

During the weekend of May 14/15 and May 21/22 we started with a walking tour of Limerick and in the afternoon, visited the historic Bunratty Castle.  The walking tour brought the team to historic Saint Mary’s Cathedral and to a tour of King John’s Castle, including the strategic importance the castle played in the history of the region.  Bunratty was much more than a walking tour.  The team attended a banquet that included amazing entertainment with history interwoven throughout the evening.  Two of the team members were the King and Queen for the evening!  The King and Queen maintained order throughout the land by sentencing “offenders” dance in front of the court!  Yes, a good time was had by all.

Sunday May 15 landed the team in Dublin, with visits to the historic Trinity College, a viewing of the Book of Kells, the historic library it is housed in, and of course a visit to Dublin Castle.  The place in Irish history of Trinity College and the Dublin Castle became a bit more clear with the help of our guide through the city of Dublin and provided us even more historical context.

On Saturday May 21, we went to the stunning Cliffs of Moher on the Atlantic coast of Ireland.  The trip over and back brought us past ancient castles and keeps, each with histories contributing in their own way to what has become modern Ireland.  The Cliffs of Moher however was breathtaking and needed no historical backdrop to appreciate.  On Sunday, a trip to picturesque Adare provided a relaxed view into small town life topped off with a lesson in the proper way to make Irish coffee.

With just a few days left to deliver our recommendations to our new friends here in Limerick, it has become clear we have all become invested in Limerick’s success.

 

And now …… the anecdote!

We all prepared thoroughly for our trip to Ireland.  This of course included packing for a wide variety of activities and events. There’s only one catch….if you pack it, you must remember not to leave your sport coat hanging in the back seat of the car that drops you at the airport.

 

 

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Who is Limerick?

Limerick has Ireland’s fastest aging population.  By 2046, the population of the 65+ age group will grow by 263%.  This conjures up images of streets filled with walkers and wheel chairs, but that is most definitely not the case.  With 42% of the population under 30, there is the vibrancy evident within the city.  Limerick hosts 18,000 students as part of this demographic, flavoring the city the college town vibe found the world over.

Based on a week of meeting various agency and academic representatives, along with seniors actively advocating for their needs, we can state with confidence that the vibrancy we experience is a result of this community as well.  That does not diminish the needs of this population in any way.  Rather the way we have come to view the seniors we have met has perhaps shifted somewhat.  We see the seniors contributing to the life of the city in significant ways, it’s just that they collectively wish to have the opportunity to contribute to this vibrancy more.  From what we have witnessed, they most definitely can and will.  The barriers to achieving this share a common theme, which we will share once we meet with more of the stakeholders invested in transitioning Limerick into a premier “Age Friendly City”.

And now for the anecdote!  In one of our meetings with a member of the Older Persons Council, we met a gentleman who not only teaches dancing, but dances with a frequency that would be the envy of any active athlete!  Animated and full of stories to share, there are few who could keep up with him on our best days!  Evidence that the city vibe comes from the talents of all its residents.

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