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

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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!

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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!

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

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Respecting History


Walking back from dinner the other night, Piyush Malik and I discussed some of the common challenges both Athens and IBM share. At the core of both are long, distinguished histories – centuries of history in the case of Athens! The challenges have been to avoid being too narrowly defined by just one thing.

In IBM’s case this could be a popular product or service (like the AS/400 or the ThinkPad). Allowing the world to define IBM this way makes it very difficult for it to evolve as a company in a constantly changing marketplace. IBM must embrace its history as an innovation company, but it must constantly evolve “how” it partners with clients to deliver that innovation.

Athens is a destination to experience cultural history. This is at the core of the city’s identity. What must constantly evolve is “how” Athens can enable this unique experience that no other destination can provide. Simply put, this is our challenge. Maintain the character of Athens while improving access to and livability in the historical center, not just for tourists, but for all Athenians.

It starts with respecting the history, but requires creating a future of what this city can become.

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One Week in the Birthplace of Democracy

I was born in the largest democracy in the world and for the past 2 decades have been living in the oldest democracy. But it was only after landing in the Greek capital city of Athens last week did the word “democracy” (and so many other things we take for granted today) started to make sense. The concept of a democratic society, such as the one many countries in the world today enjoy, began in the Greek capital some 2500 years ago. The land of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle offers not only a richness of philosophy but the air is filled with an overwhelming sensation of art, culture, science and history. It is not by accident that the city of Athens is sometimes referred to as the cradle of Western civilization. Despite the glorious past, Athens realizes a need to make itself better for its citizens through innovation and technology  and it was thus chosen as one of the winners of the IBM Smarter Cities Challenge (SCC) earlier this year.

CSR & SCC background for the uninitiated

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is not a lip service in IBM. There are a vast range of programs that enable and encourage IBMers to contribute their talent to local communities in addition to donations and corporate grants. As part of one of IBM’s Global CSR initiative, a competition is held every year inviting city governments & mayors around the world to apply for grants in solving their most pressing problem. After a highly competitive selection process known as the Smarter cities challenge (SCC), a handful of cities are declared winners to which IBM then sends a handpicked team of highly experienced employees to work pro-bono for three weeks.  In short, we are helping to build sustainable, vibrant economies with strong public services, using strategy, process improvement, technology innovations, data & analytics.

 So why am I here?

The three week long SCC Athens assignment that I and five other IBM executives from around the globe (Una Du Noyer from UK, Angela Borrachero Mendibil, from Spain, Scott Neuman from the Czech Republic, Todd Appel, and Dean Philips from the US) are here for, acquires a monumental stature in wake of current state of affairs with the economy of Greece, the timing of the assignment and strategic significance of the issues today’s Athens faces from transportation, travel, tourism, parking and traffic. After studying and analyzing the issues in depth, we aim to come up with strategic roadmap and actionable recommendations to improve the quality of life in the historical and commercial city center by reducing traffic congestion and reclaiming public spaces.

Getting the vibe of the City and the Assignment

The smarter city challenges are designed to be intense “stay away from normal work and family” while immersing in the culture and issues of the subject city. To facilitate our cultural immersion, IBM Greece’s wonderful corporate citizenship manager Xenia Zoppa and her team have left no stone unturned. Here’s how:

  1. Choosing our place of stay: At first sight, across from our home for three weeks the Hotel Grande Bretagne near the Greek Parliament, in the fascinating and maddening metropolis of Athens, you only need to raise your eyes a couple hundred feet above the skyline to fall in love with the architectural perfection of majestic Acropolis. One of the seven wonders of the Ancient world, this iconic citadel represents everything the Athenians were and still aspire to be. The temple Parthenon dedicated to goddess of victory, Athena, with its honey-color marble columns rising from a massive limestone base is an awe- inspiring backdrop to have as the view for our breakfast every day.


    Walking with Dy Mayor of Athens

    Walking with Dy Mayor of Athens

  2. Experiential learning: Starting with a walking tour with the Deputy Mayor  A. Kafetzoppulous to a guided bus tour of the city on day one, we capped off the weekend with visit to the temple of Poseidon in south-east tip of Attica at the coastal town of Sounion on day 6 with immense opportunities to experience the Greek culture through experiential activities like iQuest Odyssey on day 7 and indulgences in  gastronomy in between all week long.
    Exciting Food options

    Exciting Food options

    SCC Athens Team at Sounion

    SCC Athens Team at Sounion


  3. Combining History with our daily work: Our team’s first weekend in Athens coincided with the annual commemoration of historic run of the soldier Pheidippides from a battlefield at the site of the town of Marathon to Athens in 490 B.C., bringing news of a Greek victory over the Persians. Our gracious hosts from IBM Greece ensured we not only had a chance to view the Athens marathon finish in the Olympic Stadium but also adjusted our team activity schedule on Sunday to allow one of our team member Scott Neuman to run a 10K race in the Athens Marathon today. And Scott finished with his personal best record of under 48 minutes. Bravo!

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Meeting with Mayor at the SCC Athens Kick off

Meeting with Mayor at the SCC Athens Kick off


Olympic Stadium - Marathon

Olympic Stadium – Marathon

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Onto Week 2

While my colleague Dean Philips wrote recently about “Checking in”, he forgot to mention how much interest our first week of work full of intense meetings and interviews post kickoff with city officials has generated both within the city, in traditional as well as in  social media.(examples  here & here) We have already had 20+ meetings covering nearly 75+ individuals in week one of our discovery phase and are about to begin our follow up meetings and analysis phase in week two.

Stay tuned for more. Meanwhile enjoy the pictures from team Athens so far and do not forget to share, like and comment below to show your interest.

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No man (or woman) is an island


As we settle into our second week here in Athens, I am reminded of this saying. Just as solutions for IBM clients don’t come together to deliver value magically, neither do solutions to pressing issues for cities. Within IBM, we need individuals and teams to effectively combine our services, software and hardware in very specific ways to help solve our client’s most challenging problems. Why should we expect it to be any different for municipalities? The good news is that we are already seeing many of the key ingredients that can help solve some of core issues in Athens. I am encouraged after our first week of meetings spanning most of the stakeholders in Athens, and I am hopeful that our efforts can serve as a catalyst for this wonderful city. It is the least we can do after we have been so graciously received by our many hosts.

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Team Athens – Checking in!

Smarter Cities Team Athens has been on the ground working and getting to know this amazing city for almost a week. I originally wanted to post something earlier, but was so engrossed getting to know the team and meeting with our wonderful hosts that I just didn’t get around to it. I’m joined by five extremely talented IBMers: Angela Borrachero Mendibil, Piyush Malik, Scott Neuman, Todd Appel, and Una Du Noyer. I can’t go without mentioning our *favorite* IBM Greece colleagues, Polyxeni Zoppas and Evangelia Lampaki, who tirelessly take us from meeting to meeting, translate for us when needed and ensure we have everything we need to serve the City of Athens during our three weeks here.

Our week started with an introduction to the IBM Greece leadership team and then we were off for an informal walking tour of the historical and commercial center of Athens with the Deputy Mayor of Municipal Police and Sustainable Mobility, Mr. Antonis Kafetzopoulos. Mr. Kafetzopoulis is an extraordinary host with an intimate knowledge of the area. His sense of humor and popularity with the people gave us unique perspective. I couldn’t believe the number of inviting cafes, bars, restaurants and shops that were all thriving and bustling with activity. We made plans to “check everything out” on practically every street corner.

After some more meetings and touring, we planned for our formal introduction with the Mayor, Mr. George Kaminis on Tuesday. At this event, the Mayor announced the Smarter Cities Challenge program to his constituents and the various stakeholders who have a vested interest in the pedestrian area within the historical and commercial center of the city. It was fascinating to listen to them describe their perspectives and views on the challenges of traffic congestion and parking in the area. After the kickoff meeting we started right away with our stakeholder meetings and have been busy since then getting to know the municipal leaders, departments, and associations around town.

Meeting the Mayor

Meeting the Mayor

Of course, I can’t travel anywhere without talking about the food! We hit the jackpot in Athens with amazing cuisine and local specialties with an endless array of choices. The fresh salads, vegetables, meats and Grecian wine have all been wonderful, especially the ouzo!

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