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
The Universal Language of Post-it Notes
Team Salonika Heads Back to School
Thessaloniki: Many Stories, One Heart

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