Author Archives: smartercitieschallenge

Meet Team San Isidro and Dr. Posse

Yesterday team San Isidro kicked off their project with Dr. Gustavo Posse, Mayor of San Isidro and his team from the office of Modernization led by Eduardo Garcia Beaumont. The team met many of the stakeholders they will interview over the coming weeks.

As we ended the official kick off presentation, I presented the Mayor with a Smarter Cities Challenge cap, telling him he is now part of our team.

After the kick off we began our interviews and ended the day with a tour of the Central Hospital. Our focus at the hospital was to look at their cooling systems and determine where we can monitor the health of the units. Team member Nancy Greco will share more about these IoT devices in her blog later today.

Our team is made up of a diverse group of leaders in IBM. Each bringing expertise to the problem we will help solve.

From left to right :

Rajesh Phillips is a Program Director in Software Product Development in the Analytics space and resides in India.

Kim Reheiser is a Program Director working on Business Development for the Watson Customer Engagement group and resides in the United States.

Marcos Melis is the Government & Regulatory Affairs Lead for IBM Argentina.

Dr. Gustavo Posse is the Mayor of San Isidro

Nancy Greco is an IBM Distinguished Engineer and Director, Research IoT at IBM’s T.J. Watson Research Lab and resides in the United States.

Carolyn Marsh is an IBM U.S. Federal Client Manager and resides in the United States

Paul Sidhu  leads the IBM Blockchain Practice in Australia and New Zealand for consulting and technical delivery and resides in Australia.




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Smarter Cities Challenge 2017-18 winners announced and exciting results from the SCC Memphis project


Last Thursday was an exciting day for the Smarter Cities Challenge program. Atlantic Magazine featured the City of Memphis and their innovative approach to alleviating pressure on their overburdened 911 system. One out of every five phone calls to 911 in Memphis is a mistake. That results in costly, unnecessary trips to the emergency room. By applying technological solutions, the city is able to reduce the load on the system, while getting targeted care to those who need it. This is a result of the recommendations provided by the IBM Smarter Cities Challenge program.

“What we’re doing now, based on IBM’s recommendations, is a system wide approach. Let’s all work together as a group, so everybody is doing it the same way. I think that’s why we’re having such good success.” Andrew Hart, division chief for Emergency Medical Services at the Memphis Fire Department.

We also announced 5 more cities to benefit from the Smarter Cities Challenge (SCC) grant program.  Earlier this year, over 100 mayors applied for IBM’s support to help their cities tackle a pressing issue.  Congratulations to the 2017-18 Smarter Cities Challenge winning cities:

Busan, Korea; Palermo, Italy; San Isidro, Argentina; San Jose, USA; and Yamagata City, Japan. Each of these cities submitted compelling applications based on issues shared by many other cities. Our goal is that the work IBM and these cities do together can be shared broadly to help other cities tackle similar issues.

The announcement of these five projects makes all of us excited for the mayors, their staff, and the IBMers who are about to embark on this incredible journey.  By using some of IBM’s leading technologies such as Watson Analytics, and weather data from The Weather Company, an IBM Business, the IBM teams will be able to help tackle issues in public safety, immigration, affordable/sustainable energy, affordable housing and economic development.

Cities have evolved since the inception of the Smarter Cities Challenge program in 2010. They have become more sophisticated and are facing new, more complex issues.  With more and more of the world’s population moving into cities, it is imperative that cities address these new issues with sustainable, creative and technological solutions.

To the Smarter Cities Challenge 2017-18 mayors and city leaders, congratulations!  You are about to have some of IBM’s best and brightest work with you to tackle and address the key issues your cities are facing.  They will immerse themselves in your community and you will be amazed at the level of understanding they will gain about your challenge, the passion and dedication they will give, and the deep problem solving they will impart. We have no doubt that our colleagues will work tirelessly, with you, to ensure the recommendations they make are actionable.

Jen Crozier is Vice President, IBM Corporate Citizenship and
President, IBM International Foundation

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A letter to the Smarter Cities Challenge 2017 winners from The Honorable Jim Strickland, Mayor of Memphis

Jim Strickland

IBM is announcing the next round of winners of its Smarter Cities Challenge grants today, and, as mayor of a city that received one of these great pro bono consulting engagements just last year, I can speak from experience when congratulating the cities of Busan, Korea; Palermo, Italy; San Isidro, Argentina; San Jose, USA; and Yamagata City, Japan.

Many other cities competed to make the case as to why IBM should invest its time and expertise in helping them address these issues of local, critical importance. There could only be a limited number of winners, and you were in that elite group.

Having had the good fortune to be in your position, I can say confidently that you can expect truly transformational experiences when you work hand in glove with the experts from IBM. To the mayors and citizens of the cities announced today, think of it this way: Your IBM visitors are something like honorary citizens. They come in person from all over the world – because it’s very hard to get a true sense of a city’s essence over the telephone and computer – to truly understand the personality, quirks and strengths of your respective regions. Although nearly every waking hour will be spent thinking about and discussing the assignment you’ve given them, the IBM team members will immerse themselves fully in your culture and witness firsthand the qualities that make your regions so attractive. They will eat your cuisine (they loved our barbecue!), visit landmarks and cultural sites, chat with residents, and see firsthand the legacy and potential of your regions.

When the IBM team visited Memphis in early 2016, I had just begun my term. The collaboration was an excellent way for my administration to dive right in. The city had asked IBM to come because we felt as if we needed to take a more strategic, methodical, data-driven approach to the issue we identified, which, at its root, is public health.

See, over the years, we’ve found that our emergency ambulance service, provided by our fire department, became overwhelmed with too many telephone calls that were not true health emergencies. This made it challenging to dispatch paramedics in a timely way to those suffering from acute, life-or-death health problems. We found ourselves in this position because residents know that we are always going to take their phone calls seriously, and provide transportation to the hospital emergency room if necessary.

Therefore, it became difficult to provide ideal service because our ambulance corps’ territory had grown with the city’s boundaries, and had a limited budget with only so many dispatchers, ambulances and paramedics. We were facing $20 million annual shortfalls in our emergency services budget, yet annual ambulance trips had increased over five years by 24 percent – that’s more than 124,000 trips. While our population had stayed the same since the 1970s, the geographic area of our boundaries had roughly doubled.

But perhaps most daunting of all was an over-reliance on the ambulance service for basic, non-emergency calls. Too few patients were availing themselves of the primary care offered by providers to better manage chronic, long term health and related lifestyle concerns. This was putting sicker patients at risk of not receiving timely attention.

In short, we needed to rethink our entire approach to emergency health services.

As with all cities that apply for a Smarter Cities Challenge grant, we already had a lot of good ideas. But we needed IBM to help us identify and validate our most promising approaches, and to further flesh out specific details for their implementation. IBM showed us how different city agencies could pool and analyze information to identify our challenges, then make better joint decisions. The team showed us how we could use data in a more systematic way to make the case to enlist the help of third parties, such as health insurance companies and health care clinics.

As a result of this collaboration, we formed a steering committee co-led by the Memphis Fire Department. We recently launched a pilot program where we send a doctor and a paramedic trained in community health to those patients with chronic health conditions that aren’t immediately life threatening. These patients are ultimately guided to community clinics, where they can work with physicians to manage their conditions and improve their lifestyles. Over the course of about two months, we discovered that about 64 percent of ambulance callers were better suited for a long-term approach rather than an immediate emergency room visit. We’re training nurses to evaluate callers and follow up with them over the long term to ensure that they establish a relationship with doctors. Local hospitals support these initiatives, as they ease their caseloads and ensure that they can adequately treat the very sick. The IBM team also helped us create the basis of an education campaign that has made residents more aware of the consequences of better decision making.

We were very glad to have hosted the IBM team, which brought an outsider’s neutral perspective and a fresh set of eyes to evaluating our opportunities. I know well that there is a lot of hard work ahead of you – but I also know well just how valuable the IBM team will be as you make your cities even better places to live, work, and enjoy.

The Honorable Jim Strickland is the Mayor of Memphis, USA.

Related Resources:

IBM’s Smarter Cities Challenge to Help Five Cities Improve Services to Their Residents

The Atlantic – CityLab: Too Many People Are Calling 911. Here’s a Better Way

Read About the Memphis, USA Smarter Cities Challenge

Read More Blogs by Smarter Cities Mayors

Learn More About the IBM Smarter Cities Challenge

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Advancing Smarter Cities with the help of Cognitive Technology

 IBM is extending the Smarter Cities Challenge competitive global grant program, through which more than 800 of IBM’s top experts have completed pro bono projects to help over 130 cities improve the quality of life for their residents. Below, IBM Vice President for Global Citizenship Initiatives Jen Crozier reflects on the program’s impact and the ongoing challenges facing the world’s cities.


The world’s cities are diverse and dynamic places, often serving as innovative laboratories for addressing pressing global trends.  As reported by the UN in late 2016, the top issues affecting cities around the world today include urbanization, decentralization, migration and climate change.

In addition, the gap between the rich and poor in developed and developing countries is at its highest levels in three decades. The intersection of these urban trends with increasing inequality poses opportunities and challenges for cities around the world.

Meanwhile, rapid technological advances in big data and cognitive computing are empowering city leaders to make better decisions and deliver services more effectively, efficiently and equitably.

When IBM launched the Smarter Cities Challenge in 2010, we saw an opportunity to make a difference by using our innovative technologies and cross-industry expertise to help transform urban life.


IBM Smarter Cities team members meet with Sekondi – Takoradi (Ghana) city officials during their 2016 deployment

Through the Smarter Cities Challenge, we deploy our leading innovators to work alongside city leaders to understand their strategic challenges. Our teams leverage IBM’s cognitive computing, cloud capabilities and vast data resources, including weather data from IBM’s acquisition of The Weather Company, to create sustainable, data-driven solutions.

Past Smarter Cites Challenge winners have used insights from their grants to improve social services, public safety, economic opportunity, government transparency, citizen engagement, affordable housing, transportation, and water and energy. For example:

  • Memphis, USA and IBM worked to decrease the demand for Emergency Management System (EMS) services by improving the city’s ability to provide targeted, preventive health services, reducing the incidence of non-emergency 911 calls. This will improve response times to real emergency calls while improving access to healthcare for the poor, who disproportionately use EMS as their primary medical provider.
  • Pingtung County, Taiwan won the 2015 Energy Smart Communities Initiative (ESCI) Best Practices Award from among 200 submissions across Asia Pacific for its implementation of a smart microgrid, based on their Smarter Cities Challenge recommendations. The ESCI was launched in 2010 by President Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan.
  • Dublin, Ireland worked with IBM to assess the feasibility of adopting solar power, and ultimately successfully installed solar panels on the roofs of nearly all city government buildings.
  • Porto Alegre, Brazil created Digital PoA, a program supporting the city’s new policy of open data to facilitate two-way dialogue among citizens and city officials to understand the priorities of citizens and allocate tax money accordingly, including adjusting public transportation routes to increase access to health facilities for underserved residents.
  • Pyeongchang County, South Korea, host of the 2018 Olympics, is developing and promoting new tourism opportunities in the region that extend beyond the ski areas to the natural beauty in the southern part of the county.  This will help close the socioeconomic gap that has existed in the county and lay the foundation for a stronger tourism industry beyond the Winter Games.
  • Syracuse, USA, like many cities along the U.S.  Rust Belt, has seen an outmigration of jobs and people from the city center to the suburbs. The resulting rise in vacant properties, exacerbated by the foreclosure crisis, has negative impacts across all segments of society.  Syracuse used their Smarter Cities Challenge insights to identify neighborhoods that were at risk of increased home vacancy, and target their limited resources to stabilize neighborhoods where it would have the greatest impact.

With IBM’s continued advances in cognitive and cloud computing, the Smarter Cities Challenge’s 7th year promises to be the most impactful yet.

Starting today, we invite local, regional and general purpose governing bodies – including cities, counties, prefectures, boroughs and districts – to apply for a 2017-18 Smarter Cities Challenge grant. Visit for complete information on how to apply, selection criteria and the stories of cities like yours that have partnered with us to transform themselves into better places to live, work and do business.

Jen Crozier is Vice President of Global Citizenship Initiatives with IBM Corporate Citizenship.

Related Resources:

IBM Extends Grant Award Winning Program for Cities and Regions

Learn More About the IBM Smarter Cities Challenge

Read What Smarter Cities Mayors have to Say About the Program and its Benefits


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Neighborhoods are the backbone of Detroit

If there’s one thing we’ve learned over the last two weeks, it’s that block clubs and neighborhood/community groups are really the backbone of Detroit and will drive its rebirth. These resident volunteers have stepped in where, for decades, the city has failed them — pouring in countless amounts of energy and much of their spare time. They board up vacant houses, they clear debris from open lots, they mow the abandoned lawns, they build community centers, they advocate to make sure their needs are heard.

But as with any grass-roots effort, these groups vary widely. Some have existed for decades and are well-organized; some are just starting out. Some are fighting to keep their neighborhoods stable; others are fighting for survival. And some neighborhoods don’t have any help at all.

On Friday we stepped away from our workroom for a few hours to literally get our hands dirty. We rallied approximately 40 more local employees from IBM and TheFrameworks to help clear debris and start building a community park for the Philip Street Block Club in the historic Jefferson Chalmers neighborhood, an area that has been hit particularly hard by the economic downturn of the last decade, when Detroit lost a whopping 25% of its population.

Here’s the SCC team with Philip Street Block Club president Roberta Bivens, center, purple shirt. Special shout out to DSE Detroit for the late-night delivery of our own Detroit-themed shirts the previous evening!

DSC_7316 DSC_5835

Getting instructions from Roberta.

This was some hard-core debris clearing — lots of thick brush in the alley behind the lot!

SCC team member Charlie on his way to breaking the first of three power tools (on trees that had grown through metal fencing).

TheFrameworks team doing some heavy lifting!

Putting SCC team member Henry to work!

A big thank you to everyone who came out, and especially local IBM executive Donna Satterfield for her support!


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Finding value in old homes

Yesterday Charlie, Laura and I paid a site visit to the warehouse & headquarters of ReClaim Detroit, a social enterprise that takes homes slated for demolition and “deconstructs” them, meaning they remove structural elements that can be reused and/or recycled. We learned that in the majority of cases, this means lumber: floorboards, doors, frames, and support beams. Many Detroit homes built in the early half of the 20th century used old-growth wood that is highly valued and extremely difficult to find in modern construction.

Because of the high number of abandoned properties in Detroit and the length of time a home often sits vacant, things like metal radiators, copper pipes, etc. are typically removed very quickly by illegal scrappers, so there’s not much of that left for the deconstruction industry. Any furniture or other personal belongings left in the home is also typically of little value, in many cases due to exposure to the elements from broken windows, holes in the roof, squatting, etc. Every now and then a demolition or debris removal crew will find something of value (like a piano, or collectibles, or a vintage car) — but it’s unusual. There is some market for things like bathtubs, light fixtures, leaded-glass windows, and the like, but it’s uneven.

Part of the task of our IBM team is to figure out a way to integrate what ReClaim Detroit and other organizations like it (for example, Architectural Salvage Warehouse of Detroit) do into the process of demolishing and/or removing debris from homes owned by the Detroit Land Bank. The idea behind deconstruction is not only one that benefits the environment by keeping reusable materials out of landfill, but it also creates jobs down the value chain including people trained to do the deconstruction (building in-demand construction industry skills) and the people who refine & make things out of the salvaged wood. ReClaim and others are committed to training and creating jobs for Detroiters who have in the past faced barriers to employment such as low skills or criminal records.

Here’s an example of a “raw” material: interior doors. There are a lot of these! Exterior doors have typically been too damaged to be salvageable.

Much of the lumber needs to be de-nailed, which is a time-intensive, manual process.

Jeremy Haines, Sales Manager, and Craig Varterian, Executive Director, show us around the warehouse. It looks like a lot of lumber, but in reality it moves very quickly and there is currently more demand than they can regularly supply.

They get all kinds of lumber, such as this collection of floorboards, which they categorize and inventory.

Currently ReClaim sells most of its lumber with minimal processing, however they do have a millshop where Detroiters are trained to turn the wood into more finished products.

One easy and innovative use for some of the lumber is to make stakes to mark demolition sites around the city. In the past these stakes were made of metal, which meant they were often stolen for scrap — and created a safety risk for demolition & deconstruction crews who rely on the stakes to mark hazards.

But the bigger opportunities lie in more finished products, like this tabletop and cutting board. Beautiful!
Thanks to the ReClaim team for taking the time to show us around and sharing your insights with us!

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Detroit by foot

I’m loving exploring Detroit on my morning runs! Team member Emanuele, from IBM Research Dublin, and I have tried  out a different route every day. 

This morning we came across a mural by street artist FEL3000FT that says: “It takes heart to fight for something that so many consider a lost cause… Keep your heart true and your mind strong Detroit.”


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