Category Archives: Chennai, India

Chennai, India – Day 16-21 – It’s a wrap!

The last five days of our time in Chennai was spent in the full development of our recommendation for the city.  With such diverse talent on our team we had a lot of different perspectives to weave into the recommendations that would bring richness and value to the implementation of our vision.  The recommendation came together nicely in the form of a presentation and written report. We were scheduled to present our recommendation to the Commissioner and his leadership team on Thursday (Day 20).

In preparation for our meeting with the CoC, we went through rehearsals of our presentation with each other and then by phone with our global team. It’s very helpful having some IBMers listen to our presentation who have not been as involved as we were to listen for use of acronyms, redundancy, and gaps as we were just too close to the material at that point.  Our rehearsals went well so we all felt good leaving Wednesday evening.  The morning of our presentation to the city we gathered to tighten up our report and make final preparations.  We had some fun having our pictures taken by a professional photographer.  Those of us with long hair struggled to tame the humidity frizz  but thanks to Jaya we had a flat iron and make up support.  The photographer accompanied us to the Corporation of Chennai offices to take pictures with the Commissioner and his staff.

The presentation was lively.  Magesh to the lead as the host, I followed to present the research, findings and vision and then Barbara presented recommendations surrounding policy, Mats presented process recommendations and Ravi presented systems recommendations.  The Commissioner was extremely engaged in the discussion asking for clarification on some points and validating others.  Our presentation was scheduled for one hour and we were so engaged we continued talking for another 30 minutes. Magesh wrapped up the presentation by taking the Commissioner and his team our vision for their roadmap and follow up actions. (When we receive the official photos I will post them as an update)

That evening we returned to the hotel to our ‘evening office’ to debrief and talk through what we would be doing our final day and get ready for our evening.  Magesh had invited us all to his home for dinner.  We loaded into cabs and after a two hour taxi ride to get 30 minutes away, we arrived just in time for the Germany/USA match.  We enjoyed a wonderful variety of south indian dishes prepared by Magesh wife and family.

On Friday, we spent most of the morning polishing up our report.  We decided mid-day to take a break for a nice lunch and head out for our last south indian meal together.  After lunch the team split up to take care of different actions. Barbara and I headed out to purchase a gift for our hostess, while the rest of the team headed back to the hotel.

Barbara and I headed to a state cultural crafts bizarre and were overwhelmed with the variety of local wares at the shop.  When we told one of the women what we were doing she recommended we go to the plaza next door to buy a Sari.  That shop was even more overwhelming than the first.  There was every imaginable color and print to consider.  We were given a Sari wrapping lesson – on Barbara!  After considering our options we decided we would never be able to pick something so we thanked the shop keepers and headed back in the direction of our hotel.  Yes and it was time for one last auto rickshaw ride.  Wahoo! Hold on!  We had a young driver who thought it would be fun to entertain us with his driving.  The team had earlier recommended a nice hand bag, so we headed to the leather shop and picked out a unique bag to present.

ImageThat evening we met in our ‘evening office’ to wrap up our 3 weeks and say good-bye.  It was a time of conflicting feelings – sad to be saying goodbye to the team, but thrilled to be going home to family and friends.  I personally learned a lot about the City of Chennai, South Indian Culture (mostly food), India’s government processes and tax policies, a bit about Sweden, a little about badminton and cricket, but mostly I learned to how to bend better and not just in yoga.  Thanks to the Smarter Cities Challenge team for this great opportunity to learn, to give, and to contribute what I could toward expanding on their vision to become a premier smarter city.


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Chennai, India – Day 11-15 – Where did the time go?

calendar_june_2014There’s been an obvious gap in my blogging about our project here in Chennai as we moved deep into forming our recommendations and determining how to best assemble them to address the city’s challenge to identify revenue opportunities.  In summary here is what we have been doing for the last 5 days:

Thursday – Day 11 – We started putting pen to paper to move from synthesis to developing our recommendations.  It was eerily quiet in our work room for much of the day as we drafted the recommendations.  There was the intermittent ‘aha’ or ‘uh oh’ to break the silence but really it was quite a focused day of work.  As part of the Smarter Cities Challenge each participant is offered the opportunity to mentor a local IBMer.  Barbara and I had our mentor meetings today.  I hope they enjoyed the time with us as much as we did with them.  It’s always interesting to hear about others’ accomplishments and career aspirations as they inspire us to consider the possibilities.

Thursday evening was a bit of a bummer for me.  I was running on the treadmill and took a wrong step and injured my achilles so its ‘limp along cassidy’ for a few days.

Friday – Day 12 – Mats and I started the day with yoga. I did my best to get through it we a bad achilles but it was tough and I had to do a lot of ‘cheating’ to get through class.  We worked in teams – team 1 worked on drafting our slides for the CoC presentation. and team 2 worked on refining our recommendation paper.  Mid morning, Shobha, Jaya and I returned to the CoC to meet with the Public Relations Officer to better understand the scope of the city’s communications efforts. We stopped for lunch before heading back to join the team to continue developing our recommendations.  Both Mats and Ravi had their mentoring sessions with local IBMers today as well.  As it turned out, Friday was a long day with the team here in Chennai and then followed by catching up with the team at ‘home;.  It’s funny for me to say that when the team I am on is in the US, India, Canada and the UK.  While the day was long it served to help me appreciate how many different and really interesting things we have going on around IBM and how the teams can work seemlessly around the globe.  Not many organizations can be this fluid, with this level of expertise, and focus to address our client’s and business partners’ needs.

Saturday – Day 13 – The team took the early morning ‘off’ to rest, run, shop, or other activities to help sooth the soul. I personally slept late and with a bum ankle didn’t wander away from the hotel.  We assembled late morning to checkpoint on our individual progress and then went to lunch together at local southern Indian eatery.  Ravi was feeling a bit under the weather so we decided we would go back to working individually for some time.  We later gathered to join Magesh, who had invited us to his social club for dinner.  We had rain that evening so while we couldn’t take advantage of the movie on the lawn, we did get quite a kick out of the rest of the facilities.  We enjoyed the music, football, food and drinks for some time before returning to the hotel.

Sunday – Day 14 – We decided we had made enough progress to take the full morning off.  Barbara, Mats and I decided this was likely going to be the best time for us to get some shopping done so we grabbed a car to the local mall.  Like malls in the United States on a Sunday, it was bustling with shoppers.  After contributing to the Chennai economy, we enjoyed lunch at one of the southern Indian kitchens in the food court.  Barbara and I had to make another stop after lunch, so Mats headed out ahead of us.  Barbara and I decided that we would do as the locals do and take an autorickshaw back to the hotel.  We negotiated the fare and thought we did pretty well, only to realize that we really had not and were paying double what Mats negotiated.  Mats had been out before and knew the relative distance and was very wise to negotiate after the ride versus our approach of negotiating in the beginning.  Now that we know the secret to the negotiations, we can get anywhere.  When we returned to the hotel, we gathered as a team and spent the next few hours working on our presentation.  Since we worked late we skipped going out and headed up to the lounge for drinks and snacks.  Now that we have been here 15 days, the staff knows exactly what each of us drinks, who is vegetarian and who is not, and how many drinks we will drink.  I am not sure if this is a good thing, or a bad thing.

Today – Day 15 – it’s back to the work schedule today.  Mats and I were to be joined for yoga this morning by our colleagues but something apparently happened to their wake up calls because Mats and I were there without back up at 6:30am.  Today we traveled back to the CoC headquarters to meet the commissioner and prepare for Thursday’s recommendation.  After a brief stop for lunch, we returned to the hotel. Our focus today was to refine our presentation in order to move to our report writing.  While we were finishing up, Barbara, Magesh, Shobha and Jaya returned to the CoC to review our recommendations with the Deputy Commissioner.  We will review their feedback in the morning.  It’s hard to believe we have just 5 more days in Chennai.  We have a lot more to do before the end of the week.

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Chennai, India – Day 10 – Check, then check again

ImageToday we headed back to the Corporation of Chennai headquarters for meetings with the finance team to better understand the city’s budget.  We had enough time to today to get a complete tour of the building and surrounding grounds.  It was fascinating to see all the modifications that had been made to the building since 1913 in an attempt to bring it into the current era (of whatever time period the renovation was done).  The building has clearly reached it’s limits.  We also had not previously seen that right behind the Ripon Building the city has built a modern facility in which employees will start moving into over the next few months.  As I understand it, the Ripon building will continue it’s renovations and be preserved by the heritage society.  Some interesting sights from today’s tour:

Professional Tax Processing team Image

Property Tax Poster (1 of 10 Banks processing property tax payments for the city) Image

Magesh heading into the Vault Image

The birth/death records archives ImageImage

After our meetings we headed to a traditional southern Indian lunch at a popular nearby restaurant.  Mats is starting to really enjoy the thali


We ended our day today by summarizing and categorizing our collective findings.  Tomorrow we start to assemble the recommendations.

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by | June 18, 2014 · 1:59 pm

Chennai, India – Day 9 – Some Assembly Required

ImageToday was our second day of synthesis.  As we indexed and cross referenced notes, pulled in research, and reached out to SMEs for more input, we realized there are many different ways for us to assemble the data for analysis and solution development.   Like all other groups, we go through the standard chaos to normalization and action phases in preparing work each day.  Some days its fast and easy and others it’s slow and hard.  Today was a fast and easy day. We exercised all working group configurations today, from individual research and summarization, to small group breakouts and concluded with a single group readout. The team is growing more anxious and focused on minding our deadlines and preparing for the final delivery of the recommendations and report as we near the midpoint in the project.

ImageI was excited to find in my individual research that we have some IBM Business Partners already involved in related projects in other cities around the world who’s lessons learned and best practices may be able to serve as a model for the work to be done on this project. We are very fortunate to have so many resources available to us inside and outside IBM.  And moreover have the ability to leverage those resources for the benefit of our clients.

On the personal side of the project, Barbara’s health continues to improve.  The last few days she has been a real trooper sticking with us despite a bug or sinus ailment.  No more stomach trouble for Mats – he and Ravi have made it out a few times now to run through the city before the heat kicks in for the day.  Magesh is getting his badminton matches in each night.  He even let me test his racket to shoot peanuts Mats was serving up – very impressive strings.  I am working on my Yoga poses and getting runs in on the treadmill when I can’t keep up with Ravi and Mats.  Today was a bit of a challenge with a sore throat.  Hard to tell if we are all going to get  a cold or if this is symptomatic of living 24 x 7 in air conditioning as we try to stay out of the 104 degree Fahrenheit, 40 degree Celsius heat.

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Chennai, India – Day 8 – Diagnostics

Today was our first work day without external meetings or field trips so we hunkered down in the hotel team room this morning and got to work.  After a week of gathering information, exploring questions and collecting reports it is now time to evaluate what is necessary, what is nice and what is still needed.  In order to make those decisions, we had to spend some time today just organizing.  We broke into teams to split up the work, but we will reassemble as a single body tomorrow to share insights and agree on conclusions reached in this first segment of synthesis.  Barbara, Magesh and I have taken the core property tax revenue gaps and Mats and Ravi have taken the expanded tax revenue opportunities for professional, commercial taxes.  Ravi and Mats jumped to the couch first leaving the rest of us at the table to work in the chairs.  Dibs on the couch tomorrow guys.

ImageIt’s through this organizing process we are discovering how each person on the team thinks, how how they like to work, and how they team.  We may even be entering the hardest part of the project – transforming from a group of investigators into a team of diagnosticians.  In fact, as I was on the treadmill I caught a bit of an old television series called ‘House’ about a brilliant team of medical diagnosticians that is broadcasted here in Chennai.   It reminded me that we will likely have some more interesting conversations, experiments, and unusual results in our thinking this week and the best thing to do is test our thinking from a few different angles.

It’s a good thing we all seem to share a sense of humor and when all else fails we can take a break and find common ground in discussing World Cup results.

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Chennai, India – Day 7 – Heritage Day

Sunday was a day to take it easy.  Being so close to home, Ravi and Magesh decided to spend the day visiting with their families.  Jayanthi offered to take Barbara, Mats and I on a tour of heritage sites and we eagerly took her up on her offer.  We knew it was going to be a hot day in Chennai and the surrounding area so we decided we would get up early and leave the holel at 6:30 am to embark on our exploration of world heritage sites around Chennai.  Our plan was to visit Mahabalipuram, Fisherman’s Cove and DakshinaChitra.

We arrived at Mahabilpuram (Mamallapuram) before many tourists had arrived or shops opened up. The sea breeze was blowing so it was perfect for a stroll around the stone temples.  We learned the carvings dated back to the 7th century and were progressed through multiple generations.  We spent time exploring

ImageImagePancha Rathas (Five Chariots) – This is a group of monolithic pyramidal structures named after the Pandavas (Arjuna, Bhima, Yudhishtra, Nakula and Sahadeva) and Draupadi.  These are amazing structures carved from one single large piece of stone.

ImageThe Shore Temple – This temple had been underwater until 1978 and was recovered from the receding Bay of Bengal.

ImageKrishna’s Butter Ball – A large boulder precariously perched on a stone shelf

Our next stop was Fisherman’s Cove were we cooled our feet in the Bay of Bengal at the pristine beach in front the Vantana resort. It was only 10 am and already close to 100 degrees Fahrenheit or 37 degrees Celsius.


After the short respite we proceeded on to DashinaChitra, a project of the Madras Craft Foundation to preserve the cultures of the diverse people of India with an emphasis on Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka.



We finished our tour about 1pm and it was really quite hot by that time so we decided to head back toward the hotel.  We stopped and had a nice lunch before returning.  As it was Sunday and hot, we all retreated to various relaxing activities before regrouping at 6pm for refreshments.  At 8:00pm Ravi and Magesh joined us for our call with our worldwide team to review our first week’s progress and plan for the upcoming week of synthesis activities.  We concluded by 8:45pm and headed off for the night.

It was Father’s Day and the next order of business was for me to check in with my family and thank my husband for all he has done to support our family and particularly the home support needed to depart on an adventure like this one.  Barbara also called her family to wish them a good day as her husband, Mark, is busily holding down the fort with two young children.  She also wanted to send a shout out to her Dad for a very special Father’s Day.  Behind every IBMer is a strong and very important team of family members and friends who make our work possible.  So in addition to all the Dads, thanks to all of you who are supporting us and our work!

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Chennai, India – Day 6 – Give Back Day

Saturday was our day to give back to the community in a more personal way.  Our community service project was to spend the day with the children of Karunalaya (  The Karaunalaya Center cares for street children of Chennai.  While they provide many related services to the families and women of the street, the focus of our trip was on the children.  IBM had sent a team to Karunalaya three years ago as part of the Corporate Services Corps program.  At that time the team helped set up a marketing program and web site as well as enhancing the fund raising approach. Our goal in visiting the children was to deliver science education while having some fun.  We decided to develop three experiments in which the children could participate and learn the principles of the experiment.  Our lessons included chemical reactions and moving objects through mechanical advantages.  While we knew the children were planning to share their experiences with us of their trip to Brazil to participate in the opening of the World Cup games and play football with us, we had no idea what to expect.

We left the hotel at 2:30pm.  It took us about an hour to get to the school after navigating several small alley ways. I can tell you that I was anxious as I didn’t know how our experiments would be accepted with a group of children ranging from 6 years of age to 15 years of age.  We pulled through a gate, into a dirt lot and exited our cars.

ImageImageWe were greeted like royalty with a brass band and drum corps of children from the center.  As we processed up the stairs they followed us into the building.  It was there that I felt the first lump in my throat.  We met with Paul Sunder Singh, Director of the center, who showed us the various rooms in the center before escorting us to the main hall to meet the children.

ImageImageThe children welcomed us with their song, followed by one of the traditional dances performed by two of the boys.  I can’t tell you how it felt to watch them perform for us.  I was so honored yet, I could see that they were just as honored to see how happy it made all of us.  Following the dance, the boys who traveled to Rio shared a video of their journey to Rio followed by a slide show they narrated.  They were glowing as they shared their story.  It was here where I had to start to bite my lip so I wouldn’t be seen as a the weepy lady on the team.  Imagine hearing from these children what is like to see an airplane in the sky and never imagine that some day they might be on one and then to find themselves flying to Rio; to have a passport when they never had any form of identification or any known need to ever have one; and the excitement of enjoying a hotel meal.  It was very touching.

After a brief introduction, we broke into three groups ensuring we had native speakers on each of our teams and started our experiments.

ImageImageMuch to my surprise the children were very involved and very interested in everything we said and did.  Some of the children just wanted to be hold our hands.  Some wanted to be in the middle of the experiment and others just to watch but watch with intent and interest.  Magesh and I ran the chemical reaction experiment showing children how to fill balloons with air through the mixture of baking soda and lemon juice in soda bottles.  Ravi and Mats showed the children the mechanical advantages with how to juggle.  And Barbara and Jayanthi showed children mechanical advantages of how to build and catapult marshmallows.  It was all great fun.

ImageRavi drum

Karunalaya snacks barbaraImageFollowing our experiments the children performed another dance and then enjoyed the ice cream, biscuit and chocolate snacks we brought and showed us how to wear their dance costumes and use their drums.  But that wasn’t the end of the day.

ImageWe then retreated to the courtyard for some football.  What a lesson in fun.  It’s been some time since I have played football and racing around in the heat with some very fast players was a test, but one I would do again and again.  The boys were quite taken with Mats and Ravi and their engagement in kicking and passing drills.  Barbara and Jayanthi sang songs with the children jump roping while I chased the younger boys around with the ball getting schooled on passing and goal keeping.  It was here that I felt the biggest tug on my emotions.  As I played with the boys, I realized just what giving here means. It wasn’t about what we brought in bags, it was about what we shared of ourselves and what they gave to us.

If you have any time to take a look at the web site, please consider how you can share with this group. They are doing tremendous work and offering these children a chance to change their lives.


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