Category Archives: Houston TX, USA

Smarter Cities Challenge Houston Team Reports Findings

Here is the press release sent by the Department of Neighborhoods

IBM Experts Present Houston’s Smarter Cities Challenge Report to Mayor Parker, City Council and Community Stakeholders

Recommendations Focus on Community Engagement, Streamlining Processes and Analytics to Enhance City Services

Houston Mayor Annise Parker and City Council members were joined by community partners in the Council chamber today for the presentation of the City of Houston’s IBM Smarter Cities Challenge project report.  The report of findings was presented by a visiting team of IBM experts, which led the three week project.  The project was supported by an IBM grant awarded to the City’s Department of Neighborhoods under IBM’s Smarter Cities Challenge grant program.  The program is part of IBM’s three-year philanthropic initiative, which provides the company’s top talent and expertise to cities and counties to address key challenges.  The City of Houston is one of eight municipalities in the U.S. awarded a grant, each valued at $400,000.
“Houston’s IBM Smarter Cities Challenge has given us an opportunity to engage key community partners and stakeholders as we continually try to better connect residents to the services and information they need,” said Mayor Parker.  “Through the generosity of IBM and the guidance of its team, the City has gained an increased understanding of ways we can offer resources more effectively to Houstonians.  We look forward to receiving the complete road map in the coming weeks.”

The five members of the IBM team are:  Gary Zeien, Executive Architect – Minnesota; Brendan Grady, Marketing Program Director – Maine; Kelly Tinsley, Associate Partner, Operations & Supply Chain Management, Social Services – Michigan; Mike Davies, Manager, Shared Services – Texas; and Shinichi Nakashio, Partner, Business Analytics Optimization, Practice Area Leader, Distribution, Public & Communications Industries, Global Business Services – Japan.  Accompanying the team was Beth Tracy, Corporate Citizenship & Corporate Affairs Manager, Texas & Oklahoma – Austin.

The IBM team guided City leaders and community partners as they explored Houston’s “challenge”–how the City can provide greater access to information, services and resources for residents.  The team’s discovery phase consisted of meetings with over 90 individuals from non-profit, public, private and community partners as well as City experts representing various departments.

The team sought to build upon the work of the City’s seven-division Department of Neighborhoods, established by Mayor Parker last year as a “one-stop” for residents seeking assistance with neighborhood issues.  Specifically, the project focused on how the City can better connect school-aged students to public services that strengthen families and schools.

The IBM team reported the following findings:

  • Super Neighborhoods, the city and partners are working well together.  There are numerous opportunities for these organizations to collaborate more effectively.
  • Citizens, partner organizations and city employees do not fully understand the Department of Neighborhoods’ mission, role or responsibility.
  • The usage of the workflow management system is not being optimally used to track requests and actions across departments.
  • While the City has the information to understand what has happened and where, it does not possess the analytics required to understand how and why it happened and what should be done.

The team presented the following recommendations for the City’s implementation:

  • Engage the community: Align resources to more efficiently and effectively meet the needs of residents. For example, realign Geographic Information System (GIS) operations to the Information Technology Department and develop a set of services that can be used across the organization instead of a single department.
  • Increase awareness:  Create and launch an ongoing communications and engagement program to build awareness, understanding and cooperation to harness community support for the City’s efforts.  For example, establish a communication governance team to proactively address any communication challenges which may arise between key stakeholder groups.
  • Improve processes:  Streamline internal processes to conserve resources, improve efficiency, increase effectiveness and resident engagement.  For example, establish a personalized “My Houston” portal to integrate resident requests, city, partner and Super Neighborhood information.
  • Develop analytics driven culture:  Employ analytics in core processes to establish a culture of data-driven decision making to guide and optimize day-to-day operations and future strategies.  For example, identify data essential to the Department of Neighborhoods and implement a data warehouse to enable the department to perform the analysis it requires.

“The IBM Smarter Cities Challenge team has been privileged to spend the past three weeks meeting with stakeholders in the great city of Houston,” said Beth Tracy, IBM’s Corporate Citizenship and Corporate Affairs Manager for Texas and Oklahoma.  “We believe the recommendations this team is making not only address the challenges Mayor Parker laid out, but were made with the intention of improving the quality of life for Houston residents.”

The IBM Smarter Cities Challenge grant program comprises the corporation’s single-largest philanthropic effort, providing the expertise of top IBM employees to cities and counties.  The program addresses a wide range of municipal issues, including health, transportation, economic development, education, finance, sustainability, public safety and e-government.  A number of cities have improved citizens’ quality of life through the implementation of IBM’s recommendations.  For more information about the program, visit

To learn more about the Houston’s IBM Smarter Cities Challenge project and the Department of Neighborhoods, visit

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Getting someone to buy something they have already purchased….

Now that is an interesting statement isn’t it?  Well, it is the reality of what city, state and federal government organizations have to do.  Whether we think about it or not, the services these organizations offer have already been paid for with our tax dollars.  As Katye Tipton, Director – Department of Neighborhoods for the City of Houston said: “I have a product which my customer has already bought.”  So, how do you get citizens to take advantage the services they have a right to access and use?

This is a question which the Department of Neighborhoods is attempting to answer.   I personally believe we can borrow some ideas from the private sector.   In the end, this is about communicating to individual citizens and to more effectively reach your target audience organizations need to connect with individuals providing the right information at the right place at the right time specific to the individuals pain point.  Even in the public sector it is unwise to take a spray and pray mentality…If I set up a website or blast out an email with a list of offerings, people will just flock to it..Nope!  Not going to happen.  Public sector should take a page out of the IBM’s CMO study.

IBM developed 3 core domains of improvement for CMOs.  But do these relate to the public sector, specifically a city government?

Private sector: Deliver value to empowered customers
The digital revolution has forever changed the balance of power between
the individual and the institution. If CMOs are to understand and provide
value to empowered customers and citizens, they will have to concentrate
on getting to know individuals as well as markets. They will also have to
invest in new technologies and advanced analytics to get a better grasp
of how individual customers behave.

Public Sector: Empowered citizens:

We do not need to look very far to see the power of the digital revolution.  Case and point, the “Occupy” Movements of 2011 were largely coordinated via social media.   The Arab spring, starting with Egypt started as a citizen centric  social media movement.  This week, a republican senatorial candidate was tried and convicted social media court of public opinion.  More than ever citizens can activate their networks of supporters to change the direction their government takes.     It is more than just understanding broad movements mentioned above.  Citizens are interacting with their government every day.  What if governmental agencies could understand which citizens, consumed which services and when they were consumed to better understand individual demand and need?  More importantly, what if they could understand which services did NOT meet the need of the individual citizens?  Could those services be changed or eliminated resulting in a more effective programs or cost savings?

Private Sector: Foster lasting connections
To effectively cultivate meaningful relationships with their customers,
CMOs will have to connect with them in ways their customers perceive
as valuable. This entails engaging with customers throughout the entire
customer lifecycle, building online and offline communities of interest and
collaborating with the rest of the C-suite to fuse the internal and external
faces of the enterprise.

Building relationships one person at a time:

Value is the key word here.  With citizen services, the product has already been purchased via tax dollars.  Governmental organizations need to demonstrate to their customers (citizens) that their services can meet their individual needs.    They need to engage their citizens where the citizens are active..(local community organizations, through non-profit partners etc)  building upon existing relationships and providing ways to better collaborate.

Private Sector: Capture value, measure results
Lastly, CMOs will have to quantify and analyze the financial results of their
marketing initiatives and communicate them to the wider organization to
enhance the marketing function’s credibility and effectiveness. They also
will have to inject new skills into the marketing function by expanding
the digital, analytical and financial capabilities of existing employees and
by hiring staff or by partnering with specialists to fill the gaps. And since
it’s important to lead by example, CMOs will need to invest in enhancing
their own expertise in these areas as well.

Public Sector: Justify program spend or lose valuable tax dollars

When marketing budgets are cut in the provide sector, revenues decline and companies can struggle. In the public sector, budget cuts can lead to critical services being reduced or eliminated all together.  Since the fiscal crisis, there has been more scrutiny placed on government spending on services.  Government service providers need to measure the effectiveness of the services they deliver.  To do this, they need to focus on those key performance indicators and metrics which, when actioned, can fundamentally improve the effectiveness of the services and programs they deliver.

The tough questions:
How are you measuring and analyzing the results of your initiatives and communicating them to advance your function’s credibility and accountability?
This is the first in a series of posts which will dive into how the findings from the CMO study can help the public sector.
NOTE:  This is my personal opinion of how to connect public sector to the CMO study and does not represent the views of IBM.

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Smarter Cities Challenge….Back after a brief pause!

Well, the last 7 days have been somewhat hectic for the Smarter Cities Challenge Houston team.  We completed our discovery a week ago today.  Since then we have been formulating and documenting our findings and recommendations.  Easier said than done!

The good news:  As a team we have recognized each others strengths and have each taken on a piece of the puzzle to put in the right place.

The bad news: We are dealing with a complex environment with multiple stakeholders across multiple organizations with various challenges needing to be addressed.

Over the past seven days we have been working as a team to develop a set of manageable recommendations to take to Mayor Parker this Thursday.  We believe we have netted out the challenges and are bringing solid recommendations to the City of Houston.  Once we have reviewed with the public, I will be in a position to share the findings and recommendations via this blog.  Please be on the lookout early next week!

We did get a bit of a break over the weekend.  Mike, Gary, Shinichi and I were about to attend the Houston Texans pre-season football game at Reliant Stadium.  It was an excellent time!  I cannot believe how loud the fans were!  It sounded like the AFC Championship games at Gillette!


Today we had two special guests:  Jon Iwata, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Communications at IBM and Jen Crozier, Vice President of Global Citizenship Initiatives at IBM.  Each of these guests brought their own perspectives to our discussions.

From Jen, we learned that Houston is the 50th Smarter Cities Challenge!  We are a milestone. 

We also got to spend 45 minutes with Jon sharing our findings and recommendations with him.  Jon brought an external perspective to some of our thoughts around branding and awareness.  His feedback helped both confirm the direction of our recommendations and to trim the sails on some of them.

We all appreciate Jon and Jen taking time out of their busy schedules to meet with us.  It was GREATLY appreciated!

The Houston team with Jon Iwata and Jen Crozier

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Smarter Cities team meets with citizens of Houston

Media coverage of the Smarter Cities Challenge

The Smarter Cities Challenge team continued our mission to complete the discovery phase, which will be completed at 4:30 PM Wednesday August 15th (but who is counting!?).  We were fortunate enough to get a full 2 hours with many of the Super Neighborhood leaders.   This provided great insights into their challenges and perceptions.

Houston has been divided into 88 Super Neighborhoods where residents of neighboring communities are encouraged to work together to identify, plan, and set priorities to address the needs and concerns of their community. The Super Neighborhood Council serves as a forum where residents and stakeholders can discuss issues, establish priority projects for the area and develop a Super Neighborhood Action Plan to help them meet their goals. In some cases, more than one of the Super Neighborhoods have joined together to create a stronger, more active Council. The Super Neighborhood initiative is building and improving on past successes and relies upon stakeholder participation and outreach. The people living in the neighborhoods themselves are best-equipped to know what their needs are, and are the most invested in seeing that those needs are met. They bring these concerns to the City and work together to have them addressed and resolved. Through this initiative, City government has established strong relationships within Houston communities.

As the great Massachusetts Representative and former Speaker of the House Thomas Tip O’Neill said:  “All politics is local”.  It does not get any more local than your own neighborhood.  The leaders of the Super Neighborhoods who attended last night are a passionate group of citizens who want the best for their neighborhoods and really desire to be part of a Smarter City.  This was clear in what they communicated to the team about being smarter about the way the city and Super Neighborhoods work together.

Some of the issues highlighted:

  • Communications:  The is a clear frustration with the communication mechanisms, the lack of a full closed loop communication process, an inability to share best practices and information across the Super Neighborhoods and with the city.
  • Individualized Services:  The feedback here is that there is not a “one size fits all” approach to delivering information or services.  An elderly person vs. a 22 year old right out of college have radically different preferences.
  • Analytics:  There was a clear statement about the need for analytics to understand what is going on in the neighborhoods, from basic reports to detecting patterns within and across the Super Neighborhoods.
  • Understanding the full role of the Department of Neighborhoods: This manifested itself through a discussion about what the Smarter Cities Challenge is attempting to address and how we will approach it.

All in all, the discussion and feedback we received from the Super Neighborhoods, while not necessarily positive, was extremely helpful and in line with what we have been hearing.    I really appreciate the candor of the Super Neighborhood leaders.  It is this type of interaction and feedback  that will allow the Smarter Cities Challenge team to develop recommendations which will have both and short term impact.

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Back to work Smarter Cities Houston!

Wow, how can a weekend seem so short!?  It feels like Friday was just yesterday.

Saturday was inspiring to say the least and really made me realize what an incredible impact we are having.   The picture below really says it all for me:

I was lucky enough to spend a few minutes with one of the children who visited the Collaborative for Children to see the Young Explorers!

Last night we went to an excellent Asian fusion restaurant not far from our house.   When I think of Texas, sushi is NOT first food that comes to mind.  Each of us ordered something to meet our own tastes.  Shinichi and I dug right into the sushi and sashimi.  YUM! I even learned a new Japanese word…gari (pickled ginger).  Mike ordered Miso Mac and cheese with shrimp.  There are truly NO words to describe just how good the mac and cheese tasted….I would try but feel it is just futile.  Maybe we need to back and eat it again to see if the words come to us??

Enough said!

On Monday, we were right back to work with a series of meetings with non-profit organizations and city officials.  We have begun dividing up the meetings to cover more ground.  We have reached a point in the Challenge that we must begin formulating our recommendations based on the last week of discovery.  We are in a pretty good position in our understanding of some of the key challenges and have already documented some of our key findings.  We have also started noodling on a couple of solution ideas but do not have anything concrete yet (at least not dry concrete!)

To lighten things up at the end of the long day, I decided to share one of my favorite actors doing impressions.  Kevin Spacey is just absolutely amazing.  Beth, Mike, and Kelly had a few chuckles listening to Kevin.  Check out the video.  I hope it makes you chuckle too.



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Smarter Cities Challenge Houston is not ALL work…just mostly!

What a great day today with team members Gary and Shinichi!  The three of us made our way to the Johnson Space Center south of Houston.  Yes, the same place that heard “Houston, we have a problem”.   I had never been to any of NASA’s locations before and this was my chance to see where history made.  The Johnson Space center did not fail.

There were two main highlights of the visit:

Saturn Rocket:   To date the Saturn V rocket is the only vehicle to transport humans beyond low earth orbit.  It is hard to describe just how large this rocket is but I recommend you look at the nice group of people just to the right of the rocket to get a sense.

Historical Mission Control:  This was as special location to visit.  While many of the major space events happened prior to my birth, it is here that the course of space exploration was changed.  As I sat there listening to the tour guide provide details, I could imagine the control room filled with MAWGs (middle aged white guys) who celebrated their successes and unfortunately some failures too.

The mission control was the location for the major accomplishments of the Apollo program….”Houston, the eagle has landed..”

The overall experience at Johnson Space Center is likely not as thrilling as Kennedy Space center.  Kennedy is the pretty face of the NASA world through the rocket launches while Johnson Space Center is the central nervous system.  It is important to remember…the pretty face cannot move without the nervous system!


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Smarter Cities Day 5 and 6 – I am proud to be an IBMer

I have never really associated my own personal identity with my workplace.  For the first time in my life I am changing that.  I AM proud to be an IBMer.  The Smarter Cities Challenge Houston is providing me with the opportuntiy to give back by Today, we had the opportunity to have a direct impact on a local non-profit organization and participate in a Houston wide back to school event.

We started our day off at the Houston Back to School Fest hosted at the Reliant Center (next to Reliant Stadium, home of the Houston Texans football team).  The Back to School Fest provide free school supplies, free immunizations, free uniforms and information for parents and children about services available to them.  There were 25,000 kids expected to attend.  This is just a mind boggling number since this is a larger number of kids than the population of my home town and current town of residence COMBINED!  It is truly excellent to see what is being done to help the kids of Houston get ready for school year.

Mayor Annise Parker kicked off the day and was king enough to mention the Smarter Cities Challenge Houston during her speech.   I have included pictures from her kick off speech in the gallery below.

After this event we headed to the Collaborative for Children.    In a nutshell, the Collaborative for Children works to s trengthen early care and education systems through policy development and systems changes.  Please visit the  Collaborative for Children‘s web site for find out more about it.

Beth Tracy, our local Corporate Citizenship contact for the Smarter Cities Challenge Houston, arranged for the team to visit the collaborative for children and put together Young Explorer Terminals .  These computers allow young children (2-7) to interact with numbers, children, shapes, colors etc..Beth not only donated the Young Explorers as part of an IBM grant program but also arranged for the team to ensure they were assembled properly…which we hopefully did!

With the Young Explorers built several children arrived to take them for a test drive.  The bright colors and engaging educational “games” really engage the kids and hold their attention.  I was able to interact with a young girl who was really enjoying this new educational “toy”.

I felt really proud to have contributed to the city of Houston and proud to work for a company who cares enough to not only donate money but cares enough to donate employees’ time.

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