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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.

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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.

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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 smartercitieschallenge.org 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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Efharisto and Antio Thessaloniki!

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During our short three weeks the IBM Smarter Cities Challenge team met with more than 40 organizations and 70 individuals spanning government, business, and academia. The generosity of knowledge sharing gave us a diverse introduction to the city. We walk away from the project sad to leave such a wonderful city! But also with a view that Thessaloniki, and Greece broadly, is a place of rich heritage, vast beauty and incredible potential.

Amidst dramatic challenges both economic and social, Thessaloniki has shown itself to be a city of immense resilience. This was one of the factors that played into the city receiving the competitive IBM Smarter Cities Challenge grant ahead of more than 100 other applicants.

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IBM’s Rahul Chenny, Xenia Zoppas, and Lia Davis during stakeholder meetings at Thessaloniki’s City Hall.

Under the leadership of Mayor Boutaris, we saw noteworthy progress toward modernization and openness that has improved the city for citizens and businesses. His administration has elevated the culture of the city, and it has become a model for other municipalities seeking best practices to address economic challenges by facilitating trade and harnessing tourism and culture.

One of the most promising observations was the deep wealth of human capital including entrepreneurs, students, NGOs, tech developers, and creatives. This collective means the city has a high concentration of data producers and potential users.

We believe that Thessaloniki’s move toward an Open Data approach is quite achievable, with a solid beginning underway. With the right level of commitment, open data could fuel local innovation, enhance city insights, decision-making and transparency, and improve services for residents and visitors.

Our key findings based on stakeholder sessions will not be surprising as there was a consistent echo across all communities on the barriers to openness and data sharing. Five areas came into focus: policies, varied views on open data, organizational silos and cultural practices, technical governance, and resources.

As we looked across these issues our belief is that they can be resolved with the right level of public and private sector commitment. An Open Data dashboard that benefits all stakeholders would be one important outcome, but there will be many other city, citizen and private sector benefits as well.

We’ve outlined our top-level recommendations to Mayor Boutaris, Lina Liakou, Deputy Mayor and Chief Resilience Officer, and other city leaders. We focused on these five key areas: public policies that require data sharing, clarity of mission for greater unity across stakeholders, steps to strengthen and further collaboration, technical governance to promote trust, and creative ways to address budgetary and resource constraints.

The favorable response means we are well on our way to assembling the detailed report that will be shared early next year.

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The IBM Smarter Cities Challenge Team with Thessaloniki’s Mayor Yiannis Boutaris, Deputy Mayor & Chief Resilience Officer, Lina Liakou and other city leaders.

Again, our sincere thanks to all who met with our team. A resounding take away was the sense that Thessaloniki is teaming with professionals, public servants, entrepreneurs, and academics who are making a positive impact on the city.

It was an honor to serve Mayor Boutaris and Deputy Mayor Liakou on this important project. We would also like to thank the leadership of Aristotle University for inviting our team to speak with students. As well as the Deputy Mayor for Tourism & International Relations Spiros Pengas and the more than 40 attendees who participated in the Open Data Design Thinking workshop which we hope will serve as a model for other organizations as the city’s open data efforts progress.

We look forward to sharing our findings and continuing the dialogues in the months and years ahead as the city advances its Open Data initiative.

More on IBM’s Smarter Cities Team Thessaloniki
Thessaloniki Smarter Cities Team // Week One

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

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Thessaloniki: Many Stories, One Heart

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Team Thessaloniki completed week three, the final stretch, of our assignment to help the city further its Open Data initiative.  One of the key outcomes for the city will be a prototype dashboard, a hub for a variety of stakeholders to share and use data, and the roadmap for ensuring its effectiveness.

We think an important success factor will be populating the dashboard with a large cross section of data within a particular domain. One that is critical to the city and its economic competitiveness.

Tourism is one of great resonance to the city and could be a good place to start.

In collaboration with the Deputy Mayor Spiros Pengas we hosted a Design Thinking workshop that brought together over 40 stakeholders in the city’s tourism ecosystem.

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IBM’s Tim Coates kicks off the workshop

It became clear quickly to the IBM team that tourism would uncover vast opportunities for data sharing. The City of Thessaloniki is awash in rich culture. Often referred to as the “co-capital” of Greece, the city is renowned for its vast architectural and religious heritage where in, and around the municipality, there are numerous and notable historical treasures. The Paleochristian and Byzantine monuments of Thessaloniki, the tomb of Phillip II, father of Alexander the Great and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as well as several Roman, Ottoman and Sephardic Jewish architectural structures.

In addition to history, there is a vibrant arts community that has helped the city receive the European Capital of Culture designation, as well as named a best mid-sized European city of the future for human capital and lifestyle. Throughout the year numerous annual events are hosted including the Thessaloniki International Trade Fair, the Thessaloniki International Film Festival, and the Thessaloniki Song Festival.

Mayor Boutaris, who has been named ‘the best mayor of the world’ by the City Mayors Foundation, has led a transformation of Thessaloniki to strengthen its reputation as a tourist destination. His belief in public and private partnerships is widely credited with increasing visitors to the city (in turn generating revenues without the need for expensive investments). For example, collaborations with neighboring Turkey and Israel, have increased tourists to the city due to its strong historical and cultural ties with both countries.

Our workshop was organized to uncover and seek out solutions to some of the challenges in the tourism sector. We used Design Thinking in order to uncover the key data sets that would be of most value to open and share – and also because the methodology is ideally suited to fostering strong collaboration.

Like so many public services, a diverse mix of travel agents, hotel owners, entrepreneurs, convention organizations and others all share an interest in promoting the city. But data is held by different organizations or not at all. The lack of a central tourism organization to collect and share needed data makes bringing these constituents together complicated.

By asking participants to explore the travel experience through four ‘personas,’ characters facing experiences we heard in our interviews, we were able to identify and prioritize a range of data sets for the municipality. These ranged from segmentation information of visitors by age, nationality and interest; mobile phone usage; an event calendar; conversations on social media and a breakdown of leisure vs business tourists.

The excitement and energy in the room was validation that Thessaloniki will gain significant benefit from an open data dashboard, it also stands to gain from more closely connected and collaborative stakeholder communities across all policy areas.

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Thessaloniki’s Tourism Ecosystem, including Thessaloniki Convention Bureau, Thessaloniki Tourism Organization, Thessaloniki’s Hotel Association, the Chamber of Commerce, city employees, entrepreneurs, and independent travel agents who took part in a Design Workshop with IBM’s Rahul Chenny, Xenia Zoppas, Georgios Pakos and Tim Coates.

Now we work to weave in key outcomes from the workshop into the final recommendations for the city. We do this having also experienced Thessaloniki as active tourists ourselves. If we could figure out a way to remain here for several more weeks we would. The opportunity to immerse ourselves in all that this great city has to offer has been an experience of a lifetime!

More on IBM’s Smarter Cities Team Thessaloniki
Thessaloniki Smarter Cities Team // Week One
The Universal Language of Post-it Notes
Team Salonika Heads Back to School

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Team Salonika Heads Back to School

screen-shot-2016-11-14-at-11-11-35-amWe’re off to a strong finish as we begin the final week of our Smarter Cities Challenge project in Greece. We’ve met with 40-plus municipality officials, members of the technology community, and private organizations who have all been extremely gracious with their time and willingness to share knowledge.

A highlight has been meeting with the local academic communities. We were honored to be invited to the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki to give a guest lecture to students. The university is the sixth oldest and among the most highly ranked academic institutions in Greece. Named after the philosopher Aristotle, who was born about 30 minutes east of Thessaloniki, it is the largest university in the country and the Balkans with more than 80,000 students.

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The team was hosted by the school’s Urban & Regional Information Research Lab and attendees included graduate and post graduate students studying urban planning, civil architecture, engineering and computer science. The lab conducts research and offers scientific and technological services in the field of innovation systems and intelligent cities. We were asked to speak on four topics:

  • Background on the IBM Smarter Cities Challenge initiative, including the grant awarded to Thessaloniki and the work underway to help the municipality with their open data efforts.
  • Introduce the Design Thinking concept and the ways IBM is using this approach to foster innovation.
  • Share details on IBM’s approach to Artificial Intelligence and Cognitive Computing with an understanding of the history of Watson and commercial progress.
  • An understanding of IBM’s open platform for developers, Bluemix, with a demonstration of how student developers can experiment and build with the technology today.

The 50-plus students and faculty who joined the interactive discussion shared terrific and insightful views. Many probed further regarding sustainable approaches for improving cities, raised issues related to data privacy, and also the unique cultural challenges Greek cities face. A group of coders were especially eager to learn more about building apps with Artificial Intelligence and Cognitive. Others asked about real-world examples of how these new technologies are benefiting society today and the ways they’ll collaborate with these technologies in their respective professions in the future.

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IBM’s Georgios Pakos, Lia Davis, Priscilla Parodi, and Rahul Chenny speak to students and faculty during a guest lecture at Aristotle University

Our sincere thanks to the university’s Rector, Pericles A. Metkas, the head of the Urenio Lab Dr. Nicos Komninos, and all the students and faculty who warmly welcomed us to the university.

It reaffirmed our belief that the city is overflowing with bright minds who have the know-how and skills to make a positive impact for Thessaloniki.

More on IBM’s Smarter Cities Team Thessaloniki
Thessaloniki Smarter Cities Team // Week One
The Universal Language of Post-it Notes
Thessaloniki: Many Stories, One Heart

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Smarter Cities Challenge Team Experiences a Slice of Limerick and Irish Cultural Heritage

Arriving in Limerick just over two weeks ago, the team came with little context outside of the challenge goals, past tourist visits and what we read in preparation for the Limerick Smarter Cities Challenge.

We have had the good fortune to gain context through our interactions with the Limerick City and County Council, the dedicated people we met during our 42 interviews and through meeting a lot of the Limerick locals.  While this will prove the most significant in allowing us to get a better sense of cultural context, we also had experiences that added a great deal of spice.

During the weekend of May 14/15 and May 21/22 we started with a walking tour of Limerick and in the afternoon, visited the historic Bunratty Castle.  The walking tour brought the team to historic Saint Mary’s Cathedral and to a tour of King John’s Castle, including the strategic importance the castle played in the history of the region.  Bunratty was much more than a walking tour.  The team attended a banquet that included amazing entertainment with history interwoven throughout the evening.  Two of the team members were the King and Queen for the evening!  The King and Queen maintained order throughout the land by sentencing “offenders” dance in front of the court!  Yes, a good time was had by all.

Sunday May 15 landed the team in Dublin, with visits to the historic Trinity College, a viewing of the Book of Kells, the historic library it is housed in, and of course a visit to Dublin Castle.  The place in Irish history of Trinity College and the Dublin Castle became a bit more clear with the help of our guide through the city of Dublin and provided us even more historical context.

On Saturday May 21, we went to the stunning Cliffs of Moher on the Atlantic coast of Ireland.  The trip over and back brought us past ancient castles and keeps, each with histories contributing in their own way to what has become modern Ireland.  The Cliffs of Moher however was breathtaking and needed no historical backdrop to appreciate.  On Sunday, a trip to picturesque Adare provided a relaxed view into small town life topped off with a lesson in the proper way to make Irish coffee.

With just a few days left to deliver our recommendations to our new friends here in Limerick, it has become clear we have all become invested in Limerick’s success.

 

And now …… the anecdote!

We all prepared thoroughly for our trip to Ireland.  This of course included packing for a wide variety of activities and events. There’s only one catch….if you pack it, you must remember not to leave your sport coat hanging in the back seat of the car that drops you at the airport.

 

 

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Who is Limerick?

Limerick has Ireland’s fastest aging population.  By 2046, the population of the 65+ age group will grow by 263%.  This conjures up images of streets filled with walkers and wheel chairs, but that is most definitely not the case.  With 42% of the population under 30, there is the vibrancy evident within the city.  Limerick hosts 18,000 students as part of this demographic, flavoring the city the college town vibe found the world over.

Based on a week of meeting various agency and academic representatives, along with seniors actively advocating for their needs, we can state with confidence that the vibrancy we experience is a result of this community as well.  That does not diminish the needs of this population in any way.  Rather the way we have come to view the seniors we have met has perhaps shifted somewhat.  We see the seniors contributing to the life of the city in significant ways, it’s just that they collectively wish to have the opportunity to contribute to this vibrancy more.  From what we have witnessed, they most definitely can and will.  The barriers to achieving this share a common theme, which we will share once we meet with more of the stakeholders invested in transitioning Limerick into a premier “Age Friendly City”.

And now for the anecdote!  In one of our meetings with a member of the Older Persons Council, we met a gentleman who not only teaches dancing, but dances with a frequency that would be the envy of any active athlete!  Animated and full of stories to share, there are few who could keep up with him on our best days!  Evidence that the city vibe comes from the talents of all its residents.

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First Impressions – Limerick

With our first two days on the ground and in the field in Limerick, first impressions have been very powerful and humbling.  We have been greeted by city leadership and organizations who serve the aging population of Limerick with warmth and clear commitment to the vitality of Limerick.  The clear successes of the vision to revitalize Limerick are evident throughout this historic city, and the drive to ensure the aging population is part of that revitalization is why we are here as partners to all those who share in that vision.

Limerick leadership is clear in their goal to get out ahead of the rapidly growing population of their aging citizens, not because they see this as a problem, rather an opportunity to engage this population as equal partners to ensure an outcome that elevates the overall quality of life in the greater metro Limerick area.  What we have seen and heard in just two days leaves no doubt this will be achieved.

All that said, no initial blog entry is complete with anecdotes….. On arrival in Limerick, one of our team members opened her suit case only to discover that the powdered health drink mix had exploded during the flight to Ireland.  What does one do when their clothes are covered in powder?  Well one vacuums them of course!

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