Category Archives: Vilnius, Lithuania

Vilnius – Day 18 thru 20

Will Streit  (June 12-14, Thurs, Fri & Sat) – Thursday was the big day – with our final presentation to the city followed by a press conference with the Mayor.  The presentation went extremely well, and was well received.  Rama reviewed the recommendations and opportunities for big data and integration, bringing amazing energy and clarity to a tough topic.  Venkat went through a real world use case about an accident response that helped to illustrate the potential of the proposals.  Gina and Will reviewed the customer engagement opportunities and business model potential.  Paige and Kristof reviewed the organizational and governance recommendations – and kudos to them for showing its importance.  Although customer interaction, mobile apps, and data integration are the type of initiatives that people can relate to, we know that systematic and organizational enhancements are often the foundation that enables everything else.


Gina closed with a wonderful reflection on the beauty of Vilnius and an appreciation for the proactive view the city is taking.  She quoted a very appropriate Joni Mitchell song:
“You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone,
They paved paradise and put up a parking lot”

Seventy percent of Vilnius is greenery, rivers, or lakes.  Additionally, the Old Town in Vilnius was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1994.  We really appreciated the city’s proactive desire to use Smarter Transportation to preserve that beauty and character.  And we were glad we could work on a Smarter Cities Challenge to help and be a part of it!
After the review with the city, we did a press conference with the Mayor and Indrë Jakaitytë (a city council member and a lead of the Smart Vilnius organization).  With the press, we shared our observations and recommendation focus areas.  After about 10 minutes of taking questions, we wrapped up and headed to lunch.  We still had to hunker down for the afternoon to generate the written document.

That evening, we went out in the city to celebrate finishing the presentation.  Anton and Indre were kind enough to meet us for dinner.  We spent a few hours chatting about our time in Vilnius.  We continue to be thankful for the time and help they gave us, which was true of the entire city.  As we walked home, we again appreciated the use of open space.  The river lawn had been turned into an outdoor World Cup viewing party with a 40 foot screen!

Friday we closed out our work items and took care of the closing logistics.  In the evening we shopped for a bit – anything amber or linen was great.  For dinner we stayed in Old Town and sat out on the patio.  The timing was perfect.  Just after we sat down under the awning it started raining – one of the only times it really rained – and hearing the rain hit the awning and watching it run down the cobblestone street was fantastic.  And by the time we were done, so was the rain.  We all had a nice walk back, just in time to sleep for a few minutes before the bus arrived extremely early Saturday morning for the airport.


Final Thoughts……

We are all disappointed to leave.  We have each traveled all over the world, but Vilnius is unique.  We never stopped being astonished by the intricate balance of old and new, quaint and modern, and natural and architectural beauty.
Overall, the three weeks have been simply amazing.  The people in the city were great.  The city itself was unbelievable.  And most importantly, the team was fantastic.  The six of us feel unbelievably lucky to have such close friends.

Left-to-Right: Kristof, Venkat, Paige, Gina, Rama, Will


Aciu! (“thank you” in Lithuanian)

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Vilnius – Day 15 thru 17: Balance, Balloons & a ‘Blind Date with a Book’

Will Streit – June 9-11 ( Mon, Tues, Wed) –  The final week started off busy, as we finalized the recommendations and began meeting with members of the city to review.  The highlight was Monday night, when we were invited to the Mayor’s house to review our feedback.  We sat outside, where the view and the weather were absolutely perfect (both of which seem to be the case every day in Vilnius).  The Mayor and his wife were great hosts, spending time with the team and sharing fun stories.  One fun one was this “chair” for two people.   Each has to be in sync with the other person, especially getting on and off, otherwise they both tumble.  It is supposed to represent two people in a relationship, where but I thought it was a great metaphor for the balance among our Smarter Cities team.Image

The highlight was midway through reviewing our presentation, when suddenly hot air balloons launched over Vilnius.  We tried to get through the next recommendation, but had to stop and appreciate it.  It was breath-taking.

Over the next two days, we also did reviews with most of the major stakeholders, making sure we had not missed anything and that the direction was in line with our discussions over the past two weeks.  Thankfully, the city had been so open with information, people, and data, that it was easy to show where the recommendations tied into the research we had done.  We really appreciated the time that they gave us on Wednesday, especially since they would hear the presentation again on Thursday.
As busy as it was, we did try to get out into the city some more.  We know our time here is almost done, so we want to make sure to take in as much as possible, even if it meant working into the morning hours.  On Tuesday, we kept our now regular tradition of stopping for ice cream – this time it included trying the pistachio and maple ice cream flavors, both of which were surprisingly good.  We also bumped into Anton (from the city), who just bought a “blind date with a book” book.  At a local book store, they have a few books that are each tightly wrapped in brown paper.  There are a few clues written on the wrapper, but you don’t know what the book is when you buy it.  Its a fun idea, and we made sure to pick one up later.


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Vilnius – Day 11 & 12

Will Streit –  Sunday, June 9.  The weekend was both fantastic and productive.  We had spent the past week gathering data and performing follow-up interviews with members of the city.  We also had numerous meetings with internal IBM experts to work through some of our findings and recommendations.  Thank you to all of the IBM’ers that took time out of their day job to provide insight!  Everyone’s willingness to jump in on short notice has been amazing, especially given the tight Smarter Cities Challenge timeline.
Over the weekend, we worked through our recommendations and presentation.  Indrë and Anton (from the municipality) were kind enough to spend a few hours with us on Sunday reviewing the draft presentation and providing feedback.  We were able to incorporate in the input on Sunday evening and are ready for additional reviews and refinement this week.

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But it wasn’t all work.  On Friday, the mayor invited us to an event at the Vilnius University Botanical Gardens.  The music performance turned interactive and we all had the chance to join in with the drums.  The mayor was a great sport and led the charge!

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On Saturday we went to Trakai Castle, which is located on an island in a secluded lake.  It may have been one of the most gorgeous castles we have seen anywhere in Europe.  Just another example of the priceless treasures we are finding in Lithuania.

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We also spent time biking and walking in the city, turning down random alleys and exploring the hidden nooks throughout the city.  My favorites were suddenly stumbling upon a hidden park with a great view over the city, and then a little bit later, a pub nestled out over a river at the base of the hills. The festival in the park across the hotel was also fun to walk through, especially when the hot air balloons started launching for evening rides over the city.  Thankfully the sunlight stays until nearly 11pm, so we are able to work a lot and still get time to explore and enjoy.

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Vilnius – Day 12, Survey Results are coming in…

Kristof Kovacs – June 6 (Friday, Day 12) –  Survey Results are coming in….
Our team has been quite busy, a highlight was receiving the translation of the survey results and over 500 comments!  Both the quantitative statistics and the comments were highly insightful.  We also spent significant time reviewing data from many dozen meetings and presentations – we left no rocks unturned for facts and figures.

In the evening we joined  a reception hosted by the mayor to celebrate the “Asian week” cultural festival which was held at the botanical gardens in the outskirts of Vilnius.  The Mayor hosted embassadors of a number of Asian countries, their staff, and immediate family members.  We had a great time – there was BBQ, a drum party,  and a lot of great conversation… and of course laughter.  It was definitely one of the highlights  of the week.

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Vilnius – Day 11

R. Venkat – June 5, Day 11, Thurs

Though its nearly two weeks since we left our homes we don’t seem to miss much ‘coz the team is like family and Vilnius feels like our new home. Bike or hike, we are navigating the streets and alleys of Vilnius’s old town at ease. Talking of bikes, its one of the best things that has happened to Vilnius. Bright orange bikes are trendy and is an excellent facility for travelers to ride through the city wherever and whenever. There are 33 bike stations in a 5 km radius in the city and its a free ride for the first 30 mins. Luckily, we have one bike station right at the entrance of the hotel we stay. Check out to know more. With many bike enthusiasts in the team it has been a pretty interesting ride so far.

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Getting back to making Vilnius a smarter transportation city, we’ve been sifting through a lot of information, and more pouring in, that we gathered during the meetings over the last few days. Thanks to Indre & Anton from Vilnius city team who turnaround information with speed and sincerity. With the help of Indre and Anton we also were able to host a survey on the Vilnius citizen portal and are eagerly waiting for the final survey results. It is very encouraging to know that there have been thousands of people who responded to the survey in the first few days, clearly an indicator of the level of interest and aspirations of the city residents. Our last few days have been full of brainstorming sessions, collaborating as a team to bring ideas to the table, debating on what is appropriate for Vilnius and, of course, lots of fun that goes along with it. For the last couple of days we are getting into the peak hour traffic on car and buses to experience for ourselves what it feels like to be a Vilnian on the road. All this has helped us to emotionally connect to Vilnius, understand and appreciate the aspirations of this youthful city.   We will fine tune our findings soon and can’t wait to share our recommendations with the city which has been such a wonderful host.


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Vilnius – Day 10, Cars, Buses, Bikes and Taxis…

Rama Divakaruni, Day 10  (Wednesday, June 4) – Cars, Buses, Bikes and Taxis……. A long day winds down with an equal measure of exhilaration and exhaustion.

First our field study for 1st hand observation of early morning traffic.  Andrius picked us up at 7am and we saw first hand the traffic backed up entering the city from the north and west at the first roundabout. There was a good 2-3Km backup on the Vilnius-Panevezys Highway. We headed north on the highway (against traffic) toward Utena and went past Santariskes — the medical center. There was no fast lane and  poor bus service on this route.


We went all the way to the suburbs and the source of the traffic .  We turned around and went over to the future BRT route and decided to tackle the traffic head on. Venkat got on a bus at 7:35AM and I stayed in the car. We went ahead of the express bus as long as there was no dedicated lane. Soon as the dedicated lane appeared, the bus took off ahead of us (also clear that the bus lane was not well enforced). Clear revenue opportunity for the city!   At 7:53AM as we approached the city, we asked Venkat to get off. The bus had won. We headed back north and the traffic had eased a bit since we clearly past the 8am critical hour. We headed back into the city  and the fast buses were packed (good!).  We had learnt a lot. Other team members are going to try this tomorrow.

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We got back to our makeshift office in the hotel and Venkat and I got to work on the charts and preparation for the afternoon mtgs.  We tried a bike vs hike experiment to head to the offices of Susisiekimo Paslaugas. The bike rental delayed Will and Venkat and I managed to walk there  before they got there. Winner – the hike (this time).   The mtg with a major IT partner  at the Susisiekimo Paslaugas offices was very productive.  The traffic light system was quite optimized and when Susisiekimo Paslaugas introduced fast bus lanes, it automatically modified controls and things worked smoothly.  Impressive.

While Will headed back to get other work done, Venkat and I headed to the municipal offices to chat and socialize our thinking and recommendations on the data layer as well as to meet with one of the major telco companies.   Within Vilnius the accuracy is 100s of meters.  One of their team went on to show his family’s location and where all 4 members were. The accuracy was pretty good! Considering we only need group data and  we need the thing anonymized, this is good!  The meeting turned out to be quite productive.

Since we had worked through lunch today, we decided on an early dinner and combined it with another opportunity to do a field study.  We met at the lobby and headed to an early dinner of vegetarian Indian food via taxi.   Venkat and Will biked and nearly beat us. Winner – taxi, but they had paused to watch the flag lowering ceremony at the President’s Palace.   We made it there and got done with a sumptuous meal and decided to walk back to burn it off. (Did not stop a few of us picking up ice cream on the way back!)..Given the 54N latitude, the sun was still way up when we got back to the hotel.

We then all huddled in our makeshift office and hashed out a first pass of the deck together and a first pass of our recommendations… We clearly got done way past midnight. Venkat and. I meet in 6.5hrs.. Need to get some sleep. Will and I head to Kaunas technical university tomorrow pm to present to the students. Wish us luck!

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Vilnius – Day 8, “Don’t make me get the Tank!”

Paige Poore, Day 8 (Monday, June 1st) –   “Don’t make me get the Tank!” – here’s a great you-tube video on an innovative way to solve transportation problems …

We thought you’d enjoy that!  This video has has over 4 million (yes, 4Million, and that’s not counting another 2M for the Lithuanian version)

Now….on to week 2:  Today’s proven to be a busy and very productive first day of our 2nd week.  After a long night preparing for this new week (some of us were up working past 2am, crazy!) we started the day with a team meeting preparing charts and debating the various puts and takes. Needless to say, several of us needed  several jolts of high caffeine to get going.  We’ve broken up into teams and begun work on individual workstreams …. time is flying past us.

We continue to be awed by how lovely this wonderful city is!  Two views from our hotel floor – on one side, beautiful views of Old Town, on the other is the Municipal City Center where the Mayors office is located and we hold our meetings, a short walk from where we stay.

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Four of us headed out to meet with the e-City team in the Municipal office for some very productive interviews. We met with Jonas Pidkovas today, who is the leader of the e-Business team responsible for for e-ideas, e-services and processes, IT division and Customer Service.  His team plays a crucial role in leading and supporting many of the innovative programs we’ve seen here in Vilnius.

We’re finalizing a transportation survey that will go out to the citizens via the mayor’s blog.  It’s  exciting to see how rapidly the municipality can put this type of survey into play.   Tomorrow promises to be a busy day, in addition to the survey and consolidating our recommendations, several team members –  Venkat and Rama – are heading out for a field study of the traffic at 7am. Stay tuned for more as week 2 progresses.

6/3 Update – the survey is up on the official City site and we are already seeing results …, that’s fast work!

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Some great pictures from Saturday and the cultural heritage and handicraft festival  – a huge pot of herbal tea brewed over an open fire, a city scene,  and  delicious sauerkraut and sausage – a very colorful and tasty cultural experience!

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