Tag Archives: #smartercitieschallenge

Greetings from Peru

On Sunday, our team of six IBMers from around the world gathered together in San Isidro, Lima, Peru, on a Smarter Cities Challenge focused on sustainable mobility. We hail from Australia, Canada, Germany, Ireland and the United States, and we boast a range of disciplines – from sales transformation to smarter cities to software engineering to legal to communications.

Urban transportation and the competition for space between people and vehicles is an issue across the world, and in San Isidro, the major financial district of Lima, it’s a growing concern.

San Isidro has an area of just over 11 km and to its west is bordered by the Pacific Ocean and the municipality of Magdalena. To the east, it connects with the municipality of San Borja, to the south Miraflores and Surquillo, to the north Lince, La Victoria and Jesus Maria.

San Isidro skyline

San Isidro boasts many gardens, parks and an exclusive residential area, according to Lima Easy. “Next to modern office blocks occupied by the main businesses and financial institutions, you find exclusive shops, excellent restaurants, inviting bars, cafes and of course many hotels. Nevertheless San Isidro managed to combine this modernity and progress with its cultural and traditional past.”

As a result, it’s estimated that nearly one million people flow through the district every day. The Smarter Cities Challenge statement continues on to explain that this creates traffic problems that include: traffic congestion, cars parked in restricted areas, reduction of public spaces due to parking. Consequently, all of these issues generate, as collateral, risks to public health and safety such as air and noise pollution, reducing the quality of life for the district population.

Mayor Manuel Velarde Dellepiane has asked IBM to design a sustainable mobility strategy that will leverage ongoing investments in public transport and green public spaces to promote changes in cultural behavior within the district, as well as across neighboring districts.

The team began its three-week journey in Peru with a kick-off Monday morning at the city’s cultural center located in the historic Olive Grove Park with Mayor Dellepiane, who spoke about his municipality and his hopes for the project. In attendance was an audience of approximately 30, including a number of city officials.

Team San Isidro

Over the first few days, we met separately with the Mayor and his senior advisors including Urban Planning, Security, Technology and Sustainability, as well as leaders of cycling groups, development banks, and the Lima transportation department (or, Protransporte). We are now beginning to understand the municipality’s mind set around the opportunities and challenges associated with the project. The challenges associated with developing common solutions that meet the needs of multiple stakeholder groups are becoming more apparent.

We are also experiencing first hand the various methods of transportation including walking, buses and taxis, and we are using bicycles to get to our office at the Municipality of San Isidro. We look forward to sharing more about our findings and how we’re progressing over the next three weeks.


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One Week in the Birthplace of Democracy

I was born in the largest democracy in the world and for the past 2 decades have been living in the oldest democracy. But it was only after landing in the Greek capital city of Athens last week did the word “democracy” (and so many other things we take for granted today) started to make sense. The concept of a democratic society, such as the one many countries in the world today enjoy, began in the Greek capital some 2500 years ago. The land of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle offers not only a richness of philosophy but the air is filled with an overwhelming sensation of art, culture, science and history. It is not by accident that the city of Athens is sometimes referred to as the cradle of Western civilization. Despite the glorious past, Athens realizes a need to make itself better for its citizens through innovation and technology  and it was thus chosen as one of the winners of the IBM Smarter Cities Challenge (SCC) earlier this year.

CSR & SCC background for the uninitiated

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is not a lip service in IBM. There are a vast range of programs that enable and encourage IBMers to contribute their talent to local communities in addition to donations and corporate grants. As part of one of IBM’s Global CSR initiative, a competition is held every year inviting city governments & mayors around the world to apply for grants in solving their most pressing problem. After a highly competitive selection process known as the Smarter cities challenge (SCC), a handful of cities are declared winners to which IBM then sends a handpicked team of highly experienced employees to work pro-bono for three weeks.  In short, we are helping to build sustainable, vibrant economies with strong public services, using strategy, process improvement, technology innovations, data & analytics.

 So why am I here?

The three week long SCC Athens assignment that I and five other IBM executives from around the globe (Una Du Noyer from UK, Angela Borrachero Mendibil, from Spain, Scott Neuman from the Czech Republic, Todd Appel, and Dean Philips from the US) are here for, acquires a monumental stature in wake of current state of affairs with the economy of Greece, the timing of the assignment and strategic significance of the issues today’s Athens faces from transportation, travel, tourism, parking and traffic. After studying and analyzing the issues in depth, we aim to come up with strategic roadmap and actionable recommendations to improve the quality of life in the historical and commercial city center by reducing traffic congestion and reclaiming public spaces.

Getting the vibe of the City and the Assignment

The smarter city challenges are designed to be intense “stay away from normal work and family” while immersing in the culture and issues of the subject city. To facilitate our cultural immersion, IBM Greece’s wonderful corporate citizenship manager Xenia Zoppa and her team have left no stone unturned. Here’s how:

  1. Choosing our place of stay: At first sight, across from our home for three weeks the Hotel Grande Bretagne near the Greek Parliament, in the fascinating and maddening metropolis of Athens, you only need to raise your eyes a couple hundred feet above the skyline to fall in love with the architectural perfection of majestic Acropolis. One of the seven wonders of the Ancient world, this iconic citadel represents everything the Athenians were and still aspire to be. The temple Parthenon dedicated to goddess of victory, Athena, with its honey-color marble columns rising from a massive limestone base is an awe- inspiring backdrop to have as the view for our breakfast every day.


    Walking with Dy Mayor of Athens

    Walking with Dy Mayor of Athens

  2. Experiential learning: Starting with a walking tour with the Deputy Mayor  A. Kafetzoppulous to a guided bus tour of the city on day one, we capped off the weekend with visit to the temple of Poseidon in south-east tip of Attica at the coastal town of Sounion on day 6 with immense opportunities to experience the Greek culture through experiential activities like iQuest Odyssey on day 7 and indulgences in  gastronomy in between all week long.
    Exciting Food options

    Exciting Food options

    SCC Athens Team at Sounion

    SCC Athens Team at Sounion


  3. Combining History with our daily work: Our team’s first weekend in Athens coincided with the annual commemoration of historic run of the soldier Pheidippides from a battlefield at the site of the town of Marathon to Athens in 490 B.C., bringing news of a Greek victory over the Persians. Our gracious hosts from IBM Greece ensured we not only had a chance to view the Athens marathon finish in the Olympic Stadium but also adjusted our team activity schedule on Sunday to allow one of our team member Scott Neuman to run a 10K race in the Athens Marathon today. And Scott finished with his personal best record of under 48 minutes. Bravo!

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Meeting with Mayor at the SCC Athens Kick off

Meeting with Mayor at the SCC Athens Kick off


Olympic Stadium - Marathon

Olympic Stadium – Marathon

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Onto Week 2

While my colleague Dean Philips wrote recently about “Checking in”, he forgot to mention how much interest our first week of work full of intense meetings and interviews post kickoff with city officials has generated both within the city, in traditional as well as in  social media.(examples  here & here) We have already had 20+ meetings covering nearly 75+ individuals in week one of our discovery phase and are about to begin our follow up meetings and analysis phase in week two.

Stay tuned for more. Meanwhile enjoy the pictures from team Athens so far and do not forget to share, like and comment below to show your interest.

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The glow of the Ganges (and of our team)

After a full week of touring sewage and waste management plants (and interviewing government officials, rickshaws and street sweepers), we headed out to Varanasi for a tourist-only weekend. This came with a clear direction of “no laptops” which we gladly followed. Varanasi is THE Indian town that makes every single tourist book, as well as the 500 or 1,000 places to see in your lifetime – and it lives up to it. After a rocky (literally and figuratively) 3 hour drive from Allahabad, we arrived and headed for some shopping and walk around the city. After a few of sarees, pashminas, silk scarves negotiations, we were ready to board a small wooden boat on Ganges to see the river banks from the water. I am personally not very religious or spiritual (full disclosure) but there is something about this city that throws you in a very quiet state of thinking and reminiscing (after the loud engine boats stop though). As the sun was coming down, we (and other 100 boats) stopped by the Dashashwamedh Ghat and waited for the aarti to start. What’s a ghat and aarti, you may ask….

Ghat is a series of steps leading to the river Ganges – and there are many of them across Varanasi. Aarti is a prayer ritual / ceremony which translates to a Worship of fire. The ghats fill up with people, the rivers fill up with boats – and the aarti begins. Richa was able to participate from the bank which was a very unique and rare opportunity for her – the rest of us watched from the water. Even though most of us didn’t understand what was going on, it was clearly very emotional for Hindus around us and absolutely fascinating to watch. And so was the traffic on the way back 🙂

The next morning, we experienced probably the busiest 430 am wake up call in the world, as close to everyone was heading out to the banks again for the sunrise. I was a bit skeptical – is this just a hype and a credit to the Varanasi tourism bureau or will this really be spectacular? It was fantastic – the dark walk thru the markets, the boats full again, the sun coming up and shining a beautiful light on the city. Seeing it wake up to the world, watching the families and Hindu tourists take baths in Ganges and praying, kids splashing water and playing – pictures tell a better story so look below. I think most of us were a bit conflicted though. Seeing importance and emotions the river ignites in Indian people was once in a lifetime opportunity. But seeing how polluted and possibly contaminated the water is, the trash on the river bank right next to the kids swimming, the ashes from the cremated bodies thrown in (and hearing about the dead bodies being thrown in as they can’t be cremated) – it is hard to reconcile.  Enjoy the pictures…

We finished our trip with a visit to Sarnath, the place where Buddha gave his first sermon. Despite the brutal heat and humidity (the team decided to just call it a glow b/c you turn very shiny very quickly), we really enjoyed the brief history of the jainism and buddhism – and there are hundreds of stories, names, gods and traditions – so definitely a big to-do for some of us to “get a comparative religion book in local library” – you have to – once you visit these sites with so much history, tradition and spirit.

I almost forgot to mention that we met with the #ibmcsc team India 28 which is based in Varanasi for the next month. It was great to catch up, hear about their projects and for me personally to remember my fantastic IBM CSC experience – go team (picture coming later)!

And the glow? The river glows for sure – but everyone of us had a bit of a glow too – not just from the 40C degree temperatures, high humidity and the mix of repellent/hand sanitizers – but from being in a place of such a significant history, tradition and spirit.


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Brand unification and superior destination management, portal to success in tourism?


Pic : IBM SCC@Huizhou team presenting the report to Mayor Mai Jiaomeng, Huizhou city, China

I had to end my previous blog with questions instead of answers, however I hope to satisfy you with all the answers in this blog. Rightly, all the questions on Destination Management Organisation(DMO) are centered around viability and on how well proven the concept is.

  1. The first question focused on the difficulty in gaining trust from the service providers in a city, where tourism was already down. Also, a new organisation with government representatives, self-focused private operators, would they succeed in bringing back prosperity to tourism city destination?

I feel the best way to respond to this question is to stay on fundamentals. When tourism is down, all service providers have built up capability and are underutilized. In this situation, if the stakeholders have a champion, who shows them a way back to prosperity, slowly and steadily people will sign up. Sincerity of purpose, inspiring leadership and charter which would guide the new DMO organisation are good to get started. The road to prosperity is bound to climb steadily and at one stage take off to a bigger plane, by virtue of the enhanced attractiveness of a unified tourism brand, offering.

  1. The IT platform(front office and back office) was a critical enabling factor, could the DMO afford it? Who would take the risk and invest before members signed up to leverage this integrated platform? Who is the elusive but critical sponsor, putting in seed capital?

Physical organisation with a charter to guide members and leadership team is one thing, but to build a sophisticated Sales, Marketing, CRM, Analytics, Portal & financial is quite another thing. However, this digital online manifestation of a superior unified tourist centric engagement model, hence a must have. There was a challenge to make this affordable to a Tier 3 city. Firstly, the city in the case of Huizhou stood up and sponsored the program of unifying Huizhou Tourism Brand and integrating the tourism ecosystem. This undoubtedly was the first thing to tick off on the checklist. After this, the going is smooth if the charter for the DMO is ready, Tourism Bureau and the first movers nominate or delegate staff to get the DMO started.

  1. Have Tourism boards been successful with DMO approach? Is this a passing fad or sustainable?

I had to do considerable research on the track record of cities or counties which had implemented the DMO model. In the end, I hit gold. I came across no less than thirty case studies, documents outlining DMO concept, organisational recommendations, Three Recommended Practice Areas and considerable insights on the makeup of DMO. As a result, I can very confidently say that there are multiple success stories exemplifying Innovations done, Best Industry Practices which helped some DMOs establish a superior marketplace and Core practices which strengthened the unified city tourism brand. I also believe that this is the future of tourism, we will see more and more destinations promoting and managing tourist experience.

DMo best practice area

Pic : The three recommended practice areas

  1. Can we recommend to Huizhou a well thought of DMO based business model?

Yes, indeed! We could outline to our client the model, recommend practice Areas which ought to guide the charter for the new DMO they should build, Accreditations they need to go after, role of advocates and champions in helping the formative years of the DMO, examples of success stories and comforting statistics that more than 60% of the DMO organisation are ‘Not for Profit’. This was a perfect answer to the City provincial Government’s executive Delegate, who asked for a solution which would work for someone the size of Huizhou( a city of 5 Million people) and work inspite of them not being market leaders. We put out a clear message that there was a need for startup capital to kick start the DMO concept, for the city to endorse and bless this initiative.

Subsequent costs would be supported from revenue of sales and gains made by service providers due to the gains made by service providers due to the DMO digital platform. DMO statistics also show that almost Advertising, Pooled Promotion Budget and Membership Fees constitute more than 75% of DMO revenue.

DMO solution view

Pic : Solution view of Tourism ecosystem platform including the backend

Subsequent costs would be supported from revenue of sales and gains made by service providers due to the gains made by service providers due to the DMO digital platform. DMO statistics also show that almost Advertising, Pooled Promotion Budget and Membership Fees constitute more than 75% of DMO revenue.

Coming back to the media question ‘Is DMO a proven business model and how would it specifically solve Huizhou’s tourism problem?’ We have enough reference information to establish DMO as an emerging STAR, relevant to Huizhou Smarter Tourism approach, which would now interlock into Smarter City approach of Huizhou city itself. DMO would transform Tourism approach, equipping it with a State Of The Art Digital Platform. This would be a game changer making Huizhou tourism visible when tourist were researching about their holiday and when they were firming up their travel plans.

I also came across a brilliant DMO case study of Serbia. Serbia had a similar problem, shrinking tourism inflow, limited international appeal and no outstanding star attraction. Serbia commissioned a study and selected Events Hosting as a major focus. They shortlisted 150 upcoming events, presented these sales leads to the DMO members, got the interested members organized by opportunity teams. They bid under the banner of Serbia Bid Alliance, with a win rate of more than 50%. Happy with this new found success, they continued the focus into the following two years with similar success. There are innumerable examples, Wonderful Copenhagen(WoCo), Newport Beach and Micro Market Segmentation in Destination Canada program.


Pic : Author at the Red Flower Lake, Huizhou

It appears to me that we are seeing a new trend in its infancy, I do believe that many of the aspirational destinations would adopt DMO approach, in the coming years. I am happy that, we could bring such a powerful emerging trend to the notice of our client.

Ravi Shankar S N, Global Leader Travel & Transportation Centre of Competence, IBM

These are the views of the Blog author and not of IBM

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Three more cups of tea…

Two days of interviews…. 11 cups of tea, 3 cups of juice, 30 cookies, handfuls of cashews,  raisins, 1 sandwich, and 1 patty.  “Uncle!!!!”  The hospitality in India is beyond compare – from the the Indian Navy Chief of Staff to the Commissioner of Police to the pig at the Vizag Dump!  This city is amazing, this team is on its way to fulfilling our Destiny.  Three cups of tea to go!

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SCC@Huizhou Shows Dedication To Deliver!!

Our first weekend in Huizhou did not go quite as planned, but that did not stop the SCC Huizhou “Fantastic Five” (Kaaren, Ravi, Susan, Joe and myself) from making the most of our time in Huizhou.  We awoke Saturday morning to rain in the form of heavy and consistent downpours!!  Clearly our trip to Luofo Mountain needed to be rescheduled.  Undeterred, the team members set off to take advantage of the opportunity to explore more local cultural sites including a visit to the East River Antique Fold Custom Museum and the Yiwu market.

We had hopes for a better Sunday, but mother nature did not agree.  We’d put aside a couple hours for work on Sunday to organize our findings from the prior weeks activities and begin to prepare for a validation meeting on Monday with Ms Zhou ( Deputy Secretary-general of Huizhou Municipal Government) and Ms Huang (Tourism Bureau). Our Sunday workday extended into 6 hours as we identified, condensed and prioritized our “emerging ideas” from over 20 down to a core 12.  Our ideas seemed to organize themselves into different tourism related areas or domains. We began to construct these into a framework we might use to deliver our recommendations, as well as recognize key tourism related initiatives already underway in the Huizhou Tourism Bureau.

We closed up for the day realizing how much we had discovered in our first week, and thankful we spent the extra time paring down our focus for the start of week 2.

Claudia Pascoe Ziegler on behalf of SCC@Huizhou

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Final Thoughts…

As I sit here in Denver, just 2 shorts weeks after having returned from Pyeongchang, I’m still in awe of my experience! It seems like forever ago that we were all together as a team…Antonio, Sunny, Souvik, Stephanie, Justin and Ji-Hyun…my new friends!


I can’t help but remember all the amazing experiences we shared with each other and with our lifelong friends in Pyeongchang. Such an amazing and life changing journey! From day 1 when we met at a rest stop in the middle of Korea, heading east on the Yeongdong Expressway, to our final goodbyes in Seoul before we all ventured back to our homes…every moment was special…every moment will stay with me until we meet again….

Thank you to Pyeongchang for giving us this unique opportunity. Thank you to IBM for bringing us all together to make an impact. Thank you to my husband for letting me leave you alone for 3+ weeks with our two children (under 5) to let me go on this journey.

Thank you Sunny for your smiles.


Thank you Justin for your stories.


Thank you Antonio for your humility.


Thank you Souvik for your knowledge.


Thank you Stephanie for your leadership.


Thank you Ji-Hyun for your laughter.


It’s impossible to highlight everything from our experience, but I wanted to share a few of my favorite photos from our journey…











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