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Efharisto and Antio Thessaloniki!

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.


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.


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


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.

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.

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.


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.

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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The Universal Language of Post-it Notes


It’s Saturday night and the Post-it notes are flying as the team conducts an impromptu design thinking session to outline key issues identified during our discovery sessions over the first five days.

After 20 plus stakeholder meetings with organizations spanning government, academia, private sector, start-ups, and NGOs, the team appreciates the complexity of the landscape and multitude of challenges.


A few trends are coming into focus and we’re eager to plot out potential solutions and a framework for the recommendations report. Especially since the local media has already begun to report on our presence and expectations are high to deliver.  The meetings last week were far from speed dating sessions, quite the opposite.  Many ran about two hours in duration, some even longer, as the various participants in the local ecosystem have much to offer in the way of insights and knowledge sharing. Thankfully these meetings included espresso and κουλουρακι to keep the team laser focused (thanks to our hosts’ Nespresso machines were located at all meeting sites!).

Though Sunday for most of the team is traditionally a day of rest, a unanimous decision over lunch today was that we will do an additional stakeholder meeting tomorrow and skip our tourist excursion in order to ensure we’re prepared for the week ahead.

Still, we’re making time to fulfill our civic duty and assist the local economy.


We were able to squeeze in a fun Friday evening visiting an amazing restaurant just outside of the city, Duck Private Cheffing, for an open kitchen dining experience. And today we visited the Ancient City of Vergina to tour the tomb of King Philip II. We all agree that if we had the power of King Phillip we could get this project done much sooner!

More on IBM’s Smarter Cities Team Thessaloniki
Thessaloniki Smarter Cities Team // Week One
Team Salonika Heads Back to School
Thessaloniki: Many Stories, One Heart


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Thessaloniki Smarter Cities Team // Week One


Our philanthropic assignment to spread the gospel of ‘open data’ has officially begun with the Smarter Cities Challenge team arriving in Thessaloniki, Greece. The city, the second largest in the country, features more than a million citizens, an exceptional university community with more than 100,000 students, a rich history with multi cultural experiences attracting local and international tourism, and a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem.


Thessaloniki was selected from more than 100 cities with a grant of service from IBM’s Corporate Citizenship. City leaders want to foster a broad environment for data sharing in order to improve the city and increase economic competitiveness. Over the next three weeks we’ll establish a well defined road map that can be used by the city to implement an open data platform designed to fuel local innovation, enhance city insights, decision making, and transparency, and improve services for residents and visitors.

As we’re working from the country where the Olympics were born, we learned quickly that our project will be a record-breaking three week sprint, including a few hurdles. While the city has a wealth of intellectual talent and a progressive outlook towards data and technology, the community has faced intense pressures. A massive recession is underway throughout Greece, there is an ongoing issue with brain drain as young professionals seek opportunities in other markets, and the region is managing a significant refuge crisis. As a result, the city is dealing with budget and resourcing limitations as they work to modernize.

The first three days have been dedicated to meeting with Mayor Yiannis Boutaris, his leadership team including Lina Liakou and Babis Tsitlakidis, and third party stakeholders — more than a dozen fact finding sessions have occurred thus far — to align with the goals of the municipality. Our team was asked to present to the Mayor and key constituents to detail our approach and now we’re working quickly to ensure there is a consistent and unified view of what ‘open data’ is and an understanding of where the domains of data reside.

These meetings have been inspiring. While facing many challenges, the people of the city are eternally optimistic and creative in finding solutions to ensure they’re providing quality services to their citizens and those new to the community.

As we dive in, we’re guided by a highly engaged IBM General Manager, Spyros Poulidas. A respected European business leader, Mr. Poulidas has provided a great deal of insight on the micro and macro economic environment our team must be sensitive to as we collaborate with local officials. Xenia Zoppas, who leads Marketing, Communications and Citizenship for IBM Greece, has also helped us with her strong client and influencer relationships to quickly immerse ourselves in the local ecosystem.

It will be an exciting and intense three weeks and our IBM team is fortunate to include individuals with very diverse skills. An executive architect and member of the IBM Academy of Technology from Bangalore, a Bluemix developer specializing in Watson from São Paulo, a communications and marketing professional from Washington with a background in public sector and cognitive computing, from New York a finance and planning expert and a serial entrepreneur experienced with start-up cultures, and a government and public sector industry advisor from Germany who is fluent in Greek!

The IBM Smarter Cities team (L to R) including Xenia Zoppas, Rahul Chenny, Priscilla Parodi, Anil Arora, IBM Greece General Manager Spyros Poulidas and Deputy Mayor of Thessaloniki Lina Liakou, Lia Davis, Georgios Pakos and Tim Coates.

Demonstrating our commitment to agile, the team has already overcome missed flights, lost luggage, and little sleep, to hit the ground running. And we’ve embraced the culture, relying on strong espresso and a little Mastica to keep the ideas flowing.

More on our efforts to come … μέχρι την επόμενη φορά (till the next time)!

More on IBM’s Smarter Cities Team Thessaloniki
The Universal Language of Post-it Notes
Team Salonika Heads Back to School
Thessaloniki: Many Stories, One Heart

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Work continues

Monday work resumed at full steam…  We had the weekend to digest all the information we absorbed during the first week (although we all felt we had been here for at least a month).  We prepared for our first major checkpoint with Mr. Cesar Busatto, secretary of Governance, which happened on Tuesday.  Our meeting confirmed that our findings and understanding were in line with Mr. Busatto’s views.  However, it was also clear that Mr. Busatto expected us to get to the next level of detail…  Much work had been done, but much more remains ahead of us.

This week we have started splitting the work, with workstreams focused on Data, Participation/Communication, Finance, Governance and Cognitive City.  We also scheduled follow-up meetings with some of the stakeholders we had met last week (e.g., Procempa – the IT company, the Participatory Budgeting counselors, etc.) and a few new ones.

One of the most interesting meetings happened today, where we had the opportunity to get with the Porto Alegre CITE team – Comunidade + Inovação + Tecnologia + Empreendedorismo (Community, Innovation, Technology and Entrepreneurship), a technology/entrepreneurship greenhouse funded by local entrepreneurs such as José Cesar Martins who hosted us in his house upon our arrival.  We met in Nos Coworking,

Coworking is a different way of working, where you share the same work environment with other professionals, without losing your independence.

And the cool thing is that by sharing this space, you feel like you’re in a laboratory of ideas, where every day, every hour, new experiences happen. Projects and business can be worked collaboratively and while you expand your network and make new friends.

We met there Walker Massa, Director of Nos Coworking, Marcelo Bohrer a young entrepreneur that created his own Design Company , and others.  We heard about the passion (and frustration!) around Porto Alegre, the city, its government, etc.  No doubt that this teams can be the agents of change that the city is desperately looking for…  we will meet them again!IMG_20130417_193407[1] IMG_20130417_193418[1] IMG_20130417_193630[1] IMG_20130417_193700[1]  IMG_20130417_193814[1] IMG_20130417_194002[1] IMG_20130417_195842[1] IMG_20130417_210833[1] IMG_20130417_193358[1]

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Smarter Cities Day 3: Smarter Cities Challenge Houston gets excellent press coverage

After the press conference yesterday I was happy to see the press convey why IBM is here.

KUHF (Houston Public Radio/NPR) – IBM to Provide Free Help for Houston

Examiner: Mayor Parker Launches Houston’s IBM Smarter Cities Challenge

Houston Business Journal : Houston to launch IBM Smarter Cities Challenge grant project

Wednesday is another day of discovery.  We are beginning to sink our teeth into the the challenge here in Houston.  I sunk my tooth in so hard I lost a filling and had to go to the dentist.

After our discussions with many of the stakeholders, including the mayor, I am getting a better sense as to why the Smarter Cities Challenge team wanted someone with both marketing and analytics skills.  Within the discovery we have heard about challenges around: “driving awareness”, “detecting patterns”, “need insight to be able to drive the train”.    These types of statements will help the team develop our recommendations.  What I find interesting, though not surprising, is that many of the challenges Houston faces are the same that many companies face on a day to day basis.

We are getting to the root of many of the issues and I am confident the team will come up with some excellent recommendations which will resonate at all levels of the organization.  It is the team that gives me the confidence.  Though I have been with them for only 3 days, it is clear to me why they have been selected to participate in this challenge.

Here is the team:

Beth Tracy serves as IBM Corporate Citizenship & Corporate Affairs Manager for Texas and Oklahoma.  She actively facilitates IBM’s commitment to demonstrate its principle goal of being a great community partner by improving the society in which it functions.  She supports local and state community programs and provides extensive internal and external education and awareness of these initiatives.  She continually strives to effectively build relationships and create solutions that leverage IBM resources, attract appropriate media attention and bring about desired and meaningful results.  Beth integrates IBM business and policy interests with social and public policy issues, while being responsible to local needs, developing strong, quality relationships with key decision makers in their communities, existing IBM clients, elected and appointed government officials and to seed future IBM clients.  Beth diligently works to promote IBM’s innovative programs and to expand educational programs and services throughout Texas and Oklahoma.

Prior to more than twelve years at IBM, Beth worked for the Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented; Universal Studios Florida marketing, sales, and promotions department, and Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc. publishing company.

Beth served on the Austin Chapter Executive Women International Board as 2007-2009 President; Make-A-Wish Foundation Outreach and Advancement Board, 2007-2008; United Way Capital Area’s Hands on Central Texas Advisory Board, 2004-2006. She currently serves as Vice Chair, Success by 6 Leadership Council, 2010-2011 and was recently named Chair for 2012-2013; Fox 7 Advisory Board, 2006-2011; Texas CASA Corporate Council, 2008-2011; United Way Capital Area Community Impact Cabinet Board, 2008-2011; University of Texas at Austin Scholars Council, 2011.  Beth is currently appointed to Leadership Texas Class 2012.

In 2011, Beth was presented with a Proclamation from Texas CASA as Outstanding Donor and for her longtime dedication to the Texas CASA mission; Mayor’s Appreciation Award in support of Mayor’s Leadership Forum presented by Mayor Annise Parker, Houston, TX; “Most Helpful Hand” Award from Austin Free-Net.  Beth was named 2007 Outstanding Community Affairs Executive of the Year by the Association of Fundraising Professionals.  In September, 2006, she received the President’s Award as “Representative of the Year” from Executive Women International and was nominated IBM Austin Women’s Exchange “Woman of the Year” in 2005.

Kelly Tinsley: 

Soon to mark her 16th year with IBM, Kelly has demonstrated expertise in providing lifecycle engagement management, program/project management of custom and package (COTS) software implementations as evidenced by the successful deployment of two Statewide and three Local complex system implementations. Ms. Tinsley has proven leadership and delivery execution competency in all aspects of IBM team’s performance, including establishment of PMO and program governance, cost, schedule, quality performance, and global delivery management.

Over the past seven years, Kelly has delivered successful human services solutions using packaged and custom development methodologies in Integrated Eligibility, Unemployment Insurance and Child Welfare. In addition, Kelly served as the Project Manager for IBM’s Corporate Citizenship and Corporate Affairs SafetyNet for Non Profits solution which, to date, has been implemented in four NYC based non-profit organizations since 2010. In her 25 year career history, Kelly’s experience has been in multiple industries: government, automotive, education, finance, and real estate as consultant, project manager and people manager…from Detroit, Michigan to New York City, to Tokyo, Japan. Kelly is active in her Detroit, Michigan community and has served as President of the Vision Fair Foundation, an organization charged with developing programs which address issues of at-risk families and are geared to prevent the generational cycle of poverty, teen pregnancy and educational stagnation.

Kelly has a Master’s Degree in Finance and Asian Studies from the University of Michigan and a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Japanese and French from Georgetown University.

Mike Davies:

Mike Davies currently serves in a management position providing information technology and technical education services for a mid sized organization within IBM Software Group. In this role Mike is responsible for leading teams that manage hardware and software assets, tools improving productivity and access to information, services concentrated in information technology areas and resource management for lab, personal and smart devices. In addition, Mike leads teams responsible for establishing processes, providing governance of best practices, and producing and delivering technical learning to a geographically disbursed organization.

As he begins to establish his new organization, Mike’s teams will also be responsible for organizing and maintaining information and providing resources to a wide variety of consumers in multiple ways that extend beyond traditional classroom learning. Recently beginning work to explore education delivery on mobile devices, packaging information in modular, self directed formats and instituting a series of You Tube videos to help people maintain relevant skills with new software technology.

Mike has been with IBM for nearly 14 years, serving in a variety of technical and leadership positions in customer support and education. Previously Mike worked for Sterling Software and the United States Air Force as a computer and database administrator, serving in multiple countries including Korea, Italy, the Middle East and Latin America. He is a married father of three girls and a boy, a native Texan, born in Houston and raised in East Texas.

Gary Zeien: 

is an IT Architect with nearly 30 years of experience in software development, technology and business consulting, and in technical sales organizations. This broad experience has enabled Gary with the business and technical skills required to design and implement solutions that provide value to his clients. Gary’s business experience includes working in manufacturing environments (warehouse management and warranty solutions), agricultural products environment (Commodity/futures management solution), and the travel industry (business travel booking/management solution).

For the last 10 years he has specialized in solutions in the retail industry. His technical and architectural experience includes designing Web 2.0 enterprise scale component based, services oriented, process driven, event enabled, distributed solutions using JEE architecture and software solutions from IBM, open source, and other solution vendors.

He is also a leader in developing innovative concepts to leverage model based tooling in the design and development of software solutions and to enable social collaboration within large organizations.

Shinichi Nakashio:

Shinichi Nakashio is the service leader for Business Analytics and Optimization (BAO), Distribution / Public / Communication Sector in IBM Global Business Solutions-Japan. Launched in April 2009, IBM’s BAO service line draws on the company’s deep expertise in vertical industries, research, mathematics and information management to help clients improve the speed and quality of business decisions while better understanding the consequences and business outcomes of those decisions.

Mr. Nakashio has over 29 years as an IBMer, 20 of them is consulting experience for business process management / business process re-design with IT planning for system solution implementation. His remarkable competency is bridging business and IT, which realize strategic alignment through strategy, operation (business process), application and IT infrastructure. He also has deep knowledge and experience for Enterprise Architecture (EA) and SOA (Service Oriented Architecture), to build strong thought leadership as a Global CoC (Center of Competency) member in IBM Global.

Mr. Nakashio took up teaching an “Intellectual Creation”, management course for business persons, at Kanazawa Institute of Technology as visiting professor.

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