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Smarter Cities Challenge

In the 1960s, the world was a simpler place. The Cold War structured the international system, sovereign states were the main international actors, physical (versus virtual) warfare was the main security threat, and economic barriers limited international trade
and finance. The news cycle was longer than 24 hours, and there was no internet. But today’s states and multinational organizations share a very different world with financial institutions and corporations, non-profit organizations, terrorists, drug cartels, even pirates. “Sovereign states” aren’t as sovereign as they used to be, and security threats include vulnerable financial markets, failed states, cyber threats, infectious diseases, terrorism
and climate change.

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Today, two non-traditional actors – American private foundations and U.S. corporate philanthropies – exercise a degree of global reach and influence that once was the province of states and multinational organizations. Over just the last two decades, we have witnessed a huge increase in the number and size of private foundations and the scale of their international activities as they pursue social, economic and even political change. U.S. corporations also are increasingly global, and are involved in social, environmental, health and other public issues in the countries where they operate.

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Cities around the world face issues that are unique to urban environments, but just as often, it takes a broader approach to solve them. Less than one year after Reno, Nevada (United States) received an IBM Smarter Cities Challenge grant, the city assembled 11 local and regional agencies to agree on an action plan to implement the recommendations of their IBM team – the first Smarter Region Summit of its kind in the area. By bringing together local governments, regional planners, K-12 and higher education, businesses, tourism and the airport authority, these leaders are poised to make great progress on the city’s vision for economic development and industry growth across the region.

Reno Mayor Robert Cashell (center) with members of his staff and the IBM Smarter Cities Challenge team

Reno Mayor Robert Cashell (center) with members of his staff and the IBM Smarter Cities Challenge team

I recently had a chance to speak with Reno Mayor Robert Cashell to understand how IBM’s expertise is helping the region to engage as a collaborative team, and what he sees on the horizon after his mayoral term ends in a few short months.

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Jen Crozier: How did the Smarter Cities Challenge grant change the way you approach economic development in Reno?

Robert Cashell: The Smarter Cities Challenge grant fundamentally changed the way that Reno understands and undertakes economic development. The IBM team gave us a long overdue and much needed “outside-in” perspective. They told us that for Reno to improve our economic development outcomes, we needed to change our mindset and start acting cooperatively with other agencies and other units of local government in our area – primarily, the City of Sparks and Washoe County. Rather than competing against each other to attract new industrial growth, which is what we had been doing, we would achieve more by working together. The team also told us that we would be better off by allowing the private sector – which is our regional development authority – to lead the charge.

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Big Data is all the rage these days – from helping doctors diagnose patients by using analytics to sift through decades of historical information, to allowing marketers to learn how to better personalize experiences for customers. But there often isn’t the chance for citizens to see how data might affect their everyday lives up close and personal.

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Here at the Chicago Architecture Foundation (CAF), we wanted to show citizens how data provides a critical lens for exploring and understanding the design issues that matter, like community health, safety and sustainability. To do this, we devised the upcoming exhibition Chicago: City of Big Data. Opening yesterday, the exhibition explores the digital age of urban design and shows Chicago the effects of Big Data on the city’s lifeblood.

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It’s been years since we learned that the world is “flat” and that all enterprises – whether commercial, governmental or non-profit – are globally connected. But what we’re still learning in this era of global integration is how to prepare the next generation of leaders to realize what we characterize as the triple benefit – developing their skills while solving communities’ problems and opening new markets. This isn’t just a “business” problem.
It’s an issue that impacts – and will shape the future of – almost every human endeavor
on the planet.

From right: PYXERA Global CEO Deirdre White, IBM Corporate Citizenship & Corporate Affairs Vice President Stanley S. Litow, and moderator Nina Easton discuss "Shared Value -- Forging a Pathway of Partnership" at the PYXERA Global 5th Anniversary ICV Conference.

From right: PYXERA Global CEO Deirdre White, IBM Corporate Citizenship & Corporate Affairs Vice President Stanley S. Litow, and moderator Nina Easton discuss “Shared Value — Forging a Pathway of Partnership” at the PYXERA Global 5th Anniversary ICV Conference.

Running our cities, educating our children, protecting our health and sustaining our environment are just some of the world’s critical challenges that no single company or  economic sector can address or solve alone. Mastering the world’s challenges requires the world’s collective intelligence and expertise and true collaboration. That’s why legacy models of top-down corporate philanthropy have become obsolete. In their place have arisen innovative approaches to transforming the ways we interact, learn and lead. At IBM, these approaches involve maximizing the value of our most important assets – the time and talent of our employees – versus merely donating our excess cash.

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It’s no secret that in today’s economy city governments have to make the best of limited resources. The good news is that they have a powerful tool already at their disposal – one they’ve been gathering for years. That tool is data. As we congratulate the next group of cities and regions around the world to win IBM Smarter Cities Challenge grants, we pause to reflect on our long-term partnerships to help cities become better places to live and work, and revisit earlier winners to share news of their progress toward this goal.

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With the help of a Smarter Cities Challenge grant that was delivered in late 2011, the City of Syracuse, New York has figured out how to use data to make smarter decisions around its vacant property problem. The city has been able to target nearly 2,000 vacant properties to reclaim. This effort is revitalizing neighborhoods and is expected to provide the city with millions of dollars in back taxes over the next eight years. I recently had a chance to speak with Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner to understand how IBM’s data expertise is helping her revitalize communities in her city.

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Jen Crozier: How did the Smarter Cities Challenge grant change the way you make decisions for the City of Syracuse?

Stephanie Miner: The Smarter Cities Challenge enabled us to use data and analytics to help make decisions so we could focus the city’s resources on areas where they would be most effective. In some cases, some of our data goes back to the founding of our city. What we needed – and what the Smarter Cities Challenge team helped us realize – was a way to transform data into meaningful and actionable information. Working with the Smarter Cities team, we were able harness data from various city departments and use it in models to develop strategies for infrastructure and other types of investments to stabilize and revitalize our neighborhoods.

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The practice of corporate citizenship can take varying forms at different organizations. At IBM, corporate citizenship is fully integrated into the company’s overall business strategy. This integration enables IBM – and IBMers – to affect meaningful and sustainable change for our citizenship clients. In the first of a series of articles on the practice of corporate citizenship, Corporate Citizenship & Corporate Affairs Director for the Americas Doris González outlines the critical role of the corporate citizenship manager as influencer, partner and IBM brand ambassador to public and private sector entities working to build
a smarter planet.

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Though it first emerged in the 1960s, the field of corporate citizenship or corporate responsibility began to get mainstream acceptance in the 1990s as the “new big idea in the business world.” Over the years, corporate citizenship has continued to evolve and mature into a field with great career opportunities, representing the face – and heart – of
a company.

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At IBM, social responsibility has been built into the very fabric of the company since it was founded more than a century ago. As the practice of corporate citizenship has evolved, the role of the corporate citizenship manager also has progressed from overseeing the disbursement of cash grants to developing strategies to apply IBM’s best talent and technology to solving the world’s toughest societal issues in such areas as education, global health, literacy, economic development and environmental sustainability. Business and citizenship strategies must be aligned to be sustainable. As part of that strategic alignment, we focus our resources on specific efforts to help educators and school systems, nonprofit organizations and cities succeed. In the process, we develop leadership and collaboration skills among our employees, and open new markets to our business.

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The concepts of philanthropy and corporate giving have evolved over the years from localized donations by individuals of great wealth to “strategic” corporate giving to today’s progressive practice of creating sustainable value across the globe. IBM has pioneered numerous corporate social responsibility (CSR) innovations that emphasize the sharing of technologies and expertise to address challenges faced by cities, by developing regions,
by those seeking a way out of poverty through education and training, and by humanitarian researchers searching for everything from solutions to environmental issues to cures
for disease.

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In my recent conversation with the Chinese-language edition of the Harvard Business Review, I discussed the IBM Smarter Cities Challenge engagement in New Taipei City as
an example of how my company integrates corporate citizenship with business strategy to build relationships and new leaders while addressing societal problems around the world.
At IBM, we believe that innovation in corporate social responsibility holds the key to benefiting our enterprise and employees as we build a smarter planet.

Louise Davis is the IBM Growth Markets Corporate Citizenship & Corporate Affairs Executive for Asia Pacific.

Related Resources:

Harvard Business Review in Chinese Interview with Louise Davis (in Chinese)

Harvard Business Review in Chinese Interview with Louise Davis (in English)

Applying Technology and Expertise to Global Societal Problems

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(Versão em Português do Brasil abaixo)

The participation of the City of Porto Alegre, Brazil in the IBM Smarter Cities Challenge was definitely a milestone for us all in the municipal government. The work done by the IBM executives who participated in the program resulted in a real action plan for our teams, and prompted profound reflection among our managers and leaders. With help from the IBM team, we were not only able to map more precisely a number of initiatives that were already underway in the city, but also were able to discover and develop new approaches to our efforts. Our work with the Smarter Cities Challenge team helped us see more clearly the connection between how we manage Porto Alegre and important global trends.

Mayor Fortunati addresses the Smarter Cities Challenge team

Mayor Fortunati addresses the Smarter Cities Challenge team

Covering aspects such as citizen participation, urban mobility, social interaction and open data, the Smarter Cities Challenge team encouraged us to pursue a number of initiatives. We are in the process of enhancing opportunities for citizen engagement (for which Porto Alegre already is internationally recognized) through programs that are being developed and that we can hopefully announce soon.

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October 9th, 2013
8:00
 

Imagine a city in which cognitive systems – tools to gather and analyze massive amounts of data from such sources as embedded street sensors, traffic cameras power grid usage indicators – will augment human capabilities to aid decision making. In this type of Smarter City, municipal authorities will be able to improve traffic flow, entrepreneurs will be better able to understand and mitigate risk, and ordinary citizens will be able to interact with (and benefit from) their cities as never before.

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Imagine also that cognitive technologies like those in the IBM Watson system that won on the TV quiz show Jeopardy! will enable new levels of sophistication and effective service from civic organizations, nonprofits and skilled volunteers – not to mention disaster preparation and recovery. These are just some of the promises of cognitive cities.

It may sound like science fiction, but the movement already has begun. Read my recent Forbes article “New Tech Will Change the Way Cities and Businesses Solve Problems” for a deeper explanation of how cognitive systems will transform life in the world’s smarter cities. Then check out the references below to see what mayors and other city leaders are saying about how IBM technology and expertise is making their cities smarter…today.

Katharine Frase, Ph.D., is Chief Technology Officer of IBM Smarter Cities.

Related Resources:

Learn more about cognitive systems. Download a free chapter from Smart Machines: IBM’s Watson and the Era of Cognitive Computing (forthcoming)

Find out more about the IBM Smarter Cities Challenge

Read what mayors are saying about the Smarter Cities Challenge program

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Today marks the beginning of the next phase of IBM’s Smarter Cities Challenge competitive grants program, which deploys teams of our top talent to perform pro bono problem solving for cities and municipal regions worldwide. We’re building on the success of the program’s first three years, during which 600 IBM experts on six-person teams provided strategic and practical advice to 100 cities. In all, IBMers provided more than 100,000 hours of business and technical expertise through this game-changing program that began in the company’s 100th year.

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Valued at USD $400,000 each, the three-week Smarter Cities Challenge engagements have helped cities address key challenges in the areas of economic development; water, energy and environment; health and social services; transportation; and public safety. During the course of forming partnerships with influencers and constituencies from government, citizen groups, businesses and nonprofits, we have gathered diverse perspectives on the causes and potential solutions to a variety of urban challenges. While each city is unique, our work has enabled us to identify common characteristics and themes that have improved the subsequent effectiveness of our teams.

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