CityNext - Managed Solution

Collaborating with Cities for Sustainability

As written on
Throughout the week here on our blog, we’ve highlighted many ways that Microsoft is working—through our staff and with our business and nonprofit partners around the world—to bring our tools and technology to bear in addressing some of the most pressing global challenges, such as increasing access to clean and affordable water, food and energy for people around the world.
Nowhere are those challenges more acute than in the world’s cities, where increasing population is placing a greater strain on limited economic and environmental resources and forcing cities to operate with greater and greater efficiency. It is forecasted that by 2050 more than 6 billion people, about 70 percent of the global population, will live in urban areas.
At Microsoft, we know that efficiency drives sustainability, and that by working closely with cities and partners we can develop technology-driven solutions to help communities cope with increasing strains on their resources. A few years ago, I was fortunate to work on our CityNext program—a program designed to help cities better manage their infrastructure. Through CityNext, our company has helped local communities cut costs and reduce their environmental impact by optimizing their city operations and transforming their management of key resources.
In Washington state, for example, Microsoft worked with Accenture and the City of Seattle to equip buildings with smart systems that helped improve energy conservation. Through the use of sensors and cloud technology, public buildings send energy consumption data to cloud-based reporting portals, allowing building managers to more easily monitor energy use, identify potential waste and make educated adjustments to improve energy efficiency. It’s a broader application of the same technology solution Microsoft developed to manage its own energy use at our 88-acre campus in Redmond, Washington.
In Finland, Microsoft worked with the City of Helsinki bus team and our tech partner CGI to develop a smarter transit system. We utilized the city’s existing warehouse systems to create a cloud-based solution for the collection and analysis of travel data. The city was then able to leverage this data to reduce its fuel costs and consumption, increase travel safety, and improve driver performance. These efforts also helped the city’s bus system compete for riders in a market already crowded with private vendors because of its enhanced efficiency.
In addition, in China Microsoft Research Lab Asia created a mapping tool called Urban Air that allows users to see, and even predict, air quality levels across 72 cities in China. The tool leverages big data and machine learning to provide real-time, detailed air quality information, to help inform local decision-making by both residents and governments. Citizens can easily check outdoor conditions via a mobile app that is used about three million times per day. And governments can use the data to figure out where traffic or factory production is causing the most pollution, and then take steps to help mitigate it.
Our work with cities and local communities continues to evolve as new opportunities arise. As we wrap up Earth Week here on Microsoft Green, we want to highlight a few recent examples of how our company and its employees are supporting local sustainability efforts in cities such as Chicago, Boston and San Francisco.

In Chicago, Microsoft is helping the city design new ways to gather data and properly utilize predictive analytics in order to better address water, infrastructure, energy, and transportation challenges. Last fall, City Digital kicked off a pilot program to create an underground infrastructure mapping (UIM) platform that generates, organizes, visualizes, and stores 3D underground infrastructure data to help inform city planning.

In Boston, Microsoft is working to help spread information about the variety of urban farming programs in Boston, and the potential of AI and other technology to increase their impact. Microsoft’s Aimee Sprung is a member the Board of Overseers at Boston’s Museum of Science and recently spoke on a panel about “The Future of Your Food.”

San Francisco
In the Bay Area, Microsoft is working closely with our partner Athena Intelligence to use their data processing and visualization platform to gather valuable data about land, food, water and energy in order to improve local decision-making.



Flex—delivering supply chain innovation on a global scale with Office 365

By John Wrenn as written on
Global enterprises often struggle to maintain the kind of fast-moving culture of innovation that smaller companies appear to employ effortlessly. But this is a time of change in business, and thanks to technology advancements, global companies can communicate almost as quickly as a team working side by side. Now, companies like Flex can reach across geographical boundaries to serve global customers even more effectively than ever before. At Flex, our approximately 200,000 employees handle prototyping, design, manufacturing and logistics for customers worldwide. We’re operating as a single, cohesive company focused on innovation. It’s not just that we can communicate and collaborate efficiently among our more than 100 factories or between headquarters and our various business centers. We’re taking our focus on reinvention a step further by empowering all employees to share their ideas and experience to make Flex even more nimble.
The notion of continuous improvement is well established, but we wanted to make sure we’re capturing opportunities to enhance operations across every facet of our business—from the IT department to the factory floor. We’re supporting that effort with Microsoft Office 365, using the integrated apps not just for cross-company teamwork, but also as the basis for applications that foster innovation and process improvements. For example, we’ve built an ideation portal on Microsoft SharePoint Online where we can crowdsource ideas. Employees submit and vote on ideas, and we see which ideas gain momentum and buy-in. We’ve even included some gamification around the winning ideas to encourage our whole workforce to participate.
Giving employees the opportunity to see their ideas come to life is rewarding and empowering. It also benefits the operational efficiency of our business and enhances our level of service for customers. Supporting bottom-up communication is paramount to our ability to improve, because our employees see how things work every day and think about new ways to deliver improved results. And most important, employees can make an impact on a global level when their ideas are implemented as part of a workflow used by other colleagues.
We’ve also created interactive SharePoint Online communities for our project managers and salespeople, who can use Yammer directly from within the SharePoint Online sites or on their smartphones with the Office 365 mobile apps. Employees can freely engage with each other across geographic and hierarchical boundaries, communicating and cooperating throughout the company. Whether it’s for customer onboarding, production-line setup, materials distribution or new IT projects, select employees are using Office 365 to help us share expertise and foster better teamwork across Flex.
Our customers count on us to deliver the best solutions for their success. Showcasing the ways in which we’re tapping into our own knowledge base to become a stronger company makes us a better business partner and a smarter employer. The kinds of unified, open communication and support for innovation that we’re providing through Office 365 help us meet those goals in the modern workplace.


The Key to Global Empowerment is Technology

By Tanner Taddeo as written on
With the exponential growth in technology, the world has seen not only profound change in various industries, but also a fundamental shift in the structure to our global society.
To unwrap this bit of jargon, let’s look at the intersection of human rights and technology. The fundamental nature of human rights is to allow individuals to exercise their autonomy, liberty and free will, insofar as it doesn’t infringe upon the rights and liberties of others. Broadly speaking, governments are supposed to provide the protection under which the citizenry can freely exercise such will.
Historically, sovereignty has been the golden rule that must not be violated, regardless of what actions take place within the confines of a given territory. This has given authoritarian leaders the freedom to rule as they please. But with the advent of Right to Protect, deriving from the Rome Statute, the emerging customary law opens the door for countries to yield their sovereign rights if they fail to uphold and protect basic human rights.
While this is a monumental leap for international law and human rights, it still begs a more practical question: Outside of rhetoric and tough speak, how can we empower individuals living in countries that lack adequate civil societies to bolster state institutions, have a say in the national dialogue, usher in an era of accountability and transparency to the political system(s) and exercise their human rights? The answer seems to reside in technology.

Technology can … empower individuals through networks, information and digital trade.

Take for example Ushahidi, a company that runs an open-source tech platform developed to map outbreaks of violence in Kenya. Here, technology is used as a means of an emergency tool for individuals to report, monitor and evaluate violence in given communities. Such technology is helping facilitate a decline in community violence and abuse toward women.
In countries where access to capital is lacking because of inadequate financial institutions, micro-loans and peer-to-peer money transfers have allowed small business to not only spring up, but also stimulate local economies. To put the potential in perspective, the International Finance Corporation estimates that “up to 84% of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Africa are either un-served or underserved, representing a value gap in credit financing of US$140- to 170-billion.”
In countries where systemic subjugation and deprivation is run-of-the-mill, individuals using the power of social media are showcasing to the world the gross negligence of their government(s) and forcing world leaders to respond.
While civil society, rule of law and regulatory mechanisms surely cannot spring up overnight, the world does not have the luxury to wait and watch its slow evolution. Technology can circumvent traditional processes and empower individuals through networks, information and digital trade. Technology emboldens the notion of human rights, quite literally, with the touch of a hand.
The question is, will governments around the world back the inevitable tide of technology or will they cling to tradition?


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