Department of Neighborhoods

Press Release

IBM Experts Present Houston's IBM Smarter Cities Challenge Report to Mayor Parker, City Council and Community Stakeholders
Recommendations Focus on Community Engagement, Streamlining Processes and Analytics to Enhance City Services



August 24, 2012 -- Houston Mayor Annise Parker and City Council members were joined by community partners in the Council chamber today for the presentation of the City of Houston’s IBM Smarter Cities Challenge project report. The report of findings was presented by a visiting team of IBM experts, which led the three-week project. The project was supported by an IBM grant awarded to the City’s Department of Neighborhoods under IBM’s Smarter Cities Challenge grant program. The program is part of IBM’s three-year philanthropic initiative, which provides the company’s top talent and expertise to cities and counties to address key challenges. The City of Houston is one of eight municipalities in the U.S. awarded a grant, each valued at $400,000.


“Houston’s IBM Smarter Cities Challenge has given us an opportunity to engage key community partners and stakeholders as we continually try to better connect residents to the services and information they need,” said Mayor Parker. “Through the generosity of IBM and the guidance of its team, the City has gained an increased understanding of ways we can offer resources more effectively to Houstonians. We look forward to receiving the complete road map in the coming weeks.”


The five members of the IBM team are: Gary Zeien, Executive Architect – Minnesota; Brendan Grady, Marketing Program Director – Maine; Kelly Tinsley, Associate Partner, Operations & Supply Chain Management, Social Services – Michigan; Mike Davies, Manager, Shared Services – Texas; and Shinichi Nakashio, Partner, Business Analytics Optimization, Practice Area Leader, Distribution, Public & Communications Industries, Global Business Services – Japan. Accompanying the team was Beth Tracy, Corporate Citizenship & Corporate Affairs Manager, Texas & Oklahoma – Austin.


The IBM team guided City leaders and community partners as they explored Houston’s “challenge”--how the City can provide greater access to information, services and resources for residents. The team’s discovery phase consisted of meetings with over 90 individuals from non-profit, public, private and community partners as well as City experts representing various departments.


The team sought to build upon the work of the City’s seven-division Department of Neighborhoods, established by Mayor Parker last year as a “one-stop” for residents seeking assistance with neighborhood issues. Specifically, the project focused on how the City can better connect school-aged students to public services that strengthen families and schools.


The IBM team reported the following findings:


  • Super Neighborhoods, the city and partners are working well together. There are numerous opportunities for these organizations to collaborate more effectively.
  • Citizens, partner organizations and city employees do not fully understand the Department of Neighborhoods’ mission, role or responsibility.
  • The usage of the workflow management system is not being optimally used to track requests and actions across departments.
  • While the City has the information to understand what has happened and where, it does not possess the analytics required to understand how and why it happened and what should be done.


The team presented the following recommendations for the City’s implementation:


Engage the community: Align resources to more efficiently and effectively meet the needs of residents. For example, realign Geographic Information System (GIS) operations to the Information Technology Department and develop a set of services that can be used across the organization instead of a single department.


Increase awareness: Create and launch an ongoing communications and engagement program to build awareness, understanding and cooperation to harness community support for the City’s efforts. For example, establish a communication governance team to proactively address any communication challenges which may arise between key stakeholder groups.


Improve processes: Streamline internal processes to conserve resources, improve efficiency, increase effectiveness and resident engagement. For example, establish a personalized “My Houston” portal to integrate resident requests, city, partner and Super Neighborhood information.


Develop analytics driven culture: Employ analytics in core processes to establish a culture of data-driven decision making to guide and optimize day-to-day operations and future strategies. For example, identify data essential to the Department of Neighborhoods and implement a data warehouse to enable the department to perform the analysis it requires.


“The IBM Smarter Cities Challenge team has been privileged to spend the past three weeks meeting with stakeholders in the great city of Houston,” said Beth Tracy, IBM’s Corporate Citizenship and Corporate Affairs Manager for Texas and Oklahoma. “We believe the recommendations this team is making not only address the challenges Mayor Parker laid out, but were made with the intention of improving the quality of life for Houston residents.”


The IBM Smarter Cities Challenge grant program comprises the corporation’s single-largest philanthropic effort, providing the expertise of top IBM employees to cities and counties. The program addresses a wide range of municipal issues, including health, transportation, economic development, education, finance, sustainability, public safety and e-government. A number of cities have improved citizens’ quality of life through the implementation of IBM’s recommendations. For more information about the program, visit


To learn more about the Houston’s IBM Smarter Cities Challenge project and the Department of Neighborhoods, visit