December 2014

Simplifying Your IT Environment

Chicago is home to a number of large nationwide, and multi-national, companies – including 31 Fortune 500 companies. Most, if not all, of these companies – as well as countless other Chicago employers – have acquired other companies over time. One of the most common challenges faced by businesses after an acquisition, is figuring out how to manage multiple IT platforms, or merging them into one.

Simplifying Your IT EnvironmentWith today’s growth of cloud technology, acquiring businesses may find they are faced with tying together on-premise and cloud-based IT environments. United Airlines, who we’ve discussed before on this blog, found that moving to cloud computing not only improved scalability, but was successful in creating a single IT infrastructure following its merger with Continental Airlines. When integrating divergent IT systems under a common platform, and choosing between on-premise and cloud specifically, business must take into account how your workers work.

Planning for various environments and methods employees work in reduces staff frustration while improving your chances for success. This could include where workers are based or often perform work functions, and span across web conferencing, document collaboration, email and instant messaging. Compiling a list of requirements and parameters from the start helps IT decision makers objectively evaluate each potential system. One IT platform also improves efficiency for IT workers in charge of managing your company’s systems.

Cloud-based platforms, such as Microsoft Office 365, provide the most flexibility, affordability, and features for workers. Simultaneously, Microsoft platforms offer access to local Microsoft partners who provide personalized support during the migration process and provide advanced tools and add-ons for your company – such as training programs or custom management applications. All told, cloud technologies help companies improve productivity while reducing total cost of ownership for IT.

To see how our cloud productivity suite can help your business, visit Microsoft’s Office 365 for Business page and then find a local Microsoft partner who can help you improve your IT environment and streamline multiple IT systems into one via Pinpoint.

Microsoft Chicago’s Best Blogs of 2014


What a year for civic tech, STEM education, and more in Chicago! 2014 gave us so many great opportunities to better Chicago and further our mission of improving the city through technology. As the year winds down, join us in reflecting on some of our best news in blog posts of the year:


Introducing “A Series on STEM & STEAM”
by Shelley Stern Grach


What Microsoft Open Tech Does in Open Source
by Adam J. Hecktman

Connecting Learning through Chicago City of Learning
by Beth Swanson


My Refrigerator Said What to my Scale?
by Adam J. Hecktman


Microsoft YouthSpark’s TEALS Program Expands to Chicago
by Shelley Stern Grach

STEM + Thrive = Changing Youth Lives
by Arnie Rivera and Brian Fabes

An Englewood Rising: What Code for America Means for Chicago
by Adam J. Hecktman


How to Attract the Brightest Tech Talent? ThinkChicago.
by Jake Trussell


Chicago is a City of Neighborhoods
by Adam J. Hecktman


STEM Learning Exchange Challenge Inspires Innovation, Real-World Problem-Solving for Chicago Students
by Adam J. Hecktman

Adam Hecktman’s “Big Shoulders” Spotlights Rajeev Chopra, Founder and President of The MIS Department

Our Director of Technology & Civic Engagement Adam Hecktman is one of Chicago’s biggest supporters of civic technology, and wants to share that with everyone. “Big Shoulders,” his series with MeetAdvisor, the “Yelp for business,” does just that by highlighting local leaders in civic technology.

Adam’s latest episode of “Big Shoulders” showcases The MIS Department, Inc., a Chicago-based firm specializing in IT services and consulting. Adam interviews Rajeev Chopra, Founder and President, whose history in IT includes being CIO at Obama for America, Director of IS at the Democratic National Committee, and more.

Miss the last episode of “Big Shoulders”? You can find them all here.

Watch Adam’s latest episode of Big Shoulders featuring Rajeev Chopra, founder and president of The MIS Department, Inc., below:

Chicago’s Manufacturing Transformation through Technology

Anyone who knows me is well aware that I have a passion for helping Chicago businesses succeed. This was explored in an article in IndustryWeek on the future of Chicago’s manufacturing sector. The article references a report on manufacturing and trade in Chicago commissioned by HSBC Bank – a report that found our city is lagging behind its potential. And we can do better!

Even in my early days as a consultant, I have been focused on ways companies can improve their productivity, and I see technology as the true equalizer. Now, focusing on technology and civic engagement here in Chicago, I see these reports as an opportunity to share how businesses can better succeed in today’s IT-driven economy.

Manufacturing is facing an evolution from the stereotype of repetitive factory work into a highly advanced environment where man and machine work together in harmony – working smarter, not harder. As the old guard of manufacturing retires, manufacturers are faced with adapting to this new technology-driven workplace in order to attract and retain the best employees. Deploying systems to connect internal and external stakeholders provides real-time information to decision makers and can help workers feel more connected to the success of the business overall. KapStone Paper and Packaging Corporation, located just outside Chicago in Northbrook, did just this when it built its enterprise resource planning system to enable easy integration of new and legacy systems.

Chicago’s Manufacturing Transformation through Technology

Using these new technologies throughout the entire manufacturing life cycle is the key to helping Chicago realize its full potential. Enabling the free flow of information from the design stage to final production and shipping, creates a more nimble and effective organization. Designers, connected to real-time material prices and supplier readiness, can optimize the product’s composition as needed. Factory floor staff can then access supplier logistics, equipment health monitors, and design changes to operate a true just-in-time manufacturing environment that maximizes plant output and efficiency.

Helping Chicago-based manufacturers achieve their greatest potential in this new environment is a key goal for my team and me. And those interested in learning more about how the manufacturing workplace is changing should carve out some time and explore

What you can learn from United Airlines IT

Running a business is never without its challenges. Technology is supposed to help ease those challenges, but has the opportunity to add to them. As your business grows and adapts, you face different IT needs. Similarly, as customers and employees utilize IT resources for an increasing number of tasks, the availability of your network and resources is paramount to success. Preparing for these needs, however, can be a challenge for businesses large and small. Chicago’s own United Airlines faced similar obstacles following its merger with Continental Airlines.

What you can learn from United Airlines ITThe airline’s IT team was tasked with building an infrastructure capable of flawlessly running all of its various systems, including reservations, baggage handling, public website, aircraft maintenance, database servers and more, every hour of every day. The sheer size and variety of operations demands a scalable and flexible IT infrastructure. But in the highly competitive and regulated airline industry, IT designers also needed to create a system capable of weathering any potential network equipment failures as well as outages from regional issues – like Chicago’s “mild” winters.

Years earlier, United invested in virtualizing its datacenter infrastructure, which created the backbone of a cost-effective, flexible and scalable IT system. Virtualization allows businesses to expand and adapt their network in just hours, as opposed to the weeks it can take to deploy physical machines. Following the merger, United saw the benefit of going all-in on virtualization by deploying a private cloud. Operating a virtualized network through cloud computing allowed United to respond to business needs and issues without disrupting the business itself. Cloud computing also offered United a resilient, easy-to-manage disaster recovery solution that would not be susceptible to the disasters that can hit a traditional datacenter.

Although your business might not be responsible for managing more than 5,600 flights a day, or keeping 80,000 employees connected and working 24 hours a day, the technologies and strategies deployed by United can benefit businesses of all sizes. Cloud computing, whether private or public, allows IT departments to focus on improving experiences for employees and customers alike, as opposed to managing traditional server environments. Meanwhile, the flexibility of the cloud ensures your business resources and information will always be available, providing increased peace of mind over legacy disaster recovery strategies. All of this works together to reduce IT costs, improve customer service and prepare your business for future challenges.

Explore Microsoft’s Cloud page to learn how your business can benefit from this technology and check out Microsoft’s Case Studies database to learn more about how United Airlines deployed its new IT structure.

STEM Learning Exchange Challenge Inspires Innovation, Real-World Problem-Solving for Chicago Students

STEM Learning Exchange Challenge Inspires Innovation, Real-World Problem-Solving for Chicago Students

Meet Dr. Joshua Peschel. Josh is a professor and researcher at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. He teaches courses in soil and water engineering, geographical information systems and robotics. His current research currently takes him into the realm of human-computer interaction and human-robot interaction for civil and environmental engineering systems. Specifically he is interested in understanding how human factors can be leveraged to support adoption of emerging technologies (think unmanned systems and intelligent user interfaces) for building resilience into our cities.

STEM Learning Exchange Challenge Inspires Innovation, Real-World Problem-Solving for Chicago StudentsHis background is inspiring in and of itself. But when you put him in front of High School students, as I did last week, you see inspiration in action.   This past week, we teamed up with Illinois Science and Technology Institute’s R&D STEM Learning Exchange and Lake View High School to kick off the R&D STEM Learning Exchange Challenge. As part of this partnership, we are encouraging Chicago Public Schools students to perform original student-driven research and development. Students are applying STEM concepts to real-world problems over the course of a semester while networking with field professionals like Josh.

This year’s STEM Learning Exchange Challenge tackles an issue Chicago has been working hard to solve for years: Urban flooding. Nationwide, we deal with droughts, floods, storm and sewage damage, and water availability and quality. Chicago deals with flooding increasingly more frequently, as climate change has altered the dynamics of storms in ways that our water management system (built in the decades prior to our knowledge of climate change) wasn’t meant to handle.

Urban flooding is costly. These floods lead to property loss, increases in mosquito populations, pathogenic diseases, increases in pollution from urban runoff, and more.  It is something that has had to be dealt with in particularly hard-struck neighborhoods.

Josh posited to the students that Chicago’s water issues can be measured, and subsequently solved, using a combination of sensors, data, green infrastructure, and the built environment.   We laid this challenge out specifically to high-school students because they are the near-future researchers. They are the men and women who will not only come up with better uses for sensors and data for water management, but will create more environmentally- and cost-friendly solutions for the world’s water supply.. And it starts with the skills they’ve learned in their STEM education.

Back to the discussion with the students. First, the students needed to understand what jobs and professions address such problems. Josh described exactly what is “engineering” and what is an “engineer” does. This helped the students map the challenge and the skills they will develop with a career path.

Next, he framed the field of water management simply: how water moves around, how you manage it, and coming up with new and different ways to do it more efficiently and at lower costs,. Now the students were engaged in something they could get their heads around.

Then, he helped them connect the applied science of water management to the disciplines that they are learning today in school (geometry, physics, biology art, etc.). So at this point, the students had a frame of reference of how they can use the skills they are amassing currently. But he also appealed to a good segment of the audience who was motivated by being part of the improvement of society and their city. He equally appealed to those who want to leverage their intelligence and creativity, and to build the knowledge, skills, and abilities that they will need to participate in the near future economy.

He wrapped it up by capturing their (ok, my) imaginations. He blended his research in robotics around fascinating use cases that included disaster response and recovery, agriculture, and…yes…water.

Chicago’s students will be working on the STEM Learning Exchange Challenge through May 2015, when we’ll celebrate all our students’ achievements and highlight the good work they’ve done to improving our infrastructure. Stay tuned for updates from local schools on STEM Learning Exchange Challenge-related innovation.

Chicago Leader Recognized as Philanthropic Champion

We Chicagoans pride ourselves on having hearts that are as big as our city. We love our neighborhoods, our sports teams, our schools and our thriving arts and entertainment venues. And maybe best of all, we have amazing philanthropic efforts that invest in our city to make it the best it can be. One of the leaders in those efforts is one the city’s most recognized businesses, Microsoft.

Chicago Leader Recognized as Philanthropic ChampionWe have a lot to be thankful for this time of year. We were pleased to see that earlier this year, my colleague Shelley Stern Grach, director of civic engagement at Microsoft was named by Crain’s Chicago Business as one of the top five most powerful philanthropists to know

Shelley knows the real power is in the opportunity to bring together the passionate people and companies in the city. “My personal mission is to not have Chicago become a tale of two cities. The more we can weave programs together from all the great tech companies and others that want to support 21st-century skills, then the more we can start closing this opportunity divide,” she said during the interview with Crain’s.

Microsoft supports a wide array of organizations with a goal of helping others. Recent recipients included: Museum of Science and Industry; Field Museum; Window to the World Communications Inc.; Adler Planetarium; Metropolitan Family Services, National Latino Education Institute and Chicago Zoological Society.

Be sure to check out the video accompanying the article to find out more about Microsoft’s efforts in Chicagoland and hear additional insights from Shelley.

So Many Screens, So Many Opportunities

Microsoft once had a vision of, “a computer on every desk and in every home.” Today that vision has drastically changed thanks to the wide selection of computing devices we have to choose from. You could be reading this blog post on your smartphone, tablet, laptop, desktop or even browsing on your TV. Even cars are becoming connected mediums for consuming and distributing information. Society has unshackled itself from the desk and businesses have a new challenge – facilitating access across multiple devices while deploying format-agnostic content for customers.

So Many Screens, So Many OpportunitiesLogistics, one of the largest industries here in Chicago, provides perhaps the best look at the potential of multi-screen technology for businesses. Serving as a leader since the 1850s, Chicago ranks second in the country for transportation and warehousing, and continues to test the latest innovations and concepts in the industry. Theories and technology tested here help make today’s logistics industry virtually indistinguishable from just 20 years ago, with multi-screen technology leading the renaissance.

Utilizing a connected network of smartphones, tablets, truck mounted computers, and office workstations, logistics now provides real-time information to warehouse managers, load brokers, semi drivers and recipients. For example, the manager for an assembly line may notice they are running low on a specific component needed in final assembly. Utilizing a tablet, he places an order for additional stock – alerting a load broker. Accessing a real-time database of drivers – showing location and status – the broker assigns the shipment to the appropriate driver. In the truck cab, the driver is alerted to the delivery request through its onboard computer, which also provides GPS-guided directions to the warehouse. Upon loading the truck with the requested components, a warehouse operator scans the order with a smartphone, instantly notifying the assembler of the status and anticipated delivery time.

Just a few years ago, this seamless integration between customer, warehouse and delivery provider would have never been possible. Synchronization across multiple platforms, device types and operators now boosts productivity, reduces inefficiencies, strengthens customer relationships and powers 21st century logistics. Multi-screen technology is the future for more than just transportation, with abundant opportunities in healthcare, finance, business operations and all shapes, sizes and types of industry. To help businesses leverage these opportunities, we’ve committed to building an ecosystem unbound by screen size, operating system or audience. Our newly launched Universal Apps sync across smartphones and PCs, and eventually Xbox, while IT professionals can manage various devices and environments through one simple set of tools as part of our new Enterprise Mobility Suite.

Consumers and businesses alike will benefit from succeeding in this new multi-screen environment. And we’re building the best possible solutions to help you better target consumers and enable worker productivity from anywhere, in any situation. Learn more about how Microsoft Cloud is powering the workforce of today and tomorrow, and stay tuned for future posts on the multi-screen environment. Don’t forget to share your business stories in the comments below.

Computer Science Education Week By The Numbers

Computer Science Education Week By The NumbersStatistics show:

1.) 26,967 open computing jobs in the State of Illinois.

2.) There will be approximately 450,000 STEM related jobs in Cook County by 2018.

Chicago’s response:

Computer Science Education Week By The Numbers3.) Computer Science for All Initiative launched on December 9, 2013. Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett announced that Chicago would take the unprecedented step of providing computer science education for all of its students, from kindergarten through 12th grade.

4.)    One year after this announcement, Chicago has nearly tripled the number of CPS students taking computer science classes.

5.)    Illinois is one of 25 states where students can count computer science for credit towards high school graduation.

This week:Computer Science Education Week By The Numbers

6.)    Nearly 60,000 CPS students learned to code

7.)    There were 375 Hour of Code Events

8.)    Nearly 100 nonprofits, museums and companies banded together for an Hour of Code including The Museum of Science and Industry, YWCA TechGyrls, Blue 1647, Girls Who Code, Chicago Public Library and YOUMedia, Lumity and The Field Museum. We even displayed the Hour of Code on billboards across the City, proudly proclaiming Chicago as the City that Codes.

Computer Science Week By The Numbers

A big thank you to the countless volunteers who organized Chicago’s Hour of Code sessions and to the parents, teachers and students who became role models teaching others how to code. It’s because of efforts like this that Chicago’s youth will be prepared to meet the future in STEM careers.

CS Teacher Series—Coding in the Classroom by Kimberly Cripe

CS Teacher Series—Coding in the Classroom by Kimberly Cripe

This week, as part of Computer Science Education Week, we are highlighting the personal side of Computer Science and STEM/STEAM. To do that, we’ve gathered some of Chicago’s best teachers in Computer Science to highlight the work that CS and STEM education does for our city. Our next blog, from Kimberly Cripe of Rachel Carson Elementary School, asks how we can prepare our students for a technological future.

Computer Science has not only challenged me as a teacher, but it has also challenged all members of our school to continue to ask ourselves, “How are we preparing our students for the future?”

As teachers, we want to open the door to every possible opportunity for our students. It seems strange that teaching computer science is such a new concept in a technology-driven world. In the seats of our classrooms are the next-generation Gates, Jobs, and Zuckerbergs—they just didn’t know it was even a possibility UNTIL NOW! The efforts of and its partners have provided this platform for our school. Students from K-8 are currently participating in coding activities on a weekly basis. On December 9, we at Rachel Carson participated in’s “Hour of Code.” This is a time to unite as a school, celebrate our successes with coding, and remember the possibilities are endless!

So often you hear of technology as a tool for instruction or student learning, but it is very rare to hear that technology IS what students are learning. When I first learned about the program from my principal, I jumped at the chance to participate in professional development to have computer science complement my science curriculum. The new standards ask our students to think critically and scientifically as they define problems and create solutions, build and modify models, and plan and carry out investigations. The concepts that are introduced while coding mirror these Next Generation Science Standards.

Coding provides one more outlet to make learning engaging, meaningful and allow students to feel successful. From the apps they use to the video games they play, students are able to take a step back and engage with technology in a new and purposeful way. It has been so exciting to see students tackle a subject they once perceived as “scary” and “intimidating” and discover the mystery behind the computer screen.

Kimberly Cripe is a Middle School Science Teacher at Rachel Carson Elementary on Chicago’s southwest side (recently level 1+). She has been teaching for the past 5 years. Before becoming a teacher she worked as a lab scientist in both pharmaceutical and research labs.

To learn more about Microsoft’s commitment to youth and education, visit our YouthSpark Hub or follow us on twitter at @msftcitizenship.