January 2015

New England versus Seattle: A win-win for the MS Cambridge Office

Microsoft_NewEnglandAs a Seattle-area company, Microsoft may be rallying behind the Seahawks for the upcoming big game, but I bow to nobody as a Pats fan. Does that mean that whoever wins, our New England Microsoft team wins? Maybe. We’d really rather have the parades and honors here in the Northeast, but we understand that our colleagues on the other side of the country are getting their hopes up.

In all the cities where Microsoft has a presence, we’re strongly focused on our local community, and on how we can help the businesses and young people who work and live near us win at their endeavors. Here in New England, whether we’re teaching kids to code in CoderDojos, giving tech startups exposure with the Boston TechBreakfast, or joining with Social Ventures Boston to support nonprofits, our goal is to help advance the local state of education, technology and the economy.

In advance of Sunday’s game, we decided to stage a friendly competition with our Microsoft Research colleagues back in Redmond, showing our fan support while raising funds for our favorite charities. On Thursday we held a pre-game rally, connecting to Redmond via Xbox Live to play a “Madden NFL” tournament as our respective teams. We also held a raffle to benefit the Boys and Girls Club of Boston; while Redmond held a raffle to benefit the Seattle Children’s Hospital. We’re also planning to participate in a Day of Caring with a local charity during the week after the game, wearing the champion’s regalia — so we really hope the Pats bring home the trophy.

As we tune in on Sunday to watch the conference champions battle for the glory, we will be rooting for both our home team and our home community. For me and my New England colleagues, that means the Patriots and a fourth ring for Tom Brady. But whoever wins, the most important thing — for both the players and those of us on the sidelines — is to turn in a good performance and make a difference with our efforts.

CNN’s “Inside Man” returns with spotlight on AI innovations by Microsoft and local innovators

Morgan Spurlock’s documentary series “Inside Man” returned to CNN on Thursday with an episode featuring the latest developments in robotics and artificial intelligence technology. In one segment, Spurlock traveled out to Microsoft Research in Redmond, Wash., to learn about AI systems that can understand and respond accurately to speech and physical context. Upon his arrival in the building, a smart elevator opened to take Spurlock to the right floor, and various virtual assistants pointed him to Eric Horvitz’s office for a demonstration of responsive technologies that use machine learning and natural interfaces to help people interact more easily — both with technology and with other humans — as well as be more productive.

In another segment, Spurlock visited the Charles River Museum of Industry, where he talked with MIT professor Erik Brynjolfsson about how the changes occurring now with computer technology promise to change society as dramatically as the Industrial Revolution did.

Check out the show On Demand or on CNN Go.

CNN’s “Inside Man” returns with spotlight on AI innovations by Microsoft and local innovators

Microsoft PowerMap and PowerView — Living Histories of Communities Across America

PowerMapImageFifty years ago the intellectual pioneer Jane Jacobs wrote in her seminal work, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, “designing a dream city is easy… rebuilding a living one takes imagination.” Those words capture the essential challenges faced by government leaders entrusted with managing how communities are built. The remarkable relevance of these words stayed with me over the past decade in my work with governments across America, and as I embarked on a research endeavor focused on how government leaders finance the infrastructure of communities and the role civic technology can play to lend transparency to that process.

The two protagonists at the center of this story are: a government leader and their community. Government leaders are charged with making decisions about how critical infrastructure (roads, bridges, schools) is built and paid for. Citizens see the fabric of their communities change over time but often lack an understanding of the process behind strategic decisions. This lack of transparency has heightened importance when a city declares bankruptcy, as occurred in Detroit, and an ethos of confusion over the magnitude of fiscal distress and future capital investment becomes tenable.

I asked myself – how could I develop a body of work that empowers communities and citizens to bridge the information gap with each other? I answered that question by writing a book that explains how communities finance America. It presents an inside view of the decision-making process when leaders finance and build projects, and ways to understand the fragmented data points for communities as financial actors. Fueled by my desire for this book to be a living resource, I developed technology simulations, powered by Microsoft, that place the reader in the seat of a government leader to experience that process.

The technology simulations offer dynamic visualizations of communities as engines of growth and change. For example, the following PowerMap® simulation presents public projects financed in communities, their funding source, and the community’s fiscal profile (i.e. pensions, taxes, expenses, debt):

The time-lapsed trajectory presents a community as a market participant, visualizing fiscal hotspots, disinvestment, impending challenges, revenues, credit quality, and other elements alongside its peers. The PowerView® simulations I developed complement that; by providing a single screen that communicates the story of a community’s infrastructure financing history for a ten year horizon:

The simulations have the potential to be living histories of communities across America. My goal is to provide the simulations as stand-alone resources that governments can use to transform the static narrative of their community in dynamic ways. With these tools communities will be empowered to share their discoveries with each other, present how they make decisions to meet critical needs, and engage citizens in a dialogue around their trajectory of change.

These resources have the potential to dissolve information divides that appear insurmountable and allow remarkable results to occur: citizens can learn about the foundation of their communities; governments can learn from each other; and strategic government finance policy decisions can be informed by a new perspective. In this way, civic technology can engender government transparency globally, allowing for a highly fragmented landscape of data and information to be transformed.

Lourdes-GermanFor the past 10 years, Lourdes German has led initiatives for global companies, with a steadfast commitment to municipal government finance, and the transparency and integrity of that market. After starting her career as an attorney advising government leaders in the public finance group at the international law firm Edwards Wildman, Lourdes joined Fidelity Investments as a Vice President to help create a new national business division focused on government public finance, where she first discovered a passion for entrepreneurism and civic engagement. As a natural self-starter, Lourdes leveraged her expertise and capacity to execute large scale initiatives following Fidelity in a number of settings, including: developing the strategy that guided an investment management company’s entry into sustainable investing for the municipal securities asset class, as Vice President and General Counsel at Breckinridge Capital Advisors; creating and teaching a graduate curriculum in government public finance as a professor at Northeastern University; advising non-profit organizations focused on urban economic growth and social impact investing; and founding a software company singular in its commitment to bringing transparency and access to municipal securities data. Following these experiences, Lourdes translated her capacity for innovation and passion for government into a manuscript for the book, How Communities Finance America, which will present a comprehensive understanding of how the public finance market works and offer a unique window into how government leaders make decisions via technology simulations, powered by Microsoft, that can enhance the future of government transparency. Technology simulations in development include a visualization of the global Green Bonds landscape for environmental projects developed with World Bank data, and a visualization with NYSE (New York Stock Exchange) Group data that examines the architecture and structure of the markets communities rely on for liquidity when they finance capital projects.


3 Not-To-Miss Events This Week at Microsoft New England

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Snow may be coming, but there are still some great civic tech events this week. Here are three not to miss this week at Microsoft New England:

1) Social Venture Partners Boston Think Tankathon
Twitter: @SVPBoston

2) Microsoft Ventures Info SessionMSFT Ventures
Twitter: @MSFTVentures

We are currently accepting applications for our next Microsoft Ventures Accelerator in Seattle dedicated to Digital Work. This cohort will focus on startups building scalable productivity applications, cloud-centric software platforms and enterprise-grade solutions to help people get more done. Startups can apply now for the Digital Work Accelerator.

Come learn about the new Seattle class, meet local startups in the space, speak to folks from Microsoft Ventures and get all of your important questions answered. Food and beverages will be served.

3) P
hil Terry on Getting Inside the Customer’s Mind
Twitter: @philterry

Whether you’re a profitable business, a startup, or a leader in a community organization, you need to deliver something that your customers embrace. You may listen to what people say, but how do you derive success from what you hear?

Join Phil Terry, the co-author of Customers Included and an expert on customer experiences, on Tuesday, Jan. 27 as he shares insights on including customers at the heart of your business to build true success. Phil will discuss how to understand customers at every stage of your business, especially when setting initial strategy and running product development.

To enhance the experience for you, Scott Kirsner of The Boston Globe will lead an interactive Q&A following the talk. So bring your product, market fit and customer challenges to discuss with Phil, Scott and the audience.

This is a free community event sponsored by Nara Logics, an AI company based in Kendall Square. Nara believes that truly understanding how your customers think leads to success, and we’re excited to help share and spread the Customers Included principles within the Kendall Square community.

Reflecting on “Educating your Future Workforce: A Forum for Employers”


Photo via @asprung

Microsoft’s Innovation and Policy Center – New England hosted an event last week entitled “Educating your Future Workforce:  A Forum for Employers,” sponsored by the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education, the Massachusetts Business Roundtable, and the Associated Industries of Massachusetts. The event, kicked off by Microsoft’s Director of Government Affairs Brian Burke, highlighted the challenges employers face in finding workers with the skills needed to fill open positions, actions that are required, and the roles that the state’s K-12 education system, public colleges and universities must play to address the challenge.  The conversation, led by the state’s Commissioner of Higher Education, Richard Freeland, included remarks from employers who all agreed on a common theme:  there is a disconnect between the education system and employer needs, and progress is dependent upon better understanding and communication between the two.

A survey of employers across Massachusetts, conducted by the sponsors of the event, found that 69% have difficulty in finding employees with the skills necessary to fill open jobs.  While the panel acknowledged there are pockets of excellence in vocational technical education and on some Community College campuses, systemic change is needed to bridge this divide.

There is a side effect to this disconnect, however, that is not directly related to the workforce pipeline:  if business feels disconnected from public education, particularly higher education, it is less inclined to be an active and vocal advocate for it.  Employer panelists at the event talked about strategies they are undertaking to meet their own workforce needs, such as in-house training or partnerships with individual institutions to define curricula and, essentially, create their own pipeline.  While these strategies meet the needs of employers, they circumvent the public system and are not systemic change.  Yet given the current landscape, employers feel like these strategies are their best option.

Commissioner Freeland noted that, due to a perfect storm of circumstances, the public higher education system needs close to $500M in new state investment.  In order for business to be invested in advocating for the public education system, the disconnect must be addressed.  Two-way communication, a mutual understanding of needs, and genuine partnerships between business and education throughout the system, scaled to incorporate best practices, would be a start.

Boston Startups! — Learn About Our Next Microsoft Ventures Accelerator in Seattle Dedicated to Digital Work on January 27

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Last December, ten startups pitched from all over the US and shared the stage to a packed audience in Seattle!

As of today,

  • 7 of the 10 companies have raised funding, with an average of $725K.
  • 3 of them have distribution partnerships underway signed with large retailers to stock and sell their product.
  • All of them have been featured in TechCrunch, VentureBeat and other media sources.
  • 6 of the 10 leveraged designers from Microsoft to do packaging design, interaction design and website design

These are just a few highlights of the Microsoft Ventures accelerator program that had it’s first class graduate in late 2014!

For 2015, the program is back with a focus on Digital Work! It’s what Microsoft does best with flagship products such as Office 365, Windows and a customer base of the top Fortune 500 companies! The team from Microsoft Ventures will be in Boston, on Tuesday, Jan 27th and we’d love to meet with folks working in the space!!

This info session is perfect for you if you are:

  • An Early / Seed-stage Startup
  • Have enough funding to sustain through program and 3-4 months afterwards
  • Enterprise focused
  • Have a product in private beta, trial or generating revenue.
  • Open to relocating core team to Seattle or AT LEAST 1 technical and 1 non technical resource for the duration of the program (4 months)

What and where?

Be part of the conversation! Learn more about the latest trends in Digital Work and where Microsoft is heading in this space. Hear about the lessons learned for startups from across the globe!

Meet the team from Microsoft Ventures and join other startups in the community to talk about Enterprise solutions, IoT and Digital Work.

Learn more about how your startup can access customers and partners that work with Microsoft and technology leaders from the startup communities across US.

Register now

Microsoft Technology Center – Boston, MA
255 Main Street
Cambridge, MA 02142

Tuesday, January 27, 2015 from 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM (EST)

Register here

Food and beverages will be served.

City Hall To Go: The First Food Truck Serving Up Government Services to a Neighborhood Near You

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We’ve all had the experience of waiting in line for a government service. Whether your car’s gotten the boot and you’re waiting to pay off those tickets or you’re just trying to switch over your license plates, tapping shoes and stares at the slow-mo hands of the clock indicate that we need more efficiency in government services. Well, we’ve got TicketZen and ParkBoston now for paying tickets and meters…but what about other services? And what about for new mothers or the elderly? How can we make their lives less about trekking to City Hall and standing in lines?

Enter: City Hall to Go, the coolest concept on wheels this side of heavily populated food truck areas. This, folks, is civic tech at its finest. It’s the very definition of government “For the People.” Because it brings the government right to you.

We had the opportunity to chat with Danielle Valle Fitzgerald, Director of CHTG (@CityHallToGo) about how they created the concept and what they’ve been doing in the civic truck so far.

(Note: CHTG is on hiatus for the Winter, so now’s the perfect time to start making your list of needed services for Spring 2015!)

MSNE: I’ve been following the City Hall to Go Twitter for almost a year now. How long have you had the truck in action?

CHTG: We’ve been on the road for a little bit over a year now and have been learning as we go—increasing the amount of services available as well as the quality of service available. Whether it’s registering parking stickers or registering to vote, we’ve been doing a lot of work on the back end to streamline processes as well as continuing to be creative and come up with more ways to serve constituents.

MSNE: That’s great! How did this concept come to fruition?

CHTG: It came to fruition through a brainstorming session, as a way to really embrace the culture of food trucks that we have here in Boston, as well as be able to bring a human interaction to everything that we were doing. We started it as a prototype. We took a truck and we put some money into it to see whether or not it would work, and in the past year, services have increased 250%. It’s been incredibly popular and we’ve been really happy with how it’s been served.

It’s really about bringing services to where people work, so not only our social media and the services we provide online, but also the great way we are able to physically bring services to people in their neighborhoods.

MSNE: One of the challenges for city government and constituents is a disconnect. So, now you’re bringing City Hall to the people, rather than the other way around. 

CHTG: Yeah, which saves an untold amount of time, money, and energy commuting to City Hall and waiting in line. We built this for the elderly, for new mothers, and we really try to engage with the senior population to make sure that they know about it and that we can make life easier for the people who really deserve it.

MSNE: How important is it to have that hands-on, personal interaction with your constituents?

CHTG: It’s invaluable. It’s paramount to Mayor Walsh’s administration. The mayor cares about everyone in Boston and making sure we engage with them, look them in the eye and help them.

One way that we did it this year is we invented “Chief Chat,” where we took chiefs and department heads and brought them on City Hall to Go to neighborhoods so that they could have office hours in the community, and people could ask specific policy questions to the decision makers. And it was also great because not only did constituents get to ask questions, but it also gave those department heads the chance to listen without any filter.

MSNE: What’s painted on the truck?

CHTG: We literally took a map of the city of Boston and the actual streets, and as your eye is looking at the truck, you are following the streetscape of the city of Boston through all of the neighborhoods.

MSNE: Do any other cities have a City Hall to Go, or is this the first city hall food truck in existence?

CHTG: We are the first and we’ve had over 20 cities reach out to us to learn more about our programs. Three cities have created programs, so now Illinois has a City Hall to Go, and two cities in Canada have what they call city event vehicles, which are pop-up State Halls that come to neighborhood events.

MSNE: Do you think you’ll ever have a mobile City Hall meet-up?

CHTG: That’s like one of my dreams, even if it’s just a phone call to start. Maybe when we get five cities, we’ll be able to put something together.

MSNE: Could you tell me one of your best stories about the truck?

CHTG: There are so many times when a resident comes up to the truck for one thing and ends up doing five transactions. A woman came because she needed a copy of her birth certificate and she ended up getting a resident parking sticker, and she just moved so she registered to vote. She was really excited because she was able to check five things off her personal to-do list in less than five minutes.

MSNE: What kind of technology do you use on the truck?

CHTG: We actually have a Microsoft Surface on the truck. For example, we have user audit, which we give to our constituents so we are able to get some feedback. I also use it for when we have a line. We have two computers and sometimes three people. I am able to grab a Surface and get constituents’ information from outside the truck before they actually come up in the line.

MSNE: One last question. One of our pillars at Microsoft New England is civic technology, and we really focus on using Microsoft’s technology for social good. We think that the CHTG truck is one of the best examples we’ve seen of bringing technology directly to the people. What we want to ask is, what does civic technology mean to you? 

CHTG: It really means a lot to me. It’s probably the most important part of my role. I come from the campaign world of meeting outdoors, and we really always put people first. At the same time, there are all of these new inventions and ways to get the word out, and engage more. It’s really an exciting time to be here in Boston. There are so many ways we can make a difference.

3 Not-To-Miss Events This Week at Microsoft New England

CoderDojo Kids Learn to Code last week

With winter here and temps dropping, get inside for some awesome events! Here are three not to miss this week Microsoft New England:

global_2657148321) UX Boston Conference #3
Wednesday, January 21, 12:00pm – 5:00pm
Twitter: @uxboston #UXBCon

User Experience is an overwhelmingly massive profession. It is one which lives in overlapping areas of psychology, design, and technology. That is why #UXBCon features 10 brilliant local designers from all corners of the trade with talks ranging from UI Animation to The Experience Grid. We’re extremely excited to be able to take part in this event and hope to see you there!

Hosted by Jim Forrest | LinkedIn

Produced by Akshat Pradhan | LinkedIn

Venturewell2) Venturewell’s January E-Team Stage 2 Workshop
Friday, January 23, 8:00am – 6:00pm
Twitter: @venturewell

The E-Team Program provides early-stage support and funding of up to $75,000 for collegiate entrepreneurs working on market-based technology inventions. Teams must be affiliated with a NCIIA Member Institution to apply.

Since 1995, our E-Team grants have been funding collegiate student and student/faculty teams to move ideas out of the lab and classroom and into the marketplace. The program enhances this opportunity by providing expert entrepreneurial and venture coaching, experiential workshops, and a potential investment opportunity to help realize the commercial success of the technology inventions and innovations that come through our organization.

Stage 2 provides additional funding of up to $20,000. A required, intensive workshop helps teams further develop their business model. Six monthly sessions of coaching follow the workshop, guiding the team from confirmation to execution of their business model.

AJFX8wox3) Kids learn to code (CoderDojo): Open Scratch session – Good for first timers
Saturday, January 24, 1:00pm – 3:00pm
Twitter: @CoderDojoCRiver

Parents bring your kids (7-17) and come learn to code. For Free. This is an open Scratch session for first timers with no prior experience and any kids who just like playing with Scratch. There is no set curriculum or lesson – it will be based on the needs of those who show up.

It will be in a smaller room with at most 20 people (~10 kids) and 2 mentors Please be sure to bring a laptop. If you need a laptop please let us know in advance: somerville.us@coderdojo.com.

There are two other workshops going on simultaneously this Saturday for more experience coders: a Python Session and  Minecraft Mods with with Javascript.

What if you could help shape a teen’s career path? — Participate in Job Shadow Day!


We’re excited to announce that for the second year running, Microsoft is joining Boston’s local business community to participate in the Boston Private Industry Council’s 20th Annual Job Shadow Day for Boston Public Schools on February 6, 2015! Students are looking to experience a variety of different jobs, so we are looking for volunteers from other industries to host students for 3 to 4 hours that day.

Participating hosts will be shadowed by local high school students. Job shadowing helps students gain awareness of the variety of skills needed for certain jobs, identify possible career interests, understand the connection between school and work, interact with adults, and learn how to behave in a professional setting. Hosts will give a brief tour of the offices, talk about their position and role in the company, and give an overview of their career path. Being shadowed is also inspiring for hosts—it’s a reminder for why you do what you do. It’s seeing your job from a new perspective, and seeing how exciting it seems to a student who’s only just started thinking about his or her career.

Read our collection of student takeaways from last year’s Job Shadow Day at Microsoft New England here.

Sound like something you’d be interested in?

VOLUNTEER TODAY! For this all to work, we need hosts! If you are interested in hosting a student, please email Ashley Gousset v-asgous@microsoft.com ASAP.

It’s 10PM, Do You Know Where Your Snowplow Contractor Is? SnowTrax Does.

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The weather outside is frightful, but new civic technology can help governments make managing snow cleaning operations delightful. Every New England government maintains fleets of large snowplows, mountains of salt, and grit dispersing vehicles at the ready for the inevitable flurries and blizzards. Typically, government managers augment their own fleets with contract labor, bringing privately owned pick-up trucks with mounted plows, front loaders, and other pieces of equipment to assist in clearing smaller roads, neighborhoods, and other non-emergency routes. These vehicles often clear much more linear mileage than city-owned plows, which need to focus on critical thoroughfares like major roads and emergency routes.

EastBanc_TechnologiesCivic technology aims to make citizens’ daily lives easier and more manageable. It’s not surprising, then, to find a new civic technology that leverages weather data, government activity, and traffic to help solve wintry woes. This new solution from EastBanc Technologies is a great example of this: SnowTrax utilizes cloud-based data to allow cities and their contractors to monitor the location and work of all their fleet vehicles. By taking big data and compressing it into a small-scale scenario, EastBanc can send out this data to the community in a relevant fashion — for example, to track snowplows.

EastBanc has developed an easy-to-use app that can report and visualize in real time what’s happening in the field during a snow event. This cloud-based monitoring system, which runs on Microsoft Azure, can be used in a variety of scenarios, but right now it is being deployed to manage the road clearing function in the dead of winter.

Whenever there is a heavy snowfall, people want to know when it will be safe to travel again. They are concerned, of course, about the condition of emergency routes and major highways, but they are just as eager to know when they can expect their own neighborhood to be plowed. Many governments have information on the location, speed, and operating capacity of the vehicles they own, provided by embedded GPS technology. However, cities typically have little information on the whereabouts and capacity of contractor vehicles.

Deploying traditional, real-time GPS tracking systems on every contractor vehicle would be prohibitive in terms of cost, hardware, and integration services. The EastBanc solution solves this problem by leveraging a GPS device already in almost every moving vehicle: the smartphone of the driver. To use the solution, drivers working under contract log into an application on their smartphone when they begin plowing and log out when they finish plowing. And of course, for governments that don’t have GPS capacity for their fleet, SnowTrax could be used as a solution as most if not all employees possess smartphones.

As contractors work through the storm, the application reports the physical location of their vehicles, speed and direction every three seconds. This information is aggregated by the fleet vehicle intelligence module and provides government managers with a complete view of the location, speed, and direction of their own vehicles as well as of the contractor vehicles.

All of this data is analyzed in real time and made available for display on a map-based dashboard and mobile applications that can be made available to the public. The analysis shows what roads have been cleared, when they were plowed (to accommodate the need for multi-pass plowing during extended and heavy snow events), and when, based upon current conditions, the public can expect plows to reach specific locations. Furthermore, having the information on ALL plow locations enables response managers to redirect plows to support the passage of emergency vehicles.

Being able to easily add and remove vehicles from the operational picture empowers the government to address proactively the realities on the ground as they happen and to provide information to reduce citizen anxiety and set clear expectations.

It’s winter in New England. It’s going to snow, maybe a lot. And we’re picturing SnowTrax enabling tracking and visualization of snow clean-up operations on a big flat screen near you, managing the process more effectively and providing citizens and government with real time information.

Jeff_A_FriedmanJeff Friedman is the Director of eGovernment Business Development in the State and Local Government Solutions Group, was most recently the Co-Director and Co-Founder of the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics for Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter. Previously, Jeff was the Manager of Civic Innovation & Participation in the Mayor’s Office. Jeff led various initiatives to make City government (and urban governance generally) more open, participatory, transparent, entrepreneurial and innovative. Prior, Jeff was Chief of Staff to the Chief Technology Officer in the Division of Technology and before that Deputy Director of Performance Management/Implementation Manager for Philly311 in the Managing Director’s Office. Prior to joining City government, Jeff consulted to state, local and county governments across the nation. Jeff earned his undergraduate and law degrees from Temple University.