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The 101st International City/County Management Association (ICMA) annual conference attracted 3,814 attendees to Seattle—and I was fortunate to be among them. The world’s largest annual event for local government managers and staff provided the ideal venue to talk about how Microsoft CityNext is empowering cities to apply technology to address their needs—and turning many of today’s biggest challenges into opportunities.

With a projected 6.5 billion people living in cities by 2050, the members of ICMA have a significant opportunity to use technology, citizen engagement and data to build new ways to live, work and play.

In my ICMA presentation, I acknowledged that the issues facing cities are complex—growing city populations, outdated infrastructure, safety concerns, expensive healthcare, a crisis in education and increasing energy consumption. Yet those challenges also present a wealth of rewarding opportunities, thanks to new cloud, data and mobility technologies, and solutions from hundreds of Microsoft partners. One example I shared was how Tacoma Public Schools used Microsoft Azure Machine Learning to predict student dropout triggers and intervene on behalf to at-risk student early enough to keep students on a path to graduation. The result: graduation rates have increased from 55 to 78 percent.

I also talked about why cities need the Internet of Things, or IoT, to provide visibility into the performance of systems so that improvements can be made. One example I used was from the “city of Microsoft.” Our Redmond, Wash., campus has 145 buildings , all equipped with thousands of pieces of mechanical equipment, everything from compressors to fire extinguishers. Clearly, benefits are being found by having better information about the long-standing patterns of buildings having air conditioning and heat on at the same time—a problem that commonly exists in old and new LEED and non-LEED buildings. But efficiency and insight happens everywhere in a connected building. For example, in the past, we had full-time employees inspecting and testing our fire extinguishers to ensure they were in good operating condition. Now with IoT, we have a sensor on each fire extinguisher that lets us know when its pressure is getting low and needs to be recharged or when a piece of furniture has been placed in front of it, blocking it from general view. That same visibility to system performance can enable a city to transform, whether it be collecting taxes or garbage, or reimagining citizen engagement.

Another key point I made was about the opportunity for cities to move to the cloud and how a big differentiator for Microsoft is our trusted cloud platform. We recognize that cities and all governments have different needs than business, so we offer a different cloud solution. That’s also why our Microsoft Cloud for Government meets or exceeds the most critical U.S. public sector security, privacy and compliance requirements.
The biggest highlight of my presentation was having Dena Diorio, county manager for Mecklenburg County, N.C., share the stage and tell how they moved to the cloud . According to Dena, the transformation began in 2012 with an initiative to improve their email system. “We were in email jail,” she explained. After landing on Office 365 as their solution, Mecklenburg County launched more than 6,000 mailboxes in six weeks, completing the largest public sector email integration in the Southeast United States. Dena said their move to Office 365 has saved $2.2 million over an on-premises solution—but that’s not all. She noted that Mecklenburg County:

  • Has realized an estimated $3.2 million in productivity savings by deploying 1,000 Surface Pro tablets among child welfare investigators, parks and recreation staff, and other field employees.
  • Is using OneDrive for Business to store all of their documents in the cloud and Skype for Business for professional meetings, collaboration and instant messaging.

“There’s a lot of opportunity for Mecklenburg County,” Dena told the ICMA audience. “Over time, our goal is to increase efficiency and reduce cost.” We look forward to working with Dena to do just that—and helping other city and county managers turn their biggest challenges into opportunities.