Inside the National League of Cities with Microsoft's Kim Nelson

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With nearly 50,000 employees working in 125 buildings covering 14.9 million square feet of office space, Microsoft’s headquarters in Redmond, Wash., is larger than many cities around the world.

It makes sense then that with the National League of Cities holding its annual conference a 20-minute bus ride away in Seattle, the company would use it as an opportunity to show how Microsoft uses its own technology to transform itself.

“If we are going to talk to cities about transformation, it’s imperative that we show them how we have been able to do it ourselves,” said Kim Nelson, Microsoft’s executive director of e-gov solutions, who spent 26 years working in the public sector, first as a CIO for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and then as CIO for the Environmental Protection Agency.

During the conference, Microsoft held two mobile workshops for city leaders at the company’s headquarters, one focused on security and another on energy efficiency, with each showing how Microsoft streamlined its own operations using in-house technology.

The security workshop focused on Microsoft’s Global Security Operations Center and how the company — with nearly 100,000 employees in more than 100 countries around the world — keeps its employees safe, while the energy efficiency program focused on Microsoft’s 88 acres campaign, which you can read more about here.

The workshops also showed off CityNext, a broad portfolio of products and technologies, a global network of partners and a long track record of successful education and social programs from Microsoft aimed at helping cities become true 21st-century communities.

One of the keys, Nelson said, was to show the municipalities in attendance — the National League of Cities features more than 20,000 members — that transformation does not have to be expensive. Instead, she said Microsoft highlighted projects requiring minimal capital investment.

“While there is an amazing diversity in cities, almost all of them want the same three things: safe, healthy and educated communities,” Nelson said. “Those are what will give them the economic foundation they need to grow, attract more residents and business and become more vibrant communities.”

To help do that, Nelson said Microsoft focuses on a three fundamental areas.

The first is helping cities transform operations, providing real-time services that can help workers get their tasks done more efficiently than before. The second key is helping cities engage with citizens, every way from using social media best practices to finding ways to increase transparency, giving citizens immediate information and ways to get engaged with government.

The final thing, Nelson said, is to find ways that help cities increase growth and innovation.

Nelson said Microsoft also likes to show proof of concept. For example, the company did a mobility project with Philadelphia this past spring that came after a building set for demolition in the city collapsed before it could be demolished, killing six people in a neighboring building and injuring 14 others.

The city was in need of improving how it inspected buildings, so Microsoft stepped in and outfitted city inspectors with Surface tablets that were connected with a rebuilt front-end to the system already in place.

By just doing those changes, the city’s inspectors were able to file reports on-site opposed to writing on paper and going back to the office and typing in them manually. The workers were also able to get more efficient routing methods to minimize the trips they made between inspection sites.

“What we try to show the cities is that everything does not need to be rip and replace,” Nelson said. “In Philadelphia, it was making a few simple changes with some technology upgrades and seeing what a huge difference they can make. Transformation does not always have to involve a $100 million system.”

Nelson said Microsoft is focusing hard on helping cities transform. For the first time in recorded history, more than 50 percent of the nation’s population lives in cities opposed to rural areas, and 80 percent of both gross domestic product and energy usage come out of cities as well.

“It comes down to how can we help people,” Nelson said. “The answer for us now is clearly in cities. We recognize that cities are the engine for growth and competitiveness and need a lean and modern government to support them.”

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Kim Nelson, Microsoft, Redmond, States, Washington
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