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Deloitte's smart vision for Houston

Technology should enhance your quality of life. Art Wager/Getty Images

Cities across the country are in a race to get smart. Imagine a city where infrastructure and citizens are all interconnected by new technologies. Information about traffic, parking, energy use, city services, flooding, and much more is shared widely in open technology platforms. The possibilities are exciting: Smart Cities will collect and disseminate data in ways that should enhance quality of life, sustainability, and economic growth.

Indeed, a sea change is underway. In the past, the workings of a city were managed by the few — i.e., city planners and government officials. Looking ahead, new technology platforms are now enabling the many — i.e., corporations, nonprofits, and individuals — to share data in real time and significantly influence the workings of the city. It is a new era: the crowdsourcing of data coupled with ubiquitous access to useful information. Very smart.

What is a Smart City?
Deloitte, a leading voice in the development of Smart Cities, notes an evolution is underway. In a recent article, "Forces of Change: Smart Cities," Deloitte defines a Smart City 1.0 as "physical assets networked via sensor technology that generate streams of valuable data from 'smart' parking meters, streetlights, and even trash receptacles." But that's just the start. A Smart City 2.0 builds on the interconnection of the city's physical infrastructure, and adds people into the equation: residents, government and business employees, and visitors (see Deloitte's framework for Smart Cities below). Per Deloitte's article, "Smart City 2.0 focuses on enhancing the citizen experience by operating at the intersection of the 3Ds: data, digital, and human-centered design." The opportunity: leverage the collective knowledge of entire communities.

Houston getting smart
Houston is laser-focused on capturing this opportunity. Last March, Mayor Sylvester Turner announced the launch of the Smart City Advisory Council. Amy Chronis, managing partner of Deloitte's Houston office and the chair of the Greater Houston Partnership's (GHP's) Sustainability Advisory Committee, facilitated a workshop with city leaders. Per a GHP article, "the advisory council is charged with engaging community stakeholders, governments, academia and industry to develop a roadmap that will speed the adoption of technology and data-driven practices in the public realm."

Houston's Smart City initiative divides projects into a portfolio of opportunities: transportation, public safety, resiliency and sustainability, and engagement. The scope spans areas such as traffic, security, community life, and flooding. For example, the expanded Houston Intelligent Transportation System (HITS), a network of digital traffic signs, cameras, and more, will "monitor and manage traffic in real-time, improving public transit speed, information sharing and overall reliability." Flood detection sensors and roadway flood warning systems will gather and transmit flood-related data. With increased information, we should experience far fewer surprises on the road.

To move from a Smart City 1.0 to a Smart City 2.0, Houston is tapping into input from a wide swath of the population. In partnership with Microsoft, Houston is using a program "which scrapes data from the internet and social media to recognize trending topics and how they impact citizens' views toward the city" — just one example of giving a new voice to citizens. Also, a 311 chatbot allows citizens to seek city information or request services, while 311 prediction enables the city to better forecast needs and allocate resources smartly. We are headed toward more empowered citizens and a far more responsive city government.

For Houston, the opportunity is particularly large. With a diverse population and large geographic sprawl, Houston is poised to benefit greatly from increased interconnectedness. The city can get more ideas from diverse sources to solve issues, businesses can make smarter investments, residents will secure more ownership of their communities, and visitors will be more well-equipped to enjoy their experiences here. City leadership has grasped the vision. As Mayor Turner stated in a May 2018 address: "We must leap, not stroll into the future. We must sprint, not jog. It will be this city that will be the Smart City of the world."


Graphic courtesy of Deloitte



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This publication contains general information only and Deloitte is not, by means of this publication, rendering accounting, business, financial, investment, legal, tax, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such professional advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified professional advisor. Deloitte shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person who relies on this publication.

About Deloitte
Deloitte refers to one or more of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited, a UK private company limited by guarantee ("DTTL"), its network of member firms, and their related entities. DTTL and each of its member firms are legally separate and independent entities. DTTL (also referred to as "Deloitte Global") does not provide services to clients. In the United States, Deloitte refers to one or more of the US member firms of DTTL, their related entities that operate using the "Deloitte" name in the United States and their respective affiliates. Certain services may not be available to attest clients under the rules and regulations of public accounting. Please see www.deloitte.com/about to learn more about our global network of member firms.

Copyright © 2019 Deloitte Development LLC. All rights reserved.

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Building Houston

 
 

AvidXchange executives explain why a crisis like the pandemic can provide opportunities for growth or realignment. Photo via Getty Images

From esports to telemedicine, some technologies are having a major moment during the COVID-19 crisis. As many businesses are operating remotely with work-from-home policies in place indefinitely, payments automation is another technology that's seen an opportunity amid the pandemic.

AvidXchange, which has invoice and payment processes automation software for mid-market businesses, is one of the companies in this payment automation space that's seen growth in spite of the economic downturn caused by the virus. The Charlotte, North Carolina-based company was founded in 2000 and went on to acquire Houston-founded Strongroom Solutions Inc. in 2015.

Since the acquisition, AvidXchange has quadrupled its presence in Houston and does a good deal of business locally. Equipping companies with tools for remote work is crucial — now and especially in light of Houston's propensity for challenges. Tyler Gill, vice president of sales for AvidXchange based in the Houston office and former CEO of Strongroom, joined Houston Exponential on a virtual panel to discuss this topic.

"We've had a history of disasters in Houston. Any time we can help businesses move to a more cloud-based infrastructure is going to be better," Gill says on the livestream. "I think working from home is maybe the new normal for a lot of employees — so how do we enable this?"

Gill and his colleague, Chris Elmore, senior sales performance director at AvidXchange, joined Joey Sanchez of HX for the talk about the acquisition, the pandemic, and growth for the company. If you missed it or don't have time to stream the whole conversation, here are some impactful moments of the chat.

“Economic downturns have a tendency to put a very bright light on a feature set or a product or a service that’s underperforming."

— Elmore says on how the pandemic affects innovation and startups. "My hope is that entrepreneurs will see this as a real time to get focused on their business — what's working well and what's not working well — and my hope is that they'll say, 'I need to fix that,' not 'I wish this was better,'" he says.

“For a young entrepreneur looking to build a business, make sure you’re looking for the people who are germane to your business.”

— Gill says about starting his business in Houston. At first, he was trying to find investors in oil and gas, but he found more success working with companies with a background in finance technology. "Houston has a history and density in fintech — I just had to find it."

“The fact that Strongroom owned the automated payment process in HOA that made them so attractive to AvidXchange because we didn’t.”

— Elmore says on the 2015 acquisition. He explains that AvidXchange had set up a presence in multifamily and commercial real estate, while Strongroom had a hold on homeowner's association, or HOA, business. The two companies competed for a while, and if Strongroom hadn't had their HOA specialty that made the company ideal for acquisition, Elmore says the two companies would still be competing today.

“When Strongroom was added to AvidXchange, our culture improved. By the way, we went from 40 employees to 1,000 within 14 months, and Strongroom was right at the beginning of that.”

— Elmore says on growth following the acquisition. The company now has 1,500 employees across seven offices and just closed a $128 million round of fundraising in April.

“Customers don’t care how big you get or how much money you raise from investors. They care about if your service is still doing the things they need to operate their business.”

— Gill says, reminding entrepreneurs to always prioritize and be focused on the client experience — through mergers or acquisitions, fundraising rounds, growth, etc.

“When you replace human interaction with technology, what you have to do, is to now move that person on to something more impactful and more important for the business. I don’t like tech for tech’s sake.”

— Elmore says on the importance of automation. "When you automate something, the output of automation is time," he adds.

“Houston couldn’t be a better place to build a business — I found great investors and employees here. It’s a city that’s used to risk. But it’s got to be you, the entrepreneur, that’s got something festering — that’s how you know it’s a great idea.”

— Gill says on inspiring future innovators. "What kept me motivated was I wanted to win. I felt like we had a great product, and we had a big market to serve. … I wanted to build something lasting and build a great team."

“We continue to be a great Houston story — some of my angel investors in Houston are still benefiting."

— Gill says on AvidXchange's presence in Houston. He adds that he's proud of how his former Strongroom team members have risen through the ranks of the company following the acquisition and that he sees the company, which is still privately held, moving toward IPO.

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