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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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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.

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Building Houston

 
 

"There's something magical happening in Houston, and [VCs] want a piece of it." Photo via Getty Images

Houston's seen a growth in startup and venture investment — even amid the pandemic — and a group of Houston innovators sat down for a virtual event to discuss what's lead to this evolution.

The Greater Houston Partnership hosted an installment of its Houston Industry Series focused on Digital Tech on Thursday, September 24. The panel of experts, moderated by Krisha Tracy of Google Cloud, discussed how they've observed the paradigm shift that's occurred in Houston over the past few years — and why.

Missed the discussion? Here are some significant overheard moments from the virtual event.

“I think there really is an interest for venture capital here, both locally and also welcoming it from outside of Houston. … There’s something magical happening in Houston, and [VCs] want a piece of it. I think that magical piece is a renewed interest in collaborating.”

Stephanie Campbell, managing director of Houston Angel Network and co-founder of The Artemis Fund. "I think a lot [of this progress] is due to the GHP, Houston Exponential, and the founding of the HX Venture Fund to bring those venture funds to Houston to say, 'what's happening here?'" Campbell adds, saying that this connectivity and collaboration that's happening in Houston VC is unique.

“I think there’s a misconception around all we do is oil and gas and life science in Houston, but when you think about what VC-backable companies look like, they’re tech, they’re B2B SaaS, they’re highly scalable, and they don’t tend to be capital-intensive types of things we see corporate venture backing.”

Campbell says, adding "the connectivity and the interest in VC is really taking off. It's an exciting time to be in Houston and Texas in general."

“Plug and Play’s ventures team is based in Silicon Valley and one thing they enjoy about meeting Houston-based founders is valuations tend to be more reasonable than in the Bay Area."

Payal Patel, director of Plug and Play Tech Center in Houston. "There are gems to be found," she adds.

“I don’t know what it is — if it’s something in the water or just Texans being very friendly, but the investors here share deal flow. It takes a village, and I think we all understand a rising tide lifts all boats."

Patel says on the collaborative nature of Houston. "It's really magical."

“What you’re witnessing is a city that has been waiting for industrial innovation to reach the point where it can be adopted at a really high scale, and that happened around 2017.”

Jon Nordby, managing director at MassChallenge Texas in Houston. Nordby adds that MassChallenge in Houston hasn't been keen on consumer tech, or the "grilled cheese delivery apps," as he describes. "We like companies that are in love with problems, not so much in love with solutions. … We build really meaningful tech."

“Over the last year or two, we’ve seen that sleeping giant get awoken. Open and external innovation is newly adopted by more legacy industries where it wasn’t before — and that’s just created a mountain of opportunities for startups and investors alike.”

Nordby says on the shift toward this meaningful, problem-solving technology, which Houston is full of, as he observes.

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