IMC Newsdesk

Microsoft smart city technology aids Houston recovery

  • September 2, 2020
  • Steve Rogerson

Houston has expanded its digital alliance with Microsoft to innovate in big data, artificial intelligence and the digital economy through Accelerate, a programme to address economic recovery by skilling underserved communities and re-skilling those impacted by Covid-19.

The collaboration is intended to create an economic opportunity, close equity and digital skills gaps, and prepare a workforce for the 21st century.

“More than two years ago, I announced our first transformative alliance with Microsoft, the first of its kind in the USA,” said Houston mayor Sylvester Turner. “Today, I am pleased to say we are taking another leap towards strengthening Houston’s global standing as a centre for innovation and technology.”

The mayor was joined by Jacky Wright, chief digital officer at Microsoft in the USA, to announce details of the Houston Innovation Alliance and Accelerate Houston. Other partners supporting the alliance include Ion, the National Aeronautics & Space Administration, Kino-Eye Center, Upskill Houston, University of Houston College of Technology and Space Center Houston.

“Microsoft launched the Accelerate programme at a time when closing the digital divide has never been more important,” said Kate Johnson, president of Microsoft in the USA. “We’re thrilled to be joining mayor Turner and an impressive group of partners in this effort to expand access to in-demand digital skills and close digital skills gaps widened by Covid-19 through Accelerate Houston.”

Through coordination with corporate partners, K-12 school systems and higher education providers, Microsoft is developing a holistic plan for professional development and support. and addressing the equity gap across the community:

  • For transitioning members of the workforce and/or local veterans, the company will offer digital literacy workshops, empowerment programmes and other development training with industry experts through LinkedIn Learning, to help prepare them for opportunities in new technologies and increase digital skills training.
  • For students, the company will bring the Microsoft Imagine Academy learning paths to Houston schools, with content and industry certifications mapped to student skill development. Additional programming includes LinkedIn workshops, DigiCamps and DigiGirlz camps, bringing young people together to plan their future, help them identify the skills they need to reach their goals, and connect to programmes and technology that will help them get there.
  • For K-16 education providers, Microsoft and partners will bring digital literacy training and modern workplace training focused on digital skills for educators.

“The University of Houston College of Technology and Microsoft are together providing students, professionals, businesses and the Houston community with the resources to manage, create, communicate and commercialise meaningfully unique opportunities,” said Anthony Ambler, dean at the University of Houston College of Technology. “As game changers, the College of Technology and Microsoft transcend beyond the classroom with industry-recognised certifications, workshops, and degree programmes that support workforce creation and upskilling while reinforcing a culture of innovation. These complementing activities champion the Houston community as adept practitioners and mentors in proven disciplines that apply ingenuity and technology to solve problems, improve lives and enhance the economy.”

Through their joint efforts, Microsoft and the city of Houston will work to advance civic innovation and smart city initiatives, economic development and recovery, and digital skilling for workforce and youth.

“Our initial alliance with Microsoft, established in 2018, created the foundation for Houston to grow as a smart city,” said Jesse Bounds, innovation director for the city of Houston. “It brought start-up innovation to city challenges through the Ion smart city accelerator, proved out cases for the use of IoT and AI to make our city safer and more resilient, and provided equitable access to technology through digital literacy, upskilling programmes and wifi on public transit. This expansion will continue to build upon this foundation the skills, processes and technologies needed to drive future growth and equitable prosperity in the city and position Houston to be a shining example to others across the globe.”

To help accelerate the integration of technology and implement the vision to make Houston a centre of excellence for innovation in energy transition, AI, IoT and data science, Microsoft is investing more than $1m into programmes that support social entrepreneurship and other initiatives in partnership with Houston’s Innovation District at the Ion.

“With this digital alliance, one of history’s most important and innovative technology companies becomes a key pillar of the Ion,” said David Leebron, president of Rice University. “Microsoft will help implement the vision to make Houston’s new innovation district a focal point for the future of energy, artificial intelligence, data science and smart cities.”

Accelerate Houston is the latest US implementation of Microsoft’s Global Skills Initiative, a plan to help 25 million people worldwide acquire new digital skills by the end of the year.

“As a founding partner of the Ion smart and resilient cities accelerator, Microsoft has already established a close collaboration with the Ion, supporting start-ups as they develop and scale their businesses and pursue pilot opportunities with the city of Houston,” said Jan Odegard, the Ion’s interim executive director. “In addition to supporting entrepreneurs solving challenges like mobility, clean-tech, air quality and water purification, we are excited to expand our partnership with Microsoft as part of this digital alliance with the city of Houston to include access to resources that allow us to offer more robust workforce development initiatives on-site at the Ion’s new space.”

Mayor Turner added: “Houston is home to some of the world’s most important medical breakthroughs and, as the energy capital of the world, we’re leading the energy transition into a more sustainable future. Microsoft shares my vision to make Houston the smart city of the future and a leader among US cities as we develop excellence in innovation, AI and digital equity.”