Sunday, March 10, 2019

Smarter Cities - A Company Expert Speaks

This past Friday, just before the official of the UMass Amherst Spring Break (one week recess), we had the great pleasure of hearing Dr. Jurij Paraszczak present in our UMass Amherst INFORMS Speaker Series. And the turnout for his talk in our beautiful new Business Innovation Hub at the Isenberg School was fantastic! I was especially delighted to see undergraduates in attendance as well as faculty and students not only from the Isenberg School but also from the College of Engineering and the College of Information and Computer Sciences! We even had guests from multiple other states! Thanks to the hard work of the UMass Amherst INFORMS Student Chapter the notice for Dr. Paraszczak's talk even made the UMass Amherst homepage under "Events!"
As is our tradition, as the Faculty Advisor to this great Student Chapter, I welcomed everyone and then this year's Chapter President, Katerina Deliali, did a formal introduction of our speaker. You can see from his bio in the above poster, the amazing career that he has had at IBM, with global impact!
Dr. Paraszczak, as the Director of IBM's Smarter Cities program (and he told us that IBM's Marketing Department deserves the credit for the coinage of the "Smarter" component), has had a wealth of experience. He took the lucky audience on a panoramic view of associated projects, highlighting several ones in greater depth, both in the US and in Europe.
He began his lecture very interactively, querying the audience, as to What is a Smart City? and then continued by asking us:
  • Who decides on the objectives?
  • What resources are available?
  • Who makes the compromises?
He noted that a Smarter City is one that is "optimized around a set of goals," which is a fabulous definition.  He emphasized that there have been dramatic changes since 2013 in terms of the availability of data (sensors, social media, etc.) and Artificial Intelligence, with applications (some existing ones in certain countries in terms of traffic management and even social control and you can guess the country or countries as to the latter). One of my wonderful colleagues from Management (who also happens to be Ukrainian), Dr. Bogdan Prokopovych,  especially enjoyed the statement that: "data is the new oil."

I was delighted when Dr. Paraszczak mentioned Dr. Brenda Dietrich (formerly of IBM and now at Cornell University, who is an INFORMS Fellow). Brenda had spoken in our Speaker Series a few years ago and, coincidentally, was included in a wonderful article published recently in ORMS Today, an INFORMS publication, on ten pioneering women and a Rising Star.

Dr. Paraszczak  discussed the analysis of cities, from building simple models that relate physics to everyday activities, to statistical models, and, ultimately, predictive ones (and I would argue prescriptive ones). He spoke of the hierarchy of: analytics, data, models, and insights.

He also emphasized the competition for resources and Maslow's needs for a city and quality of life. At the Q&A I asked him which city does he think has the best quality of life and he said: Stockholm, Sweden, and both my colleague Bogdan and I agree (although I do love Gothenburg, where I have also lived). How does one do resource optimization, in terms of energy, water, traffic, etc., in a city, when many of the departments work and function as silos? He singled out Minneapolis as being an exemplar of a Smarter City in the US and mentioned that there is usually an individual/leader who has the correct vision and relationships to make things happen. I believe that the students in the audience very much appreciated his emphasis on not only technical skills, but also on soft skills.
Dr. Paraszczak said that cities need to anticipate problems, such as where there may be water breaks, or crime, or traffic gridlock (with a terrific animation of Istanbul, Turkey using cell phone data during the day). He also emphasized the need to sense, analyze, predict, and manage, and how resilience is built upon planning and operations. He noted that people want to be heard and you need to engage citizens.

He also spoke about how the lack of organization among city departments may lead to failure and the challenges of constructing a single objective for a city! Ultimately, it is desirable to "make things better" and to "improve the quality of life."

Needless to say, I was absolutely thrilled when he displayed a photo of Lviv, Ukraine (my parents hailed from that area) and spoke of his work there, which yielded successes.

And he stated that Singapore is the smartest city on the planet but still so siloed, and, coincidentally, back in October, I had the great pleasure of taking part in a Workshop at the Ivey School in Canada on Smart Cities and wrote a blogpost on it since it was amazing and we had a speaker who spoke on Singapore! That workshop was organized by Professors Joe  Naoum-Sawaya and Bissan Ghaddar.

The Q&A period was excellent (but much too short) and many lingered afterwards to chat. Katerina Deliali presented the speaker with a gift from the Isenberg School.

I took the group photo below and then off to lunch at the University Club we went!
The lunch was delicious and the conversations filled with a lot of wonderful exchanges and laughter.
Also, as we always like to do, we shared scrumptious desserts.

Afterwards, we escorted Dr. Jurij Paraszczak to the Supernetworks Lab at the Isenberg School, where Nazanin Khatami conducted an interview with him. We will let you know when the video gets posted on the Chapter's Youtube channel.

It was a great honor to be able to host Dr. Jurij Parazsczak at UMass Amherst - thanks to him and to the great audience!

And a special shoutout to Chapter officer Haris Sipetas, who maintains the chapter website, including the news, for the writeup with additional photos!

Wishing everyone a Very Happy Spring Break!