Microsoft announced earlier this month that it has launched CityNext, a new worldwide initiative to strengthen communities in part through technology.

The software giant selected nine cities across the globe to serve as “showcase cities,” to participate in partnerships that will carry out strategic goals like enhancing technology and improving emergency response planning in the selected cities.

Philadelphia, the only U.S. city named in the project, joins Barcelona, Spain; Moscow; Hamburg, Germany, and five others selected to participate in the new initiative, fully funded by Microsoft.  According to the company, CityNext is supposed to help partner cities push out tech initiatives like moving to cloud-based email and developing open government practices to solicit feedback from citizens using apps and social media.

“Cities play a vital role in our lives — both now and in the future," said Laura Ipsen, corporate vice president of Microsoft Worldwide Public Sector, in a statement. "Microsoft’s CityNext initiative puts people first and builds on this new era of collaborative technology to engage citizens, business and government leaders in new ways.”

With a partnership in place, Philadelphia and Microsoft will now work together to identify what priorities both will carry out through the partnership. Adel Ebeid, Philadelphia’s chief innovation officer, said so far, one proof of concept is currently in development.

The company plans to donate 40 Surface Pro tablets to city code inspectors to help prevent incidents like the one that occurred in Philadelphia in June. According to prior news reports, a Center City building collapsed onto a Salvation Army thrift store killing six and injuring more than 10 people. Ebeid said the new tablets would arm inspectors with current building code data in the field, allowing them to better address building safety issues.

Beyond tablet use, the city has identified other strategic priorities going forward, and they are hopeful that the partnership with Microsoft will help them put those plans in motion.

One key component of those goals is the development of a mobile workforce and enhancing overall mobility in the city. Microsoft may bring its own ideas to the table as well, Ebeid explained, so it will be a matter of collectively determining what's best for Philadelphia.

“The process that’s going to happen next is the blending of those opportunities so that we can focus on the ones that are really beneficial to us,” Ebeid said.

Potentially, the city could also focus efforts on nurturing its startup community and other local businesses to help create access to qualified local talent in the future.

But for now, the city is looking forward to getting the program started.

“I’m really going into this eyes wide open and glass half full, so I’m very optimistic,” Ebeid said. “The only challenge might be how much we can leverage the relationship and without compromising the spirit or the intent of the procurement rules that are in place.”

Sarah Rich, Staff Writer Sarah Rich  |  Staff Writer

In 2008, Sarah Rich graduated from California State University, Chico, where she majored in news-editorial journalism and minored in sociology. Since 2010, Sarah has written for Government Technology magazine and covers a spectrum of public-sector IT topics, including cloud computing, transparency, broadband, and other innovative projects and trends. She currently lives in Sacramento, Calif.