Syracuse, N.Y. – Top executives of Microsoft joined with the City of Syracuse, Onondaga County and Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies (iSchool) for a signing ceremony to kick off the global technology company’s expansive partnership in Syracuse.  Microsoft representatives are visiting Syracuse this week, meeting with community stakeholders and planning for implementation of programs and services it will make available to people, non-profits and businesses

“For this new era of digital transformation to benefit us all, we need to create strong ties across government, academic institutions and industry in support of a common vision of a digital future. The Syracuse AI Innovation Digital Alliance represents an opportunity for us to formalize a multistakeholder collaboration that will use Artificial Intelligence in responsible and trustworthy ways in order to create a smarter city and a more accessible environment for the acquisition of digital skills,” said Jennifer Byrne, MSUS chief technical officer, Microsoft. “Microsoft’s mission is to empower every person and organization on the planet to achieve more. That is why we are so excited to be a part of this alliance and to be a part of the community here in Syracuse.”

“We’re very excited about Microsoft’s support for Syracuse, particularly its willingness to work with stakeholders in our community.  Microsoft is listening to us to help shape how its expertise and resources can best help create opportunity for all in our community,” said Mayor Walsh.

The collaboration is significant to the Syracuse community because Microsoft will work with the additional partners across the region to deliver a broad curriculum of technology and digital literacy programs to local non-profits, community centers, educational institutions, employment and workforce development organizations, and businesses. The goal is to more rapidly advance the Syracuse Surge, the community’s strategy of inclusive growth in the New Economy.

“We’re very excited about Microsoft’s support for Syracuse, particularly its willingness to work with stakeholders in our community.  Microsoft is listening to us to help shape how its expertise and resources can best help create opportunity for all in our community,” said Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh. “I also appreciate our Common Council’s approval of the memorandum of understanding with Microsoft and for supporting the City’s technology investments that have moved the Syracuse Surge forward.”

“This is another win for Syracuse and Onondaga County and another example of what we can achieve when we work together,” said Onondaga County Executive J. Ryan McMahon II. “Microsoft is one of the world’s most valued and respected companies.  The fact the Microsoft is here in Syracuse and Onondaga County sends an undeniable message that this community is a great place to invest in and grow a business. We look forward to this partnership.”

In October, the iSchool announced an alignment of technology initiative and economic development goals between the City, County, the iSchool, Syracuse University, and Microsoft. That followed talks with Microsoft leadership over the summer at its Redmond, Washington, headquarters, led by the iSchool and involving Mayor Ben Walsh and Onondaga County. The City and the iSchool previously have collaborated on smart data events and “Smart Cities” technology initiatives.

MOU Elements

The memorandum of understanding outlines Microsoft’s plans to:

  • Select Syracuse as home to its first Smart Cities technology hub in the Northeast
  • Seek a location in the Southside Campus for the New Economy geared toward early-stage start-ups and people who want to build a company
  • Partner with education providers and community organizations on digital literacy and workforce training
  • Sponsor public events, including an “Innovation Summit” before June 30, 2020
  • Support development and research in Artificial Intelligence (AI) to grow long-term opportunities for residents and a leading-edge role for Syracuse in that arena
  • Support continued development of entrepreneurial and innovation ecosystem to help establish/grow new start-ups and innovation jobs
  • Support corporate digital transformation efforts for local businesses with technical training and access to subject matter experts and leading practices to help grow local industries
  • Support development of a digital ethics policy and an AI strategy for the City to ensure responsible deployment of new technologies

The City, County and Syracuse University will provide local leadership to the partnership and will actively recruit other institutions and organizations to partner in the programs.

iSchool Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Arthur Thomas said the memorandum of understanding formalizes the partners’ plans and permits Microsoft to dedicate significant resources, at  no charge to the collaborators, to begin initiatives designed to positively impact the region.

He said Microsoft is looking at the City’s “Syracuse Surge” initiatives to find ways to leverage the company’s technology to serve various regional constituencies. “They have technologies that will assist in the better understanding of what’s going on in a given city or in a given region, that will accelerate learning and accommodate people of varying learning styles and skill levels. They have technologies that can unite people in approaches and accelerate their ability to work together towards common goals. They’ll also be able to use technology to improve business functions and thus assure they are used most effectively as a way to help boost the future vision of the region.”

iConsult at the Start

The collaboration of the business, education, and government interests has already explored a series of high-impact, community-focused projects in education and training; public safety and security; accessibility and inclusion for people with disabilities; and economic development and job creation. Many of these projects have taken place through the iConsult Collaborative, an iSchool-based consulting service that pairs Syracuse University students with technology needs of local communities and organizations. The projects, which Thomas oversees, provide students with real-world experience and the ability to apply their tech skills with community and non-profit groups that might otherwise have to forego the services and upgrades students provide free of charge.

The iSchool and Microsoft have had a relationship and interactions for several years, including the company’s recruitment of iSchool graduates and attendance at iSchool career fairs, as well as the involvement of Syracuse University alumnus Jack Ryder, Microsoft’s Americas retired chief financial officer, as a member of the iSchool’s Board of Advisors.

Several iSchool faculty members have specialized in research on Smart Energy and Smart Cities, and the iSchool has a Smart Grid Research Center. It also has faculty and researchers whose research interests are focused on smart energy use, data science, artificial intelligence, and the IoT. In addition, the iSchool offers a data science minor which is open to all students at Syracuse University, and a master’s degree in applied data science.

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