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Trojans design civic-minded apps

USC Marshall School of Business Professor Ann Majchrzak partnered this semester with the city of Los Angeles’ Information Technology Agency (ITA) on student projects that had the potential for tangible impact in the community.

The mayor’s office is launching an initiative allowing the private sector, nonprofits and others to develop applications that will improve services for citizens and businesses alike. Six teams of USC Marshall students took on that challenge, researching and proposing apps that could help everyone from new business owners to affordable housing candidates.

In Hoffman Hall on Dec. 4, the teams’ final presentations were judged by the professor as well as officials from the city of Los Angeles, including the ITA, the mayor’s office and controller’s office. The judges were so impressed that the teams’ materials are being distributed among various city and county agencies.

“This partnership is a great opportunity for the students and the city,” said Ted Ross, assistant general manager of ITA. “Students learn to present, market their ideas and do analysis and systems design while getting great real-world experience, and the city taps into new talent and ideas.”

The undergraduate students worked in teams of five to develop a detailed business case, sociotechnical systems design (with visualizations of the app) and realization plan, which were judged on case completeness, quality of justification, viability, creativity and relevance to the city’s goals set forth previously by Mayor Eric Garcetti — including economic development and job creation, increased efficiency through the use of improved technology and systems, improved customer service and creation of a more sustainable and livable city.

“One of government’s greatest assets is its information,” Ross said. “If you partner governmental information with private sector and nonprofit innovation, you can deliver great tools to the public and businesses. I think that’s a great relationship that we should always try to foster, and this partnership with USC Marshall was another piece of that.

“Yes, this was a part of their grade, but whether students knew it or not, they were coming up with good ideas and fleshing them out so that we can take them to city departments, county and state agencies, whoever it might be, to make them a reality,” he added. “The students’ final assignments represent real citizen needs for the city of Los Angeles.”

Team One developed an Interactive Energy Saver app to help consumers lower their energy consumption and bills. Team Two’s app would simplify the registration, application and licensing process for new business owners. Team Three’s app connects residents with exercise partners and safe places, such as city parks, to exercise. Team Four’s app would create a network among nonprofit organizations to help them better deploy and even share their resources. Team Five’s app connects databases at multiple agencies that are part of the foster care system to create a uniform service delivery model. Team Six’s app assists individuals, who have been approved for affordable housing, find the best location for their needs.

After the final presentations, Majchrzak said: “One of the city officers at the final presentation told me that these were impactful apps that inspired him personally in multiple ways: inspired him about this generation of young professionals, gave him good ideas on how he might be able to make some of these apps possible and left him completely energized to excite the many departmental managers at the city of LA to take on this charge that the students have started.”

Geoffrey James, a member of Team One, said that one of the biggest challenges was assembling a final business plan that seamlessly incorporated work from all five team members.

“The project was a lot of work, but I learned so much,” he said. “I like classes with this holistic approach where you have to understand the whole process. This is one of the best classes that I have taken at USC.”

“We are incredibly grateful to Ted Ross, [ITA General Manager and Chief Technology Officer] Steve Reneker and the mayor for being involved in this class,” Majchrzak said. “Having Ted involved in reviewing the students’ work throughout the semester helped to switch the dynamics in the classroom from one of just learning the material to one of creating a design that might be used by the city of LA, and that was incredibly exciting for us all.”

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Trojans design civic-minded apps

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