February 4, 2020

Digital Empowers Regional Forum: Chicago


Digital Empowers Chicago
© Photo by Ian Wagreich / © U.S. Chamber of Commerce


Digital Empowers Chicago
© Photo by Ian Wagreich / © U.S. Chamber of Commerce


Digital Empowers Chicago
© Photo by Ian Wagreich / © U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Digital Empowers explores how cross-sector partnerships leverage technology to bring greater access and equity to individuals and communities.

On October 3, 2019, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation and Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) held Digital Empowers Chicago. This forum explored innovative ideas and partnerships that embrace the city’s diversity and the capabilities of emerging technology to empower and promote civic inclusion and equal access to opportunity.

Digital Empowers Chicago is part of a national campaign that brings awareness to innovative leaders and elevates their impact on regional and national platforms.

Key Takeaways

  • Real-time analysis of big data, and increasing the ability of logistics companies to leverage that analysis will continue to make commuting safer and provide quality transportation access and options to all communities.
  • Digital personalization and partnerships require openness, authentically collaborative environments, and seeing problems from multiple viewpoints to achieve success.
  • Businesses are ambassadors for good and should identify biases in their products and workplaces to address those liabilities and make them inclusive for everyone.

Why Chicago

The technology industry has long had challenges with diversity in its workforces. Three of the largest tech companies (Apple, Google, and Microsoft) have increased the numbers of black and Latinx technical employees in their American facilities by less than one percent since 2014.

Companies in Chicago have a diverse and unique community to draw from. Home to 2.8 million residents, Chicago is and has been a multicultural hub, rich in diversity for well over a century. Compared to the United States, it has twice as many Black and Latinx households by percentage, as well as significant representation of women and LGBT+ populations, bringing innovation and a wealth of diverse human capital to Chicago’s workforce.

Benefits of that progress, however, have not been distributed equitably among Chicagoans. It is for that reason that the city’s young people have sought employment where they are able to make a profound impact, and as tech-natives, this new workforce has seen the change and foresee the good that technology can bring to communities. Industry leaders, such as the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce and the Illinois Technology Association, are working to harness the city’s collective creativity, capital, and empathy to develop scalable solutions to solve the city’s social and environmental challenges. As remarked by TCS’s Surya Kant, Chicago’s unique community and strong public-private partnerships have put its technology sector in a position to leverage its resources to better understand what the community needs to succeed and what its people need to build social value. thereby, enabling the tech community to engineer solutions to break down the city’s biases and barriers.


Digital Empowers Chicago
Surya Kant, President, North America, UK, and Europe, Tata Consultancy Services
© Photo by Ian Wagreich / © U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Surya Kant further elaborated how business tools, like those used in mass personalization, can also bring greater insights and develop seamless, personalized strategies to address a variety of social challenges. Chicago’s businesses are also realizing that that they can better serve their customers if they leverage their ecosystems and take a more holistic look at their value chain to identify opportunities to create shared value. For example, Uber and Lyft transformed urban transportation by taking the friction out of hailing, payment, and operating.

Digital technologies including cloud, Artificial Intelligence (AI), and Machine Learning (ML) have opened the door to unlimited possibilities through unprecedented data analytics capabilities, but it is because of Chicago’s cross-sector commitment to co-creation that innovation and inclusion become reality.

Digital Empowers Chicago: Key Trends


Like other large cities, Chicago has a number of challenges surrounding its transportation and mobility challenges, but unlike other cities, Chicago has established a Task Force to effectively harness public-private sector partnerships around technology driven solutions. Those innovations, ranging from mass transit improvements to last-mile solutions are fueling positive changes to the Chicago region’s mobility, and furthering social benefits as a result, including opening access to better jobs, healthier food, and more community engagement.

Technology is also reducing discrimination in Chicago’s transportation system. KPMG’s Gary Silberg shared that car sharing apps like Lyft and Uber reduce biases in the personal cab industry, making personal transportation more available throughout Chicago; a trend poised to grow more with the advent of autonomous vehicles. On a broader level, engineering company AECOM has been working with cities like Chicago to avoid biased decision-making concerning the city’s other transportation issues, such as how to bridge the digital divide and involve all citizens in improving area transit.

One company, Navistar, is leveraging data and technology to make its fleets safer, more efficient, and accessible. By working with the disabled community, the company was able to design and equip vehicles with adaptive and assistive technologies necessary to meet their transportation needs—and notably, foster a renewed confidence and ability to participate in the community.


"Biases that can be implicit in AI are sometimes made explicit through the recommendations and the actions that an AI-enabled system can take. No company knows all there is to know about this, not even the state-of-the-art Silicon Valley firms, so it’s very important that a community comes together, shares ideas, and becomes stronger to safeguard against those risks.” Marvin Richardson, Senior Vice President and CIO, Health Care Service Corporation (HCSC)

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Digital Empowers Chicago
Marvin Richardson, Senior Vice President and CIO, Health Care Service Corporation (HCSC)
© Photo by Ian Wagreich / © U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Long-gone or longstanding biases have a major impact on city infrastructure and transportation networks. Those biases can be solved by AI and other technological solutions, as long as those solutions are also free of bias when they are created. In Chicago, there are several examples of tech-for-good solutions where inclusion is prioritized in design and in outcomes.

Inclusion in AI-powered products and services can be achieved by addressing bias in the design and development process. Digital innovation firm Solstice highlighted the importance of setting guidelines to limit AI biases by 1) defining what bias is, 2) using unbiased data to train AI, and 3) ensuring that the structure behind the AI is transparent. HCSC then demonstrated such AI governance in action, primarily through the maintenance of its Guiding Care platform, which provides doctors with unbiased information and service recommendations for Medicaid patients. The impact of AI on health will not stop at improving health care decisions for individuals—AI tools are already being leveraged to make sense of the big data around social determinants of health.

The Chicago business community is also taking the lead in tackling bias within human resources—particularly around the development of new tech solutions and recruitment, retention, and promotion of diverse candidates. Recruiting start-up WeSolv, renowned for providing solutions and services based on performance and not perception, emphasized the intentionality of data sources, algorithms, and professional development opportunities for its applicants and corporate users—all while incorporating the strength and validity to diversity and inclusion in the workplace. The resulting return on investment of an inclusive workplace shows not only in employee satisfaction and retention, but innovation within companies and marketplaces, as new perspectives and experiences spur creativity.

As impactful as these corporate-led efforts have been, they may lack the complete view of all of a community’s stakeholders, and that is where BrightHive works to coordinate the data analyses of private, public, and nonprofit sectors. In addition to its work in Chicago to help find insights from socioeconomic data, BrightHive is also working with the Chamber Foundation’s Center for Education and Workforce on its talent pipeline data exchange, JDX.

Another example of a technology-based crosssector partnership that can help current and future job pipelines be more diverse and inclusive is HERE Technologies’ collaboration with Year Up to mentor students from underrepresented communities to cultivate the technologists that industry in Chicago and elsewhere will require. Overall, it is clear that technology is playing a key role in ensuring that the workplaces of today and tomorrow are diverse, inclusive, and ready to tackle some of the largest social problems Chicago and the United States are facing.


"It is incredibly important to bring together organizations that understand [community] problems from a government, resident, or even industry perspective. We need to combine those perspectives with others who are thinking about emerging capabilities—technologies that can bring a fresh point of view to how we solve problems, and how we can come together towards new innovative solutions.” David Leopold, Director of City Solutions, City Tech Collaborative

David Leopold-800x470.JPG

Digital Empowers Chicago
David Leopold, Director of City Solutions, City Tech Collaborative
© Photo by Ian Wagreich / © U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Understanding where biases occur and designing them out is only the first step—ensuring that new technologies are accessible and actively used by the community is the only way that tech-for-good solutions can make an impact. In some cases, those new technologies come with alreadyestablished community benefits; Whirlpool’s utilization of the Internet of Things (IoT) into its appliances reduces energy and water consumption. Similarly, through its app or direct message, United Airlines can contact customers in real time about holding connecting planes for them, reducing the number of missed flights for customers, shrinking their carbon footprint.

Open exchanges—whether through partnerships or information—are also critical in the Chicago region’s efforts to maximize technology for good. As efforts like those by BrightHive show, those exchanges can exist across all stakeholders—business, consumer, community, and government. Within the private sector, the B2B technological ecosystem can create significant efficiencies. Whirlpool has partnered with Amazon to incorporate Amazon Virtual Dash Buttons (VDB) on its refrigerators with touchscreens. Amazon Prime customers can order groceries from the refrigerator VBD and have them shipped via Prime, eliminating the transportation emissions that would result from a consumer trip to the grocery store. AECOM is also helping the city of Chicago do more good with fewer resources via the use of open data and creation of public-private partnerships to better the city’s transit system—making it more efficient, equitable, and effective.