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Using software to accelerate new ideas: MARTA, UrbanLeap to test programs

Jason Marshall
MARTA celebrated its 40th anniversary this year, as it partnered with software innovator UrbanLeap to test new programs. Credit: Kelly Jordan

By Guest Columnist JEREMY DEVRAY-BENICHOU, vice president of customer success at UrbanLeap

UrbanLeap is a small company that is among those contributing to a big change in the way cities, nonprofits, and organizations – including MARTA – evaluate new ideas before putting them into place.

Jeremy Devray-Benichou

UrbanLeap’s co-founder, Arik Bronshtein, has worked with governments around the world and saw an opportunity to improve the processes by which governments and vendors work together. Improved products and services result from the collaboration.

“Many cities don’t have the right tools or processes to work on innovative solutions,” Bronshtein said. “There are so many projects, which can involve so many departments, and vendors may not know how to navigate all this. I saw a need to cut through the complexity, and help cities and vendors work better together.”

UrbanLeap’s software helps cities and organizations in three ways:

  • Evaluate – Sometimes a city or organization has hundreds of projects to consider, and may not have the time or the staff to find which project is truly the best for its situation. UrbanLeap helps evaluate and rank all these possible projects, so that only the best ideas get put into action.
  • Test and Track – A project will be tested on a small scale before being fully implemented. If a city wants to use autonomous shuttle busses or a new bike-share program, the idea can be tested in a small corner of the city to determine if this program works. Testing on a small scale is important to find problems and to get data on how people interact with the project, so all the issues can be fixed before the program gets put in place throughout the entire city or organization. UrbanLeap allows a city or organization to monitor this small-scale test, then track all the data that comes out of it, enabling officials to identify and minimize the risks associated with the implementation of innovative solutions, before moving to full scale.
  • Share – UrbanLeap allows the user to share their data with others. This opens the doors for collaboration between various cities and organizations. It also helps organizations communicate better internally. Why reinvent the wheel if a solution has already been tested somewhere else?

MARTA began working with UrbanLeap in August to accelerate innovation and test new solutions, without disrupting the experience of their riders.

“UrbanLeap has been an instrumental part of our work,” said Kirk Talbott, MARTA’s CIO and former deputy CIO of the City of Atlanta. “The platform allows us to test programs, track their progress, and share the data in a meaningful way, while keeping the customer impact to a minimum. Our partnership with UrbanLeap has helped us streamline the work.”

MARTA celebrated its 40th anniversary this year, as it partnered with software innovator UrbanLeap to test new programs. Credit: Kelly Jordan

MARTA currently is managing 15 different pilot programs through UrbanLeap, working on internal projects to improve efficiency and lower costs, as well as services and technologies that will directly impact the riders. Some of these programs involve cooperating with big companies such as Amazon, Bird, and T-mobile.

“There’s an important question to ask: ‘Is the cost of implementing a solution worth the value derived from it?’” Talbott said. “This can be a financial value or a social value. UrbanLeap helps us run a lot of testing and collect strategic data to assess the actual impact of the solutions we are testing. This has been essential to demonstrate the value of those solutions to the departments that have the budget to fund them.”

In other words, when a city’s CIO wants to fund a project and needs to ask for the money, the CIO can take UrbanLeap’s data to the mayor or city manager and show that this money will be put to good use. The software helps projects get the funding they need.

UrbanLeap was started in 2017, with founders Bronshtein and Erez Druk. Palo Alto, Ca. was the first city in the United States to use the software, and since then cities around the world have been innovating and improving the quality of life for their citizens with UrbanLeap. Cities such as Las Vegas, Sacramento, and Tel Aviv, as well as counties including San Mateo in the Bay area, and non-profits including The Fund for our Economic Future, in Ohio, have been innovating with UrbanLeap. The startup has built a network of leading organizations dedicated to accelerating innovation and sharing learnings with like-minded governments, making the term “smart cities” much more than just a slogan.

Arik sees potential for this approach to evaluating new ideas to become a global phenomenon.

“Over 50 percent of the global population lives in cities,” says Arik. “UrbanLeap has the potential to improve life for all these people. Half the planet. Think about how much phones and computers have changed in the last few decades, thanks to tech. But cities and their infrastructure haven’t changed much, and there’s a lot of potential there. Police, firefighters, parks, waste management. It can all be improved, and I’m excited for UrbanLeap to be a part of that progress.”

Note to readers: Jeremy Devray-Benichou specializes in urban innovation and development products with UrbanLeap. He works nationwide with cities, counties and public agencies.

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