IBM is offering $50 million in grants to 100 cities worldwide to help them foster citizen engagement, services and efficiency through technology.
The move comes amid a trend by the federal government to offer technology challenges as a way to promote more openness and innovation at all levels of government.
Cities can make their case to take part in the vendor's Smarter Cities Challenge by identifying how technology and services will help them bolster strategies in these areas, according to IBM.
The vendor will consider other criteria, including a city's history in innovation and use of technology and open data. Cities also must have proven willingness to provide access and time with city leaders.
While cities of all sizes can compete for the grants, IBM said that ones with populations between 100,000 and 700,000 will likely benefit most from the program.
IBM's investment will be fairly intensive once the vendor chooses which cities have made the most convincing cases for grants, it said.
Over the next three years, IBM will send consultants to winning municipalities who will work side by side with city officials on local issues like healthcare, education, safety, social services, transportation, communications, sustainability and other citizen-needs that can be better served by technology.
Together, city officials and IBM consultants will prioritize needs and come up with feasible strategies to improve services and efficiencies in chosen areas of investment.
Before opening the challenge to a wider pool, IBM is conducting a series of pilot grants in Baltimore; Austin, Texas; and Mecklenburg County, N.C., near Charlotte. The pilot grants will provide a foundation for future winners.
The Smarter Cities Challenge is IBM's largest single philanthropic investment to date and stems from an existing pro bono program called Corporate Service Corps, according to the vendor.
For the past three years, that program has been sending teams of IBM employees with technology, scientific research, marketing, finance and business-development skills to cities around the world to foster collaboration among local government, civic groups and small businesses. The goal has been to improve quality of life for citizens in each respective city.
In total last year, IBM made $186 million in charitable contributions, comprising cash, technology and consulting services.