Department of Innovation & Performance team

PGH Lab Finishes Fourth Cohort

Part 2: Techstra Solutions, Worm Return, IT Security Solutions

Annia Aleman
Jun 5, 2019 · 7 min read

In Part 2, we will round out the cohort and highlight Techstra Solutions, Worm Return, and IT Security Solutions.

Techstra Solutions

City Champions: Department of Innovation & Performance, City of Pittsburgh, and Urban Redevelopment Authority

Techstra Solutions taps into the potential of technology to improve business practices by providing consulting services to businesses and organizations looking for innovative solutions. Their client-focused services include strategy, technology, innovation, and human capital management in the areas of consulting, talent, and software development.The company was matched with the department of Innovation & Performance and the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) to test two different solutions using their Transformation Performance Indicator (TPI) and Intelligent Automation (IA) tool sets.

Techstra TPI: The first project consisted of applying the Techstra TPI™ platform, offering a new way for companies to measure the impact of changes being implemented in an organization. Over 70% of digital transformation efforts fail or do not realize their expected value. Techstra Solutions’ TPI platform helps organizations identify issues in a new initiative using a framework of Value, Agility, Empowerment, and Acceleration (VAEA). This framework provides managers with insights and feedback from the people closest to the work and those implementing the transformation strategies. For this solution, the company worked with the Department of Innovation & Performance, City of Pittsburgh. The challenge proposed was to conduct an entire project life cycle for Techstra TPI™- it included the identification of a work stream or project, deployment of the platform, analysis of results, and communications out of the results for both leadership and employees.

The Techstra Solutions team along with their city champions ran a series of discovery workshops to find the right project to test the V-A-E-A framework. The ideal project had to engage a large volume of people and have cross-departmental reach. The team decided on a City of Pittsburgh Human Resources and Innovation & Performance department project and distributed a survey to over 110 employees.

Intelligence Automation: For the second project, the team proposed an application of Intelligent Automation (next generation Robotic Process Automation(RPA) which includes Machine Learning and Natural Language Processing), to automate time consuming manual processes and help minimize the time employees spend doing low-value, repetitive work. The goal for this pilot was to pick a project from both the City and the URA to streamline and utilize a “virtual workforce’ (bots), to free up time for employees to do higher impact tasks. The team selected a property inventory project, which involved a time-consuming audit of over 1,700 URA properties. Techstra Solutions Intelligence Automation is also being applied in other areas.This article in the Post-Gazette explains much of the work they’re doing in Human Resources.

Techstra Solutions discovery sessions at the Department of Innovation & Performance, City of Pittsburgh

Techstra TPI Recommendations for the City of Pittsburgh

The Techstra team deployed the platform to create a baseline in order to measure where the organization is in its readiness for a new software system. The survey had an amazing 64% participation rate. As a result, Techstra Solutions utilized the nine TPI transformation indicators to give leaders more visibility into the project, understand the elements that are working very well, and take action in those areas that can make a difference to a successful project outcome. In addition to assessing the impact of this project, the team recommended the use of the platform to continue to monitor progress of this project as well as to collect information on new ones.

Intelligence Automation at the URA

After three different discovery sessions to assess different workflows at the City of Pittsburgh and the URA, the Techstra team picked two different projects to assess the opportunities for deploying Intelligent Automation (IA). For the City, how to develop an accurate employee directory and technology inventory and for the URA a property inventory process.

The project for the URA consisted of utilizing bots to audit over 1,700 proprieties, perform quick searches of URA properties, and ensure all information is accurate. The automation specifically confirms the tax status of the URA owned properties. Knowing the property’s tax status, the bot takes steps, like beginning the application for tax exemption to correct the tax status. The automation works to create a single data source that the URA can use as input to various processes. This project demonstrated that by utilizing bots to remove repetitive simple tasks, the company aims to give back time to people and organizations to engage and collaborate on higher value activities.

Screenshot of Techstra Solutions Intelligent Automative bots scanning URA properties

The Techstra Solutions team will continue to engage and refine their businesses process to help other organizations improve their operations. After this experience, working with other local government organizations could be in the near horizon.

Visit Techstra Solutions’ website to learn more.


Worm Return

City Champion: Department of City Planning, City of Pittsburgh

Worm Return is a Pittsburgh-based composting company that aims to keep waste out of landfills by educating businesses, organizations, and households about vermicomposting, the use of earthworms to convert organic waste into fertilizer to improve food/plant quality.

Worm Returns believes that if businesses and organizations commit to compost in the workplace, it can help reduce green house gases and keep food waste out of landfills citywide. The company’s mission aligns with the City of Pittsburgh’s Climate Change Goals of reducing waste by 50% by 2030. For this pilot project, the company proposed to place a worm bin in the Department of City Planning with the goal of engaging department employees to learn and contribute to reducing waste by using vermicomposting strategies.

The composting bin project in the Department of City Planning engaged and encouraged 23 city employees to discard their organic waste in the worm bin. Employees were briefed on the types of food allowed into the worm bin and how to discard it safely. After the three month pilot, 25 pounds of composting material were collected. A longer timeline will have yield for more composting material as three months resulted to be too short of a timeline for this project. However, it is through initiatives like this one that a culture of sustainable practices can be implemented and adopted in the workplace. As Laura Codori,CEO and Founder of Worm Return, says “The effects of initiatives like this across offices, departments, and organizations can cause ripple effects.”

Worm bin located at the Department of City Planning, City of Pittsburgh

Worm Return has been invited to pitch its vermocomposting solution at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in the Hague, Netherlands, June 3–5, 2019. The company is also looking to place more worm bins in office spaces and schools.

Visit Worm Return’s website to learn more.


IT Security Solutions

City Champion: Urban Redevelopment Authority

IT Security Solutions, Inc. is a Pittsburgh based, Service Disabled Veteran owned corporation, primarily focused on improving the security of organizations. ITS Safe™ Managed Security appliance detects, protects, and stops network attacks.

Many organizations’ existing security solutions might not be able to see cyber attacks occurring within their network and/or their existing solutions might not be blocking or addressing cyber attacks at an optimal level. IT Security Solutions offers a managed security appliance coupled with a security assessment to determine cyber risks and operations, and recommend improvements. In the three month pilot, IT Security Solutions tested its software solution at the URA working closely with their IT Manager.

ITS Safe’s visual word cloud

ITS Safe™ was able to show the URA’s network traffic, level of exposure to malicious attacks via its on screen dashboard, and block these threats. The software provided daily, weekly, and monthly reports that tracked malicious threats inside the network and visual information of the top malicious sources and where they were coming from. The dashboard showed necessary information for the URA’s IT Manager to gain insights regarding cyber security issues happening inside the organization. According to the IT Security Solutions, ITS Safe™in full capacity acts as a blocker for any type of malicious attacks the network might receive.

Due to the company’s experience working with the URA, IT Security Solution is interested in continuing working with other local government organizations that face the similar cyber security threats.

Visit IT Security Solutions’ website to learn more.


PGH Lab brings local entrepreneurs to beta test products and services in local government for 3–4 months. Get inspired to start working on your own innovative ideas. Make sure to stay connected and ask questions about PGH Lab through our twitter!

Department of Innovation & Performance

The Department of Innovation & Performance is building a 21st-century government for the City of Pittsburgh and its residents.

Annia Aleman

Written by

Nicaraguan-American. Innovation Director @Ascenderpgh , former Sr. Civic Innovation @CityPGH . @pittsburgh_cm enthusiast.

Department of Innovation & Performance

The Department of Innovation & Performance is building a 21st-century government for the City of Pittsburgh and its residents.

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