BY SUSAN M. BRACKNEY
When Tom Miller began his new position as Bloomington’s director of innovation in January, he knew there would be challenges. For one thing, the position was brand new. Bloomington officials had reached out to other cities to frame the job description, but Miller admits that he’s had to be pretty innovative himself in order to discern what the job entails.
“It’s been a lot of figuring out—how do I learn from what folks in other places have done with this position and make that work for Bloomington?” says the 27-year-old Indiana University graduate.
Similar positions focus on uncovering ways to save municipalities money—especially by helping staff work more efficiently. One of Miller’s current projects endeavors to do exactly that. Instead of having employees painstakingly transcribe hundreds of hours of meeting notes, IBM’s Watson supercomputer can be used to create first passes. “You send [a recording] to the supercomputer,” Miller explains. “The supercomputer crunches it and sends you back a version that’s 75 to 80 percent accurate. So, all our staff now has to do is read through it, fix areas that don’t work, or just summarize it for [meeting] minutes.”
Miller and his wife, Beth McManus, were among IU’s first Cox Research Scholars, and, he says, quite possibly the first “Cox couple.” The two met as high school students in Fort Wayne, Indiana. “We actually started dating the summer before I left for IU,” he says. They later married in Beck Chapel. Miller says the Cox program was important in many ways. “I was very fortunate,” he says. “The Cox program undoubtedly changed my life. Not only did the full-ride pay for school, but it partnered me with a professor in the journalism school.”
That journalism connection led to big things. Miller specialized in video production, and after earning his journalism degree in 2012, landed a media gig with President Barack Obama’s Ohio campaign right out of college. For a follow up, he co-founded Hardpin Media Productions, a national production company, and produced One Day in April, a documentary about IU’s Little 500.
After graduation, the couple’s careers took them from San Jose, California, to Washington, D.C., and beyond. But now they have their feet firmly planted back in Bloomington. “When I saw this position was open, I wanted to give back to the community that had given me so much,” Miller says. “Bloomington is a place where I feel incredibly at home and where many of my formative experiences have happened.”