U.S. software giant Microsoft Corp. launched a new initiative called CityNext to spur innovation and encourage leaders to create sustainable cities at its annual Worldwide Partner Conference in the U.S. city of Houston Wednesday. Microsoft Corporate Vice President of Worldwide Public Sector Laura Ipsen announced the initiative in her keynote at the Toyota Center in downtown Houston. The initiative leverages Microsoft\'s vast Partner Network and the company\'s technology solutions like Windows Azure and other devices and apps. \"Working with our vast Microsoft Partner Network, we can scale solutions and services to do \'new with less,\' enabling cities to better compete in the global marketplace, drive citizen engagement, and foster economic, social and environmental sustainability,\" Ipsen said. Through CityNext, Microsoft will work with city leaders and focus on eight core functions: energy and water; buildings, planning and infrastructure; transportation; public safety and justice; tourism, recreation and culture; education; health and social services; government administration. Nine places have already embarked on the initiative including China\'s Hainan Province and Zhengzhou city, according to Sandy Gupta, national technology officer with Microsoft China. CityNext empowers cities to make the most of existing investments and find the right combination of solutions, applications and programs to transform their cities. Navigant Research forecasts that the smart city technology market will grow from 6.1 billion U.S. dollars in 2012 to 20.2 billion dollars in 2020, generating a total revenue of 117.3 billion dollars over the next seven years.