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‘Smart systems Need smart Humans’

Michael Dixon
Michael Dixon
General Manager
IBM Global Smarter Cities

The purpose of smart systems is to embed technology into the way the world already functions. However, to successfully implement such a system, a two-way exchange between citizens and technology is a must, believes Michael Dixon, General Manager, IBM Global Smarter Cities

What is IBM’s concept of smart and intelligent cities?

A smart city is any urban area that exploits information to optimise the delivery of city services. We can now monitor, measure and manage nearly any physical system at work in our cities. We have the ability to collect and analyse real-time information on everything, from transportation networks to hospitals to the electricity grid. The uses for this information are nearly limitless. It can be used to empower citizens, build political capital, or develop new business models and partnerships with the private sector. It can be used to model and predict how changes to one system will affect others, decreasing the risks of change and speeding the return on investment. And it can be used to draw the businesses that attract talent, and the talent that attracts businesses. Also, ‘Smart Cities are anticipated to create huge business opportunities across different industries with a total market value of $1.565 trillion by 2020,’ according to Frost and Sullivan’s Strategic Opportunity Analysis of the Global "Smart City" Market until 2025 report.

What comprises the IBM Smarter City portfolio?

IBM provides integrated software that cities of all sizes can use to gain operational insight across key city systems and apply global best practices. IBM Intelligent Operations software provides a dashboard that serves as the foundation for smarter cities projects. By enabling the integration of data, analysis, and coordination across the city, the intelligent operations center keeps city officials informed, prevents issues, and helps manage a spectrum of events, including everything from a broken water line that affects an area of the city to a major winter storm forecasting a foot of snow city-wide. Intelligent Operations software is extendable to help support any integration project across the city. City leaders can adopt specific modules for management of different city systems: water, transportation, public safety and buildings. In addition, three new smarter cities management centers for transportation, water and emergency management bring together IBM’s vast portfolio of leading Intelligent Operations software, IBM Global Business Services expertise, and IBM’s broad analytics capabilities. This provides cities repeatable models for urban development. The solutions are a combination of hardware using it via the Cloud, or on premise includes software, services and pre-configured analytics models for best practices in city management. We work in the following areas:

«Transportation Management: Provides citywide traffic visibility to help alleviate congestion, improve traffic management, optimise road capacity,trends then allow us to make predictions. Electricity, for example, we could predict the usage in a given time frame so that we can appropriately manage power production. Or, in the case of traffic, ‘smart’ would not only look at where congestion is at the moment, but also at where it is likely to be in an hour. For instance, IBM worked with Stockholm, Sweden to launch a host of Smarter City initiatives to reduce traffic and pollution, by aligning road demand and supply. ‘

«Water Management:

Provides the ability to use analytics and decision support to improve flood protection, water quality and integrated water resource management. It also helps forecast future demands on the water supply. The solution has been proven to help some cities reduce leaks by 20%. For instance, the Da Nang government in Vietnam was able to address two of the most significant issues impacting life in the city — transportation and water. The solution provided a summary of events and incidents through maps, dashboards and alerts, allowing city personnel to track trends, forecast demand and better manage the city’s infrastructure and assets.

«Emergency Management:

Provides geospatial intelligence and analytics to help harness information and data streaming in from multiple sources to provide a central point of command for emergency management. It can provide emergency managers with critical information from first responders, scenario planning to streamline and integrate response to emergencies, and advanced communications for first responders and emergency personnel. Some cities using this solution have reduced response time by 25%. For example, following a series of floods and mudslides that claimed the lives of 100 people back in April 2010, the City of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil announced a significant overhaul of its city operations — a big step in preparing for the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016. It is collaborating with IBM on a multi-million dollar plan including a City Operations Center that will help meteorologists, geological surveyors, field operations and security work together to dramatically speed emergency responsiveness. The centre integrates and interconnects information from over 20 government departments and public agencies in the municipality to improve city safety and responsiveness to various types of incidents, including locally critical flash floods and landslides. The centre is the first in the world to integrate all the stages of a crisis management situation.

How can we reconfigure already complex cities like New York, London or Rio de Janeiro, and embed a whole new layer of technology in their organic urban environments?

The purpose of smart systems is to embed technology into the way the world already functions. We can operate in large cities by using sensors to extract information about traffic flows and utility systems like water and energy. Analysing patterns and trends then allow us to make predictions. Electricity, for example, we could predict the usage in a given time frame so that we can appropriately manage power production. Or, in the case of traffic, ‘smart’ would not only look at where congestion is at the moment, but also at where it is likely to be in an hour. For instance, IBM worked with Stockholm, Sweden to launch a host of Smarter City initiatives to reduce traffic and pollution, by aligning road demand and supply. ‘

What are some of the challenges you have faced?

The first challenge is to have the appropriate level of technological infrastructure to capture the information even as cities grow — specifically, through sensor devices. Many cities have already installed devices like video cameras, traffic sensors and smart meters, but cities also need to make sure that these new subsystems keep pace with its infrastructural development. The second challenge is making sure that the vast amount of data coming from large, complex cities is integrated, appropriately managed, stored and analysed — a very difficult technical task that can be handled with innovative technology and deep expertise. Along the same lines, protecting data is something we take very seriously at IBM, because many large-scale global transaction systems like those used in banking are supported by IBM and similar companies.

Another challenge is scale: how can small- and medium- sized cities generate data in a way that allows them to govern themselves better but also makes the development of these systems financially affordable? For that, we are designing cloud computing and shared-service mechanisms that make systems easier for smaller cities to implement. Finally, getting citizens fully engaged in all transformations that take place is not an easy task because there is a lot of available data that must be filtered, summarised and presented in the right way for citizens to be able to access it. There is also a lot of information that citizens can provide that has to be appropriately absorbed by governments and other entities. This two-way exchange and collaboration must be managed effectively. We will never reach the point at which smart systems do not need humans, and we should not aim to get there. The human component is necessary to understand the overall environment of these systems and to lead many of the strategic, higher-level policy decisions. The hallmark of a smart city is having the right people, in the right numbers, working the technology in the right way.

How will these advancements help us deal with urban problems like crime, water shortages and overcrowding?

By helping cities bring together the right resources at exactly the right time, there is tremendous opportunity to provide better service to citizens and make better use of limited funds. Advanced prediction systems will help cities better plan supply and demand of resources, goods and services while sharing the information with citizens. For example, citizens will use mobile devices to build their shopping list and supermarkets will know ahead of time the demand for products. In the same way, information about water consumption per region will be linked to the reservoir storage and flow capacity, allowing city operators to better plan for conscious consumption and demand. Overcrowding is another important challenge and there is no magic trick around the space used in a city. What sentient cities can do is better respond and plan to the needs of citizens with more efficient services and better plans for citywide supply chains. Finally, public safety is an essential part of smarter cities and city officers will have the ability to leverage advanced communication, command center and people movement capabilities to promote a safe environment as well as use citizen participation in identifying problematic areas, so public safety plans can be devised and implemented.

Can you give us a few examples where IBM technologies have helped in developing smarter cities?

Dubuque in Iowa is one of the few examples in North America of a comprehensive Smarter City project targeting multiple municipal service lines simultaneously. The city of Dubuque is working with IBM to pilot a systematic mechanism to help consumers and businesses make informed decisions about electricity, water, natural gas and oil consumption. The first phase includes two projects to enhance collective understanding of energy consumption and water management, thereby reducing costs and overall carbon footprint. The city is currently implementing a city-wide water metre replacement project to allow consumers to identify waste and consider corrective measures. Reduction in water use will also reduce use of both energy and chemicals, resulting in significant savings. In the Smarter Sustainable Dubuque Water Pilot Study, IBM technology helped reduced water utilisation by 6.6% and increased leak detection and response eight-fold. The Canadian city of Cambridge has more than 250,000 infrastructure assets with a total value of $1.6 billion, including more than 300 miles of roads and more than 1,200 miles of underground water mains, sewage and storm pipes. The city is using IBM’s Intelligent Infrastructure Planning to examine millions of disparate pieces of information to perform ‘what-if’ analyses to help make better decisions. Through better project coordination, less time spent on capital forecasting, and improved asset management, the City of Cambridge is expected to save at least $100,000 per year.

What is required to usher in this new era more quickly?

One of the most important things it requires is bold leadership on the part of city leaders. It will require cities that are willing to take on focused projects and solve specific problems. This could mean a city focuses first on enabling new traffic systems, or solving a water crisis. The main point is it will take focus and dedication and political will to really get things done within the complexity of city systems, while technology innovations are great enablers.