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Transforming Communities into Smarter Cities

Government officials are constantly facing pressure to do more with less. With smaller budgets, it takes leaders with vision and energy to make strategic investments to improve how their cities function. That’s where smarter cities come in.

One of my favorite anecdotes of how governments and communities can partner to make a smarter city is about using big data and analytics to combat a common urban problem: Potholes.

Many cities are now using an application that analyzes the location, speed, and wait times of automobiles, detecting when drivers hit bumps in the road. The application then sends information on the location of the bump to a database. If enough vehicles record the same bump, the city’s public works department is notified to fix the problem. Examples such as these demonstrate how big data, with the help of local communities and the backing of government officials, can create change in a cost effective way.

The pothole example also shows how data can be used to achieve better business outcomes. Now that the community is identifying the potholes on the roads, it saves time and money since public works employees can be deployed more efficiently and quickly. In addition, these government workers are able to free up time to address other problems in their city.

Boston’s Street Bump app is designed to help citizens report potholes and other infrastructure problems. Flickr: Surrey County Council News

Cities generate massive amounts of structured and unstructured data, and the recent rise of open data makes these quantities even larger. Consider that cities consume nearly 75 percent of the world’s energy and some 57 percent of city expenditures are on public safety alone. This represents a tremendous opportunity for cities—if they can harvest the right insights. By extracting data currently available across the city, meaningful solutions to pressing problems can be more easily identified.

Miami-Dade County, Florida serves as another successful example of big data and analytics use. The county, on of the most populous in the U.S., initially began using analytics to save nearly $1 million per year in water costs throughout its Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces Department. Now the community is applying the same technology to crime response, public transportation and, most recently, to analyze and promote tourism in downtown Miami.

In Dubuque, Iowa, Istanbul, Turkey and Dublin, Ireland, planners optimize bus schedules and investigate route changes based on data about ridership and housing patterns. In Cambridge, Ontario, multiple agencies now plan long-term maintenance budgets for sewers and roads co-operatively using data rather than competing for funds annually.

Visionary leaders around the world are now solving problems in their communities through the use of data analytics. It’s possible to extend these successes to other cities—big and small. Here are four steps to help guide that transformation:

1. Determine which city operations have core problems that can be transformed using data.  Technology alone will not solve challenges cities are facing. A more holistic approach needs to be considered.

2. Envision an overall business strategy along with business requirements, which can be amplified with technology solutions. Start with business requirements, be realistic about what is possible, and identify very specific requirements to garner the best value.

3. Review examples of successful campaigns to determine common standards on what is possible and which factors lead to success. Technology employed by smarter cities is no longer in an early adaptor phase. Now, versus five years ago, many government leaders better understand smarter analytics, embrace it, and are willing to make strategic investments. Examine case studies to determine how to apply existing solutions to the city’s common challenges.

4. Keep in mind that while Big Data will be transformational and revolutionary, the path to success is evolutionary and incremental. The smartest leaders know that to make these ambitions a reality they must identify and take on targeted, short-term projects that build credibility and generate momentum.

The time to act is now. In the next couple of years, I will be surprised if we are still talking about big data and analytics. big data and analytics will simply be woven into the fabric of what we do.  But in order to get us there, government officials have to take the initiative by identifying ways to leverage smarter solutions that will lead to improvements in their communities.

Tim Paydos is the Industry Leader for the World Wide Government Big Data Industry Team at IBM.

Transforming Communities into Smarter Cities was originally published on Ideas Lab

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