IBM Goes Global with Smarter Cities Strategy

By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2010-12-28

IBM Goes Global with Smarter Cities Strategy

IBM continues to deliver on its Smarter Cities strategy by implementing smart solutions -- strategies for collecting, sharing, analyzing and acting on data -- in cities around the world.

Most recently, IBM announced a Smarter Cities partnership with Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, but the company has also delivered smart solutions to cities such as Corpus Christi, Texas, and Chesapeake, Va., among others.

In a Dec. 27 press release, the company announced that the municipal government of Rio de Janeiro and IBM signed an agreement to build a public information management center for the city. The Rio Operations Center, which will be located in Cidade Nova, will integrate and interconnect information from multiple government departments and public agencies in the municipality to improve city safety and responsiveness to various types of incidents, such as flash floods and landslides, IBM officials said.

In addition, as part of the agreement, IBM Research scientists will develop for the city a high-resolution weather forecasting and hydrological modeling system, called PMAR, that can predict heavy rains up to 48 hours in advance. A major project for IBM's ninth Research Lab -- recently opened in Brazil -- the effort will build on and advance technologies created by IBM Research labs around the world.  

The mission of the Rio Operations Center, which is slated to open Dec. 31, is to consolidate data from various urban systems for real-time visualization, monitoring and analysis. The system was designed initially for forecasting floods and related emergencies, but it is extensible to any event occurring in the city. The center will enable city leaders to make decisions in emergency situations based on real-time information, IBM officials said.

This initiative is part of IBM's global strategy to develop technology-based solutions to help cities become smarter. Similar IBM projects have already been implemented in New York and Gauteng, South Africa, but this is the first center that will integrate all the stages of a crisis management situation: from prediction, mitigation and preparedness, to the immediate response to events, and finally to capture feedback from the system for use in future incidents. Other partners engaged in the construction of the center are Cisco Systems, Cyrela Facilities, Malwee, Oi and Samsung.

"We are creating a foundational IT platform that will soon be able to gather data on all incidents and events occurring in the city," said Pedro Almeida, Smarter Cities director for IBM Brazil, in a statement.

PMAR will begin operation in the first half of 2011. The system will be based on a unified mathematical model of Rio, involving the gathering of data from the river basin, topographic surveys, the municipality's historical rainfall logs and radar feeds. Moreover, IBM officials said the system will be able to predict rain and possible flash floods and, over time, will also be able to evaluate the effects on city traffic.

On Nov. 9-10, 2011, IBM CEO Sam Palmisano and Mayor Eduardo Paes will convene leaders in Rio at the fourth regional Smarter Cities Forum. With a special focus on Latin America and the world's growth markets, IBM will continue the discussions started in Berlin, New York and Shanghai to examine real-world approaches on how cities can tackle serious urban issues and improve their citizens' quality of life.

Earlier in December, IBM announced it is working with the city of Corpus Christi to improve efficiency and sustainability for the city's more than 280,000 residents.

Corpus Christi is applying IBM software to measure, monitor and improve the way it manages its water, roads, airport, parks and utilities. With greater intelligence across its departments, the city can more quickly evaluate and respond to issues, anticipate and prevent problems, and improve quality of life. 

During a conference call with leaders and IT officials in other cities assessing the IBM solutions, Corpus Christi officials explained that prior to working with IBM, each city department had its own process for handling incoming work requests and ongoing maintenance, typically operating on a reactive basis using paper to track issues. Because there was no central system for tracking existing issues, budgeting and managing city resources was sometimes difficult, the officials said.

IBM software now helps Corpus Christi municipal departments and managers know in real time what is happening across the city, who is handling it and how much the work costs. 

"Corpus Christi is evolving into a more sustainable city -- one that has intelligence, foresight and accountability built into the way we manage the services we provide our citizens," said Steve Klepper, an administrative superintendent for the city. "Working with IBM, we have the real-time status of city services, automated work orders and an overview of the city's infrastructure to better manage our resources, as well as better maintain the city's mission-critical assets." 

As one of Texas's largest cities on the Gulf of Mexico, Corpus Christi relies significantly on port industries, tourism and higher education to drive its economy, city officials said. The city strives to improve its citizens' quality of life while keeping operating costs low and maintaining high levels of service. 

"Corpus Christi is setting the bar for how municipalities can use technology to gain intelligence into their departments and systems to operate more efficiently and provide residents with a better place to live," said Guru Banavar, IBM CTO for Smarter Cities, in a statement. "Working with IBM, Corpus Christi city managers are operating smarter and managing their work and crews better." 

The city manages and analyzes the status of tens of thousands of physical assets such as its water mains, traffic lights, bridges, park lawns, fire hydrants, garbage trucks and storm water ditches with IBM Maximo Asset Management software, IBM officials said.

A critical component of the Corpus Christi service strategy is the citywide One Call Center. Using IBM software, the call center can speed responses to issues more efficiently and better optimize city resources. For fiscal year 2009, the call center generated more than 45,000 electronic work-order requests from across the city, Corpus Christi officials said.

When residents call with complaints or service requests, the city creates a work order connected to the address. IBM software provides the city with a bird's-eye view of existing maintenance requests using mapping software from IBM Business Partner Esri, IBM officials said. This allows the call center manager to see all existing problems -- coded in color by urgency -- and determine scenarios such as the entire service area being affected or the location of assigned field workers in order to make management decisions. 

Previously, citizen calls were routed to the appropriate department and recorded on index cards before being entered into a spreadsheet, city officials said. Given the manual nature of this process, staff could not accurately track how long it took to respond to and fix problems. The staff had no way to view the work history for each site, making it difficult to identify recurring problems. Although the city had already established a GIS (geographic information system), work orders were not interfaced with this system. As a result, departments could not spatially analyze work requests to determine whether a customer request represented a site-specific problem or an areawide issue that would require more extensive support. 

Proactive Traffic Solutions


In addition, more than two-thirds of the coastal city's 460 square miles is water. IBM software is helping to manage six wastewater treatment plants, two reservoirs, approximately 1,250 miles of wastewater gravity mains and a water treatment plant with a 170-million-gallon capacity. The system ensures safe, clean water to the community while conserving city resources by providing faster and more efficient maintenance. 

Urgent requests for critical water work orders that can impact residents, such as pipe main breaks or water quality problems, are now received as e-mails on the smartphones of designated Water Department first responders, city officials said. Field crews get real-time work-order updates and directly update the work-order status on their phones without having to go through a dispatcher. This increases the time crews can work in the field maintaining the city's assets rather than in the office submitting paperwork. 

The software provides analysis into overall water and wastewater projects to guide water main replacement and capital improvement strategies to continually improve the reliability of the water systems. 

Working with IBM, all city departments address their work more efficiently and more intelligently by providing real-time information, history of prior work, and geographic location. The Solid Waste Department, for example, uses IBM software to keep track of garbage routes as well as customer complaints. Using laptops connected to the city's WiFi system, public utility gas crews in the field can access exact pipe locations before digging, get a history of repairs in the area and update work orders from the field.  

Park Maintenance crews track all work performed, or needed, on each of the city's 300 parks, ensuring that park lawns are mowed according to target frequencies and maintained according to standards and that public playground facilities are inspected and maintained as needed to provide safe recreational areas, city officials said. The city-operated airport uses the system to ensure that customer-facing facilities are maintained according to standards and for better inventory control. With more than 1,100 miles of public roads to maintain, the Streets Services Department tracks work performed on streets, including labor and materials costs. Traffic Engineering can track locations of citizen complaints and work needed on traffic signals, city officials said.

Aided by this intelligence, the city can better schedule proactive replacement or maintenance of assets before they break as part of its managed work schedule. This planning allows the city to properly allocate staff and resources in line with urgent or unforeseen circumstances, city officials said.

Meanwhile, in another December engagement, IBM and its partner Telvent, a global IT solutions and services provider, announced they will co-develop smarter traffic solutions that are affordable and customized for small cities, university and government campuses, and business districts.

While large urban areas like New York, Los Angeles and Washington have well-known traffic issues, congestion is also common in smaller cities and college campuses when populations and road traffic can spike during rush hour or weekend football games. It is estimated that even in areas with populations of fewer than 500,000, people waste up to 20 hours a week on delays and congestion can cost cities millions of dollars each year. 

Today transportation agencies are largely reactive to traffic issues and focus on isolated incidents and single areas of congestion. However, taking advantage of predictive analytics and real-time information from road sensors allows agencies to be more proactive in dealing with traffic and mobility issues, IBM officials said. The joint solution will apply IBM's advanced analytics and Telvent's traffic management expertise to give small urban areas visibility for better traffic control and improving congestion - at a price point that is line with their budgets.

Based on IBM's Government Industry Framework and Telvent's SmartMobility management suite, solution components include IBM's Cognos, Traffic Prediction Tool and DB2 and Telvent products such as MIST, SmartNET, Telvent SmartMobility Tolling, Telvent SmartMobility Parking and ICM (Integrated Corridor Management). 

The solution can integrate and analyze data traffic control, road sensors, bus schedules, real-time GPS location and IBM's advanced analytics, IBM officials said. For example, a small city could tap into data from GPS devices in sensors embedded in the roadway. It can analyze the information with sophisticated algorithms to predict traffic jams associated with a special event or large construction project before they happen. By predicting where a traffic jam will be in, say, an hour, drivers could be automatically notified ahead of time, multiple alternate routes could be suggested and public transportation schedules could be shifted to better handle demand. A large university would be able to anticipate and plan around local constraints on its traffic network, such as traffic incidents, a football game or an unexpected loss of capacity, by adjusting bus scheduling and parking information, readjusting traffic signals, or rerouting traffic flow. In addition, cities can use a wireless system that monitors the availability of parking spaces. 

The new transportation management and analytics system from IBM and Telvent provides real-time visibility across the entire transportation network and the ability to manage operations and assets in a more integrated way, IBM officials said. Operators can make quick decisions and adjustments to solve common traffic management issues and unanticipated congestion. They will also be able to implement proactive strategies to meet the demands of growing populations. 

"Real-time visibility across an entire transportation network is key to better traffic management regardless of the size of the area or population, said Ignacio Gonzalez, CEO of Telvent, in a statement. "We will be combining our expertise to give small urban areas' transportation operators a cost-effective way to manage the unique mobility issues that they face, helping them improve operational performance, get more capacity out of their existing transportation networks and improving travelers' experience." 

"Whether it is suburban sprawl, corridors with a number of businesses located close together or the limited routes across a university campus, existing infrastructure was not designed to handle the reality of traffic today," said Rich Varos, director of Intelligent Transportation Solutions at IBM, also in a statement. "By combining predictive analytics with the realities of system constraints, transportation operators of any size can implement more sustainable traffic planning, improved passenger services and increased efficiencies."

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