IBM Partners With Boston in Developing Smarter Cities Projects

By Jeffrey Burt  |  Posted 2013-03-14

IBM Partners With Boston in Developing Smarter Cities Projects

BOSTON—IBM and officials with the city of Boston, Boston University and the commonwealth of Massachusetts used new projects that are getting under way as the cornerstone of a far-reaching conference on the issue of using technology to improve how cities and state agencies work.

The conference on the Boston University (BU) campus here March 13 comes about five years after IBM kicked off its Smarter Planet initiative, a program aimed at enabling communities and states to leverage the vast amounts of data collected every day by various sensors, databases and mobile devices to improve how they function and serve their growing numbers of residents.

In a daylong series of talks and panel discussions by Boston and Massachusetts officials, BU faculty and IBM executives on the subject of smarter cities, the message was that communities can do a lot with software that collects and analyzes data to make their operations more efficient and more responsive to resident needs, and to better communicate with those residents. At the same time, the technology is continuing to improve, and while technology plays a key role in improving the overall health and life of a city, so does having the correct public policies in place and adapting the personal behaviors of city workers and residents alike.

"Technology is an enabler … but a fool with a tool is still a fool," David Bartlett, vice president of smarter physical infrastructure at IBM, said during the conference, adding that cities must deal with not only development from the top down but also behavior from the bottom up. "That's the fastest path to innovation."

Nancy Staisey, vice president of the Smarter Cities effort in North America for IBM, agreed, noting that a challenge is getting people to embrace technology and what it can do, and to leverage it in a way that helps improve their lives as well as those of their neighbors.

"A whole lot of this is going to come down to how we can use all this [innovation] to change the behavior of corporations [and] of people," Staisey said.

IBM is one of a number of tech vendors—such as Cisco Systems with its Smart Grid efforts—that are looking to create solutions that help communities become more efficient. The solutions address everything, from crime and energy management to traffic and population growth.

Boston CIO Bill Oates said the city has been leveraging the widespread use of mobile devices to better communicate with residents and city employees alike, while also using IBM software to improve the efficiency of city operations. In 2009, the city created an iPhone app called Citizen Connect 1.0, which residents could use to report a streetlight that was out or a pothole that needed to be filled. A similar app for city workers was soon created, and eventually the two were placed on the same platform, and a "street cred" feature put on it so residents can "high five" workers when they do a good job.

The app also is expanding this year to include 35 communities throughout the commonwealth, Oates said, adding that there's more that can be done.

"Everything I just mentioned is just scratching the surface," he said.

IBM Partners With Boston in Developing Smarter Cities Projects

Jim Fletcher, IBM Distinguished Engineer and chief architect for IBM's Smarter Infrastructure effort, said in an interview with eWEEK that such apps could easily be adapted and used by other cities, enabling communities to develop a large portfolio of such apps that residents and workers can use and essentially create "an application store for the city."

During the event, IBM announced a number of Smarter Planet pilot projects it is undertaking with Boston, BU and the state. One includes Boston's Mayor's Office of Arts, Tourism and Special Events to use an intelligent dashboard from IBM to help it better plan and run events, such as the Boston Marathon. The dashboard, based on piloting IBM's new Intelligent City Planning and Operations solution, will give departments throughout the city a common view of events, which IBM officials said will improve everything from safety to traffic to scheduling.

Boston also is piloting IBM's Intelligent Operations Center, which includes a digital dashboard that will allow all city agencies to share information on a real-time basis. In addition, Boston's Public Works Department will use IBM's Maximo asset-management software to create a platform to better manage and maintain the city's 60,000 street lights. The platform will offer predictive capabilities to better enable workers to schedule maintenance.

IBM also worked with the city and BU officials to create a set of recommendations to enable Boston to better gather and analyze traffic data throughout the city, and will lead to a number of projects throughout the city this year.

At the same time, IBM is participating in BU's Sustainable Neighborhood Laboratory to create a smarter neighborhoods project, which is leveraging IBM's Tririga software. Already data that has been collected and analyzed has rendered suggestions on ways to improve energy consumption in residential buildings and has targeted areas for investment. More work is planned that will engage residents and youth in the buildings to make them more aware of how to more efficiently use power and create incentives around energy conservation.

On the state level, Massachusetts officials will work with IBM and its Tririga software to improve maintenance, energy consumption and space management at state buildings, while the Massachusetts Port Authority has begun a new project using the Maximo software that will bring predictive capabilities to service and maintenance at Logan International Airport.

Meanwhile, the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, which oversees water and sewer systems for 2.5 million residents in 61 communities, also is using Maximo to bring predictive capabilities to managing and maintaining the systems. According to IBM, the software already has helped the authority cut 38 percent from its maintenance and project work orders.

"The reason IBM is so interested in the projects in Boston is because we do see Boston as a leader in the country and the world" in leveraging technology to become more efficient, IBM's Bartlett said.

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