IBM Watson to Help Cities Run Smarter

IBM has teamed with Purple Forge on a Watson-based app, initially piloted in Surrey, British Columbia, that will help cities better serve citizens.

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IBM recently announced a partnership with Purple Forge, a provider of community engagement and self- service solutions for governments and enterprise organizations, to use Watson to help cities run smarter.

Purple Forge’s "Powered by IBM Watson" solution uses Watson’s question answering and natural language processing capabilities to let users ask questions and get evidence-based answers using a website, smartphone or wearable devices such as the Apple Watch, without having to wait for a call agent or a reply to an email.

“Our mobile-first SaaS [Software as a Service] solutions make advanced community engagement and self- service solutions powered by IBM Watson available for a wide range of organizations,” said Brian Hurley, CEO and co-founder of Purple Forge, in a statement. “By integrating our proven SaaS solution with IBM Watson technology our aim is to transform how public-facing organizations serve citizens and consumers.”

IBM said the city of Surrey in British Columbia will be the first public sector organization to pilot the Purple Forge Powered by IBM Watson solution. The solution will be offered to city residents as part of the "My Surrey" mobile and Web apps that citizens use to get information for a wide range of government services such as recycling schedules, job opportunities, and recreational activities.

“IBM Watson’s learning abilities are such that the technology builds its knowledge and improves as citizens use it, much in the same way humans learn,” said Councilor Bruce Hayne, chair of the city’s Innovation & Investment Committee. “This pilot is expected to enhance customer experience by increasing the accessibility of services, while providing the city with insight into opportunities for improvement and reduction to service delivery costs.”

Watson’s cognitive computing technology enables it to interact with users in natural language, analyze large volumes of unstructured data, respond to complex questions with evidence-based answers, and find new actionable patterns and insights.

As part of the pilot, Purple Forge, the city of Surrey and IBM worked to create a Watson-powered app that can understand questions for city services on topics that include: animal control, parking enforcement, waste collection pickup, bylaws, fire police emergency services, transportation, utilities, cemetery, mobile apps, building and construction, engineering customer services, engineering infrastructure, property taxes, culture and recreation and volunteer.

The Purple Forge solution also helps the city’s customer service staff improve service operations by enabling them to answer citizen and consumer questions more quickly while also providing insights into unmet customer service needs based on interactions with IBM Watson. For example, customer service staff will gain insights into questions that are not being answered, as well as the general themes of service requests and trends based on season.

IBM also recently announced a partnership with Mubadala Development Company to take its Watson cognitive computing technology to the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Mubadala is an Abu Dhabi-based investment and development company.

IBM and Mubadala will collaborate to deliver Watson cloud-based cognitive computing to healthcare, retail, educational, banking and finance organizations. The joint venture will also create a broad regional ecosystem of partners, entrepreneurs, start-ups and app developers.

“This new joint venture with IBM will put both the UAE and broader MENA region on the leading edge for adoption of this breakthrough technology,” said Homaid Al Shemmari, CEO of Aerospace and Engineering Services at Mubadala, in a statement. “We are confident that together we can continue to accelerate the region’s knowledge-based economy by empowering businesses to capitalize on new opportunities with this world class technology.”