A study conducted by IDC in 2011 found that 1.8 zettabytes, or 1.8 trillion gigabytes, of data was created that year alone. We generate a greater amount of data than ever before, and this trend is expected to continue. Advancements in modern computing capabilities along with the development of powerful critical, analytical and predictive models means that we are on the precipice of another information revolution.
IBM’s Smarter Cities initiative is uniquely poised to take advantage of these developments in big data. Its mission, according to Smarter Cities strategy leader John Longbottom, is to improve how cities operate through the use of analytical tools that can leverage the fire hose of data generated.
“A city is a collection of domains or services. Cities may encompass many of these domains or services that generate a profound amount of data through their operations and through ancillary services. When you add to that data that exists outside their boundaries that can also be exploited, the amount of data is quite staggering. Our challenge at Smarter Cities is to improve how our cities run by taking data and turning it into insight in order to improve operations within and cross the domains that make up a city,” said Longbottom.
Smarter Cities in Canada
Cambridge, ON, is a perfect example of a city that has harnessed the power of information to enhance operational efficiency. Although the city had a long tradition of fiscal responsibility, it had accumulated a repair backlog of $54 million for its water systems and another $17 million for its sewer systems. “We were heading towards a crisis point,” says Michael Hausser, director of Asset Management and Supporting Services for the Transportation and Public Works Department in Cambridge.
With the city on the brink of going into debt, Hausser and his team went to work creating a database of information about the city’s civil infrastructure. This encompassed over 250,000 assets ranging from roads and sidewalks to sewers and pipes. The team collected information of location, condition, date of installation, inspection, repair, along with what was done, who did it, and more.
This is when IBM’s Smarter Cities initiative stepped in with the IBM Maximo Asset Management software, running on IBM System x 3850 M2 hardware. This solution is designed to provide insight and understanding into the raw data generated by the city. It is then used to manage every facet of infrastructure operations, maintenance and repair. Using IBM’s data management solution, the city was able to launch a call centre initiated response team, planned seasonal activities and pre-emptive maintenance and inspection process, all without the inefficiencies of manual processes.
Every day, the IBM system assimilated data from weather forecasts, incoming repair calls, personnel and vehicle delivery, time of last inspection and more. After analyzing and processing all of this data, optimized work orders that detail work for the day. This technology is allowing the city to reduce travel time and administrative red tape while increasing coordination between staff and external service providers.
As a result, Cambridge has been able to streamline their approach to infrastructure renewal, improving the city’s roadways. “When the project started, only 44 percent were rated ‘good.’ Three years later, that number has grown to 68 percent,” Hausser said. The city has also managed to cut over $71 million in repair backlog and save over $6 million annually as a result of improved infrastructure conditions. Workflow for field workers has also been optimized as a result of the information extrapolated through the Smarter Cities initiative.
While it will take more time to quantify the full impact of the Maximo Asset Management-based system, Cambridge’s municipal culture has changed as a result of their attitude towards big data. City leaders are equipped with the information and insight that allows them to plan ahead. IBM’s resource management solution not only alerts city leaders as to what kind of work is going on and the resources being utilized, but also what work is not being accomplished. This allows the city to make informed decisions about rates, resources and priorities that will result in significant long term savings.
“The system gives us incredibly valuable insight into trends and what we can expect in the future. We’re moving from a break-fix mentality to a proactive planning mentality,” says Hausser.
The Future of Big Data in Cities
One of the biggest factors driving big data generation in cities is the emergence of mobile technology. Smart phones and other hand-held devices are becoming ubiquitous, and people are using them to transmit and consume information on an hourly basis. “We have to harness the data exhaust, gain insight and then drive value back to the people using those mobile technologies. Cities are going to have to come up with more effective strategies and infrastructure to be able to do that,” says Longbottom.
Utilizing big data in order to enhance the standard of urban life is still in its early stages, but Longbottom has noticed promising signs that suggest a paradigm shift . The transformation is usually top-down, according to Longbottom. “Where we’re seeing the positive traction is when city leadership, the people who run the take an active engagement. That’s where you see the best in class examples,” he remarked.
Information technology, with a focus on information, rather than the technology, can transform tomorrow’s cities into a holistic, interconnected ecosystem. Longbottom illustrates this vision using the example of a humble pothole. “You should be able to see a pothole, take a picture with your smart phone, and note the GPS coordinates. This gets uploaded to a city management site, which in turn gets routed to the work management crews. They go out and fix the pothole, and you get a note in your inbox that says ‘thanks for the information about the pothole – it’s been repaired’.” A simplistic example, perhaps, but with cities like Cambrige leading the way, tomorrow’s smart cities may be close at hand.