BOSTON – Think of the city as a system, advises Martin Fleming, chief economist and vice president of business performance for IBM. Just like any system, a city can generate immense amounts of data on everything from when people turn on the lights to where people park their cars. All of it can be documented and analyzed and then the city can be optimized for its citizens. In a smarter city, according to Fleming, real-time data integration and real-time historical data, combined with data modeling and analytics, would drive decision making.
Fleming presented on smarter cities as the keynote speaker for a “Big Data Summit” hosted by the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council (MassTLC). He shared time on the stage with Thomas Hopcroft, president and CEO of MassTLC; Dave Power, president of Power Strategy, a consulting firm; Susan Windham-Bannister, president and CEO of the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center; Patrick Larkin, director of the Innovation Institute at the MassTech Collaborative, an economic development organization; and Tim Healy, CEO of EnerNOC, a provider of energy management systems.
Fleming stressed in his lecture what became one of the most important points at the meeting: “It’s not the data. It’s the value of the data you can create with the analytic capabilities you have.”
For example, the core aspects of a city that need to get “smarter,” according to Fleming, are planning and management, transportation, and law enforcement. Integrating real-time data gathering into these areas should, Fleming explained, allow them to use the information to increase visibility, anticipate needs and optimize to fill them, and coordinate resources to insure they are where they need to be when they need to be there.
IBM is among several technology giants paying attention to the issue of city management and the role that technology and data analytics can play in improving it. The company has invested $50 million in a Smarter Cities initiative to bring its experts and consultants to address local issues at major metropolitan areas around the globe. Last year, a team in Rabat, Morocco, analyzed future transportation needs for the growing North Africa coastal region. Another team descended on Louisville, Ky., to decipher health data correlations for clues about reducing the high incidence of asthma among children.
Other companies also see opportunities in this regard as urban population centers rise in size, number and economic importance around the world. Cisco has a Smart+Connected Communities line of business. GE has a Sustainable City initiative as does Siemens.
Fleming described the process of building a smart city as the “integration of digital infrastructure and physical infrastructure.” He continued, “As we integrate digital and physical we have the opportunity to change the operation of these industries.”
For Fleming, this is an opportunity to optimize the city for the citizen. Fleming said, “The mathematics of optimization now becomes critical for making predictions.” It’s these predictions, fueled by real-time data, which can allow the city officials to make changes to avert crises. Talking about natural disasters, Fleming explains that access to critical data could “allow public safety and political leaders to take action before an event occurs.”
Fleming explained, “These shifts in technology have brought about cultural change,” adding: “This is not about the technology. It’s about the innovation.”
Home page image of Nairobi traffic via IBM.