IBM’s Anne Altman: Industry partnerships key to “Smarter Cities”

You think traffic is bad now. Just wait until 2050. That’s when 70 percent of the world’s population will live in cities — a scenario likely to impact your kids and grandkids. To minimize the strain, especially on aging urban infrastructures, IBM launched Smarter Cities this past year. Ever since, the initiative has focused on ways to harness advances in information technology, including business analytics, to make infrastructures affected by population growth more efficient and smart.

Recently, IBM’s Anne Altman shared several advances on behalf of the corporation’s Smarter Cities initiative — and ways industry partners can get in on the vision.

Every city is a web of interwoven parts. “The concept for Smarter Cities is to make the core systems that define a city more instrumented, interconnected, and intelligent — systems such as traffic and energy, healthcare and public safety,” says Altman, general manager for IBM’s global public sector unit. “The real opportunity,” says Altman, “is in the data itself.”

Here are some ways advanced analytics are being applied on behalf of Smarter Cities:

1.) Transportation. Studies show that Americans in major cities spend an average of 40 hours a year stuck in traffic. IBM’s work worldwide offers useful lessons. Singapore’s Land Transport Authority, for one, can now predict traffic patterns up to an hour before delays occur. Stockholm is another city making strides, in this case thanks to a congestion management system developed with IBM’s help. The system, which monitors traffic flow during peak hours, has reduced traffic in the Swedish capital by 20 percent, reduced average travel times by almost 50 percent, and decreased the amount of emissions by 10 percent.

Commuters pay during peak hours to use certain roads — a move, in turn, that’s added roughly 40,000 additional public transport commuters. In the United States, meanwhile, public transportation authorities such as DC Metro, are using IBM’s software to track, monitor and manage their systems, including trains, buses, stations, to improve on-time performance and provide predictive maintenance. The software offers a way to predict maintenance needs so that repairs can be done before breakdowns occur.

2.) Public safety. “The opportunity for highly sophisticated analytics to do things, like reduce crime, is pretty profound,” says Altman. So profound that New York City, once known as one of the least safe cities in the United States, now ranks among the safest. A big reason is the police department’s Real-Time Crime data warehouse, which uses search capabilities and entity analytics to search public records, crime files and other data, and make connections that help deliver information that can solve or prevent crimes. Critical data can be relayed instantly to officers at a crime scene, and what once took days now takes minutes.

3.) Water management. As much as 30 percent of household water, sometimes more, is lost due to leaky faucets. “By using monitors, then advanced analytics, you can actually pinpoint problems, and proactively address them, before they become major problems,” says Altman. The city of Dubuque, Iowa has benefited from this approach. Its 60,000 residents have received a computerized monitoring device that spells out their energy consumption and ways they can reduce water and energy costs.

4.) Social Services. For states, Medicaid fraud is a growing concern, costing taxpayers billions of dollars each year. IBM is currently working with the state of North Carolina to turn the tide. In March, Gov. Beverly Perdue tapped IBM to provide a Fraud and Abuse Management System to detect irregular procedures and questionable billing activity. “This again, is about applying analytics because, ultimately, you have to go through millions of records, of healthcare providers and the population within the state, to locate where the fraud is occurring,” says Altman.

Many of these advances speak to an “information explosion,” as Altman puts it. IBM has been investing heavily in analytics, with acquisitions of Cognos, Entity Analytics Solutions, SPSS, Coremetrics, NISC and other acquisitions. IBM also opened an Advanced Analytics Center, in Washington, DC, this past November, which includes the expertise of more than 400 professionals, including researchers, software specialists, and consultants in areas such as social services, public safety, transportation, healthcare and defense.

Industry partnerships: Where you come in

The challenges cities face are too great for any one company to tackle alone. “More than ever, the importance of building out that ecosystem and supporting business partners is crucial to the [Smarter Cities] initiative,” says Altman. IBM’s Government Industry and Health Industry Frameworks speak to that belief. These platforms provide a roadmap, consisting of a combination of hardware, software, and services, designed to address the unique business challenges within the industries while capitalizing on open standards. “It’s the equivalent,” says Altman, “of what we call an ‘on-ramp’ … an ability to support other vendor applications on behalf of our government and healthcare customers.”

As for potential partners, domain expertise is key, says Altman. “Whether it’s transportation, water management, social services, or how to create ‘intelligent’ buildings, we look at the expertise that [potential partners] bring and how their solutions contribute to the benefit of the customer,” she says.

“We see the potential”

Looking ahead, Altman sees an “exciting journey” to Smarter Cities. “We have more than 400,000 employees and every one of them is invested in the success of this [initiative] because everyone of us lives someplace where we’re served by all of these systems  … we see the flaws and we see the potential.”

That potential comes with a sizable call to action. “To ensure,” as Altman puts it, “that we’re investing the research, the talent, the capability — and the partners — to make a smarter city where we live.”

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