Instrumented Interconnecteds Intelligent

We’ve been talking about creating a smarter planet for a year and a half, but it’s a lot more than talk. At this point, IBM has engaged with 430 clients  on smarter cities projects and we’ve learned a lot about how this sort of thing gets done. Ginni Rometty, IBM’s senior vice president for sales and distribution, talked about the lessons at SmarterCities Shanghai.

These are complex situations. Cities are systems of systems, from transportation and health care to public safety and utilities. Understanding the workings of each individual system is complex by itself. But to improve the functioning of cities you have to understand and manage the interdependencies between the systems. So it’s a step by step journey, Rometty said.

Step #1: Instrument to manage. You’ve got to collect a lot of data; then understand it, manage it, and act on it. She mentioned a great example. It’s not a city situation, actually, but it demonstrates the power of instrumentation: In New Zealand, farmers discovered that dairy cows produce more milk when when they listen to music. But all cows don’t have the same taste in music, so farmers use the RFID tags attached to each cow to identify them when they enter the milking stall and play each one the music they like best. Who knew!

Step #2: Integrate to innovate. By combining data from many related sources, city leaders can draw superior insights. A good illustration is New York City’s Realtime Crime Center. The city gathers a tremendous amount of data about crimes and criminals and makes it available to police managers and individual police officers on a realtime basis. This makes it possible for police to respond quickly and to even anticipate crimes, and to predict where a person might go after they commit a crime. The system has contributed to the city’s incredible public safety improvements: The crime rate has dropped by 27% since 2001.

Step #3: Optimize to transform. All the data in the world doesn’t matter much if you don’t do something with it–have an impact on people’s day-to-day lives. A cool example here is Singapore. The tiny country is pushing public transportation hard. Working with IBM Research, it has developed a system that makes it possible for bus riders to find out  if their bus is going to be on time. In the future, they’ll be able to know if a bus is overcrowded. Maybe they’ll wait for one with open seats. It’s all part of an effort to make public transportation both a way of life and a pleasurable experience.

Actually, there’s another step that’s got to come first, Rometty said. That’s getting all of the parties involved in the project to agree on what their common ambition is. Otherwise, they’ll be pulling against each other from beginning to end.

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