By Steve Hodgkinson
Research Director IT Asia/Pacivic
Here’s a link to the Ovum StraightTalk blog, where this post was originally published.
I attended the Smarter Cities Forum in Rio, the centerpiece of which from my perspective was the Centro De Operações Prefeitura Do Rio – a NASA-style city operations centre created by Rio in partnership with IBM. This is a good example of a smart city initiative which is deploying technology in a practical way to drive day-to-day efficiency as well as to act as a catalyst for deeper cultural and organizational transformations across Rio’s public sector agencies.
The idea of smart cities has continued to gain momentum through 2011 as cities look for ways to enhance their ‘product’ in the global competition for citizens and commercial talent. Competition, and “coopetition”, between cities is emerging as a significant driver of public sector IT investment in a decade that is otherwise kicking off in a climate of austerity.
People vote with their feet to adopt successful cities because they are better places to live, work, learn and play. Popularity breeds age old problems of congestion and infrastructure stress, and new problems of environmental sustainability, but smarter cities are finding ways to use new technology to plan for growth and to more efficiently deliver critical infrastructure and services.
Cities are thus ‘hot’ from the perspective of action oriented public policy. City administrators are looking for better ways to both solve today’s problems and to make the planning decisions that will set their city on the path to being the best in their province, nationally, regionally or globally. This notion of competition between cities is an important new dynamic for reenergizing transformation and IT investment.
A good example of the energizing of a transformation program using technology highlighted at the Smart Cities Forum was the new Centro De Operações Prefeitura Do Rio – a central operations centre for the city of Rio de Janeiro. Rio is a city of around 6.3 million people which is expected to grow to over 11 million. The city is 446 years old, with ageing infrastructure compounded by historical underinvestment and the complexity of its mountainous geography. Oil revenues are underpinning an economic resurgence and a revitalization of the city’s vision, and it was successful in winning bids to host the 2014 FIFA World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympic games. The city, however, faces many challenges due to traffic congestion, lack of public transport, uncontrolled building development and the effects of extreme rain events. Storms earlier this year caused the loss of 70 lives and significant property damage and disruption to city services.
Rio’s Mayor, Eduardo Paes, frustrated by the difficulties of coordinating planning, day-to-day operations and emergency responses across the city’s 30 or more agencies, commissioned the construction of an intelligent operations centre in partnership with IBM. The centre looks like NASA space control, and comprises an 80 square meter screen with monitors manned by staff from the various agencies 24 hours a day. The screen displays the latest updates from weather forecasts, live cameras, real time locations of public service vehicles and a wide range of sensor inputs and information feeds – presented on Google Maps and a range of graphical and video displays.
The centre, which is coming up to being one year old, enables more effective monitoring and control of city operations to deal with the optimization of routine daily traffic and pedestrian flows. It also enables faster and more effective responses to incidents such as road accidents and adverse weather and better planning and execution of public events such as concerts and the Rio Carnival. Advanced analytics applications are being used to predict dangerous weather conditions and to plan the most effective responses to a range of event scenarios.
TV, radio and other media have access to a media room in the centre. Real time social media information feeds are also used as part of an explicit strategy to empower Rio’s citizens with information about the daily operation of the city and emergency situations.
A practical approach has been adopted for systems integration. The various agencies are all at different levels of sophistication with regard to their back-end systems, but the decision was taken to regard agencies as a ‘black box’ and to use practical integration mechanisms to pull together an integrated view for the display screens. The aim is that standard operating procedures will emerge over time to guide the need to invest in tighter systems integration, as opposed to integration being regarded as a precursor to coordination.
More importantly, from a strategic point of view, the centre has become a focal point for more effective collaboration across agencies as they plan and deliver a $7 billion program of infrastructure investment in mass transport systems, roads and public facilities in the run up to the Olympics. The value of the centre extends beyond its operational focus by creating a new source of ‘glue’ to bring and bind together the interests of otherwise disparate agencies from multiple jurisdictions.
Carlos Osorio, Secretary for Conservation & Public Service – the department that runs the operations centre – commented that “better cooperation and practical integration activities are the greatest by-product of the centre”. He said that the centre was “Like a mobile phone … before you have one you don’t see the need. After, you can’t understand how you lived without it.”
This is a good example of a smart city initiative which is deploying technology in a practical way to address day-to-day efficiencies as well as to achieve the longer term culture change in its public service agencies necessary to prepare the city for significant growth in its population.