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VP for marketing, IBM Smarter Cities

Rich Michos, VP for marketing, IBM Smarter Cities

By Rich Michos

An increasing percentage of the world’s population lives in cities, but many of the old problems persist even as new opportunities emerge. Fortunately, a new generation of leaders, comfortable with technology, is embracing the value of data analytics in decision-making in hopes that it will help them transform their cities.

As a result, in spite of financial pressures, many cities around the globe are aggressively adopting Smarter Cities technology. In a just-issued report, Navigant Research estimates that the global market for Smart Cities technology will grow from $6.1 billion annually in 2012 to more than $20 billion in 2020, a compound annual growth rate  of 16.2%. This represents a cumulative investment of over $117 billion in smart city technologies between 2012 and 2020. The same report named IBM as the #1 supplier of smart city technology.

Demand for such technology is growing not because of slick marketing campaigns but because city leaders are finding that it makes their cities work better–which, in turns, makes them more sustainable and liveable.

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Leading cities are using analytics to integrate disparate data and coordinate across agencies to glean insights and address challenges posed by aging infrastructures, growing populations, legacy bureaucracies and fiscal constraints. While experience and instinct should not be undervalued, fact-based deliberations often lead to creative solutions that have the potential to make a big difference.

With creative application of the right technology, problems that have historically seemed too big and too labor intensive are actually proving to be less complicated that originally presumed. For example, in South Bend, Indiana, the city’s sewer infrastructure was aging, and even the best efforts at manual monitoring still resulted in hundreds of residential basement backups sewer overflow discharge. By collaborating across public sector, private enterprise and academia, the city was able to thoughtfully integrate technologies such as smart valves and sensors in addressing its water and sewer management. South Bend dramatically overhauled its water management system, preserving public health and saving the city hundreds of millions of dollars.

Effective city leaders know collaboration is key to getting things done. This is reflected in Rochester. N.Y., where leaders throughout the community convened to improve healthcare access while reducing costs.  In Eindhoven, the Netherlands, citizens were actively engaged in a project to help address traffic congestion.

Innovative cities often collaborate with each other, as well. For example, Dubuque, Iowa, and Istanbul, Turkey, are sharing best practices and analytics tools to allow them to learn from one another. IBM Research recently used these cities as living laboratories to develop new transportation planning technology. The two cities are as different as you can imagine. Dubuque is a small city with just 23,000 households and only one source of public transit, buses. Istanbul is a sprawling city with 14 million residents, 1 million tourists annually and a wide range of transit options–subway, light rail, express buses, traditional buses, minibuses and ferries. Despite these differences and customized approaches needed for each, the core technology that was used in Dubuque – resulting in a 60% reduction in commuter time and 40% reduction in emissions – is also being put to work in Istanbul.

When city leaders embrace innovation and when they collaborate, significant long term benefits can be achieved. Across the globe, forward-looking city leaders are embracing change and reaching beyond city hall to drive sustainable economic growth and enhanced quality of life for their citizens.

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