Data management

India gives the smart cities industry a wake-up call

Don't assume that India will necessarily be a smart cities laggard. Consider these factoids from a recent article in CXO Today:

  • The Indian government announced plans to set up two smart cities in every state
  • 30 Indians leave rural areas for the city every minute
  • India will have to accommodate another 700 million city dwellers over the next 20 years
  • India will require 500+ new cities over the next 20 years

More than 500 new cities. Do you really think India will build 500 "dumb" traditional cities? Or will they spend that money on smart cities instead?

Let's remember how Korea leapfrogged the world in wireless telecommunications to far surpass the United States and other developed countries. I see every possibility that emerging economies like India could do the same thing in smart cities. -- Jesse Berst

The CXO article quotes Dipankar Chakraborti, the Research Director at the School of Environmental Studies at India's Jadavpur University on the rapid urbanization his country is experiencing today: "Changing demographics and depleting infrastructure and newer forms of threats are prompting the government to work towards the betterment of the citizens. This is where smart cities come into picture. The next one decade will see a phenomenal investment in higher intelligence in urban systems and processes."

Chakraborti expects to see a complete digitalization of the present infrastructure – and he's not alone.

“In the traditional sense, we tend to believe that smart cities include smart homes and smart buildings, but in reality, it will encompass the entire ecosystem such as smart healthcare, smart transportation, smart industrial automation as well as smart education,” said Amitabh Ray, Senior Vice President of Ericsson India Global Services, who was also quoted in the CXO article.

An IBM assessment of India's need for sustainable cities explains how this can be accomplished: "Replacing the actual city infrastructures is often unrealistic in terms of cost and time. However, with recent advances in technology, we can infuse our existing infrastructures with new intelligence. By this, we mean digitizing and connecting our systems, so they can sense, analyze and integrate data, and respond intelligently to the needs of their jurisdictions. In short, we can revitalize them so they can become smarter and more efficient. In the process, cities can grow and sustain quality of life for their inhabitants."

IBM is one of the companies currently working with the Indian government to further its smart cities plans.

More resources ...
India's Top 20 Promising Cities

Microsoft 'smart campus' makeover saving millions in energy costs

Microsoft's foray into smart building management represents the holy grail -- namely, an application that improves sustainability and improves resident satisfaction while also paying for itself. If we can help cities get started with high-payoff applications like this one, the savings can help to finance the next wave of improvements.
But there is a dark cloud around this silver lining. In many parts of the world, there is a mismatch between who pays for the improvements -- the landlord-- and who reaps the benefits -- the tenant. Microsoft doesn't fit this mismatch, since it fills both roles in this case. -- Jesse Berst

When Microsoft realized it had an energy-inefficient campus filled with buildings of different styles and configurations – and different building management systems – it was estimated that spending $60 million was needed to fix the variety of problems with traditional solutions. Fortunately for the company, the engineers dealing with the issue did something entirely different.

They came up with a solution combining mounds of data and software that gave the company the smart campus it wanted. That solution is now saving the tech giant millions, and they're sharing it around the world to help others achieve far more energy-efficient building operations.

An article in Realcomm tells the story of what the small team of engineers did, how they did it and how it works. A key figure in Microsoft's smart buildings makeover is Darrell Smith, the company's Director of Facilities and Energy. The work done at the campus has made him something of a rock star in smart building circles, a description he would probably never use himself.

When the engineering team began working toward their goal of a smart campus three years ago, they were met with 125 campus buildings built in different configurations and styles and at different times. They also were confronted with very different building management systems with 30,000 unconnected sensor-enabled pieces of equipment.

Examples? Heating and cooling systems were fighting each other to maintain comfortable building temperatures, and in one instance the exhaust fans in a building garage had been overlooked and ran continuously for a year, which amounted to an unnecessary expense of $66,000.

The estimate for tearing out the old equipment and replacing it was more than $60 million, and it would mean expensive construction as well as down time for the labs as the work was being done. Smith and his engineering team thought there had to be a solution that didn't involve that expense and disrupted work schedules – but they couldn't find one.

So they made their own. With help from three commercial building data systems vendors, they developed a pilot for 13 buildings at the Redmond, Washington campus that involves an "analytical blanket" placed over the various systems, a software blanket that allowed equipment and buildings to communicate with each other. It was a resounding success.

"The challenge with building systems is that they can create a lot of chatter from multiple systems, but there's value there if you connect and capture it. It's all about the data. If you can't get data out of the building, you're done," Smith explained.

The solution they developed now brings 500,000 building data points every 24 hours to the "brain," the Redmond Operations Center, a feat that has made it "one of the smartest corporate campuses in the world," to quote the Realcomm story. And with the help of those vendor partners, Smith's group created its smart buildings software using Microsoft's own off-the-shelf Windows Azure, SQL Server and MIcrosoft Office software.

Facilities engineers Tearle Wilson and Jonathan Grove have certainly been impressed with the difference the smart buildings software has made in their lives. Before the development, the two would spend two weeks in each building inspecting and tweaking, a five-year process that began again once a round of inspections and fixes was completed. The energy savings from that exhaustive process was about $250,000 per year.

The new data solution is expected to yield six times more than that. Now the two spend the majority of their time at the operations center, working with the massive amounts of data being collected.

That does not mean Smith can say "Now my work here is done." He's taking the smart buildings success story on the road - presenting it to business, government and industry, performing a show and tell for  oil companies, hospitals, car makers, cities and federal agencies, including the Pentagon.

Knowing that commercial buildings soak up 40% of the world's available energy and that U.S. businesses alone pay roughly $100 billion yearly in energy costs, Smith and company want to share the smart buildings software to help others find the road to the success they experienced.

Vancouver, B.C. proposes $30M smart cities plan

Vancouver, B.C. city staff has laid out a $30 million smart cities plan for the city council that includes expanding the city's open data program, providing access to city services through digital platforms and providing an 'incubator' for digital businesses in the community.

The City of Vancouver Digital Strategy is the document prepared by staff outlining its nine-point plan for the city.

"The challenge for Vancouver and perhaps all cities is to be more agile under the sometimes complicating pressures of consumer-driven technology adoption and expectations and the increasing need to minimize risk and maximize value," according to document text outlining the challenges. "...The Digital Strategy sets out a four-year roadmap that moves Vancouver's approach to digital from ad hoc and often siloed to integrated and strategic, prioritizing key initiatives that demonstrate the greatest value for its citizens, business and the organization."

Most of the plan's priorities, $28 million worth, that provide for major projects like permit and license transformation, have been funded and approved by the council. Staff has yet to create project and funding plans for remaining initiatives that will add an additional $1 million to $2 million in funding.

The priorities listed in the Digital Strategy plan include:

  • Enable city services across digital platforms
  • Expand the open data program
  • Promote digital activity through communication and engagement tools
  • Expand digital access throughout the city
  • Establish a digital incubator program for digital companies
  • Develop a favorable regulatory environment supporting the digital industry
  • Work with partners to support an agile proof of concept program
  • Implement digital services governance
  • Implement a mobile workforce strategy

However, the initiative faces a fair-sized challenge if it wants to ensure that all Vancouver residents can participate in the benefits to be provided by the initiative.

17% of city homes do not have Internet access and 5% of those that do are running low-speed dial-up access, which diminishes their ability to participate in a digital world "...filled with multi-media/streaming content for news, entertainment, education, community engagement and more," the plan document said.

German traffic pilot: Analytics predict and manage traffic flow

A recent smarter traffic pilot in Cologne, Germany, illustrated how the city can predict, better manage and in many instances avoid traffic jams and trouble spots with analytics.

The pilot, conducted by the city and IBM, wrapped up with some surprising results: City traffic engineers and IBM could predict traffic volume and flow with over 90% accuracy and up to 30 minutes in advance.

That level of accuracy would give travelers a good indication of what to expect and what they should do next: change their travel time, take an alternate route or maybe take public transportation instead of driving.

"The traffic prediction pilot results are very encouraging," said Thomas Weil, director of the Cologne Traffic Control Center. "Having the ability to create actionable insight from the traffic monitoring data gives us an ability to better manage congestion as well as provide citizens with more precise traffic information. Our Traffic Control Center would be able to optimize current traffic flow while anticipating and planning for potential traffic incidents."

Cologne could use the help. It's Germany's fourth largest city with a population of a little over one million – and it is a retail center, a hub for trade shows and a cultural center with numerous galleries and museums. The city's traffic density and congestion made it clear to city officials they needed to find an effective way to better manage and optimize traffic flow and grow the capacity of its transportation networks.

The Traffic Control Center collected real-time data from over 150 monitoring stations and 20 traffic cameras on roads, highways and intersections considered traffic trouble spots.

IBM transportation experts and researchers worked with the city to analyze data from traffic monitoring stations on the left bank of the Rhine River for six weeks with help from the IBM Traffic Prediction Tool and its Intelligent Transportation solutions. The results comparing traffic prediction tool accuracy with real-time data found the accuracy of short-term forecasting (30 minutes ahead) to be 94% for the speed of the vehicle and 87% for traffic volume.

"As one of the first congestion-prone cities to do so, Cologne has taken an important step in the right direction with this project," said Eric-Mark Huitema, IBM Smarter Transportation leader in Europe. "Intelligent traffic management based on precise forecasting techniques can help cities anticipate and avoid traffic congestion and possibly reduce the volume of traffic, resulting in a more sustainable transportation network."

WaterWatchers: So. African citizens help identify water issues

IBM and its leading partner for smarter cities solutions, Element Blue, have developed a customer water management platform for a South African city – and citizens are being recruited to help provide critical information on the country's water distribution system.

The companies launched the WaterWatchers program in the city of Tshwana as a crowdsourcing project in which citizens will be able to report problems like water leaks, faulty pipes and the condition of water canals. The citizen role is to take a photo of the problem, answer a few simple questions and upload the data to a central database. After 30 days, vital data points will be analyzed and collected into a useful "leak hot spot" map and report to provide a single source of information on the problems and issues challenging the water distribution system.

The project includes a new citizen portal, a mobile phone application and SMS facility, each created by Element Blue to get citizens more involved in city issues, develop community engagement and boost municipal operating efficiency to benefit the community overall.

"The solution places water conservation tools into the hands of the citizenry, and enables each individual to do his part by reporting water issues throughout the city, allowing city workers to instantly identify non-threatening issues  and quickly dispatch the proper maintenance," said Joey Bernal, Element Blue CTO and managing partner. "Citizens will be able to receive updates and comments from their peers, as well as vote on pending service requests, simply by using the app on their smart phone."

Bernal added: "Enhancing the country's ability to leverage information across all agencies and departments will encourage minimal disruptions of anticipated problems. When resources are coordinated rapidly and proactively, the infrastructure of a city is maximized to support the economic, social and health needs of its citizenship, fully realizing the potential for citizen and business interactions."

The cross-brand solution in Tshwana was designed by IBM and Element Blue. The companies believe the platform has considerable potential for similar applications in monitoring and reporting on almost any part of the surrounding environment, including city services, wildlife, noise pollution, air quality, weather and more.

IBM's building whisperer: If we want smarter cities, we start with smarter buildings

Would you turn up the heat in your home when it's hot outside and your air conditioner is running? Of course you wouldn't because it wouldn't provide the comfort you were looking for and it would be a waste of money. And you wouldn't leave the lights on all day and night, either.

But those are examples of how separate systems work in many larger buildings: separate systems operating in an uncoordinated and often counter-productive way. David Bartlett, VP of Smarter Buildings at IBM, has a far different vision of what smarter buildings, and by extension, smarter cities can be.

At a speaking engagement on smarter buildings at the University of Cape Town, he outlined what his vision is and how to achieve it. Quoted in an article posted on ITWeb, Bartlett said "Buildings are talking to us, and if we can just learn to listen to them holistically, we can learn to heal them of their wild energy and water-wasting ways."

Buildings consume an average of 42% of the world's available electricity, and that number is expected to exceed 50% by 2025.

Bartlett is referred to as the "building whisperer" in the industry and he has what can best be described as a "physiology of buildings" approach to highlight how buildings work and should be managed for maximum sustainability and efficiency. It's an amusing but fairly accurate designation for Bartlett and his approach.

"In today's world, the systems that run in a building are running separately. If you look at construction practices, from architecture, to design to construction to operations, they're all done in silos," Bartlett said. "This lack of holistic management of a building leads to a lot of the inefficiencies we see, in the life cycle from the way it's built and repurposed and retrofitted, to the way it's operated."

He also referred to statistics from The Climate Group's Smart 2020 study, which noted that the ICT sector can cut 15% of global emissions in 2020, largely by pushing energy efficiency into areas like energy, buildings, industry and transport. And another that predicts 50 billion machine-to-machine connections by 2020 – which will provide information that will "make climate change visible" as it monitors impacts and emissions.

"The Smart 2020 study stepped back and said if we could just effectively apply existing communication and IT to the building space, there could be an opportunity to realize as much as $341 billion difference by the year 2020. That speaks to the enormous potential of technology in this space, as well as the business opportunity – which is why we got into it," Bartlett said.

And the building industry has reached a tipping point. The tremendous growth of instrumentation in the built environment  means enormous quantities of data are being generated, from lighting systems, security systems, and energy management systems.

"There is a lot of instrumentation that is enabling this tipping point. The ability to connect it all so you can holistically understand how everything is working together is again at the tipping point, because of wireless technology, so we can do it at a great price point." That data fed through analytics can point the way to maximizing energy, but also maintenance and how to best use space. "If you don't have good visibility of your buildings, and access to that data on a real-time basis, then how do you make decisions?"

While Bartlett sees plenty wrong with how buildings are managed and operated in terms of efficiency, but he's looking forward to a future when that changes. "I'm excited about us leveraging technology that is largely to blame for the problems of the last 15 or so years, and using it in a very positive way to conserve the precious resources we have."

Read more about IBM Smarter Buildings initiatives >>

How technology is playing a role in smarter, safer cities

The executive director of UN Women told a forum on cities against poverty that technology is significantly supporting initiatives to make cities safer places. And she brought some issues to the discussion not often heard in smart cities discussions: women's participation and equal rights.

Michelle Bachelet, executive director of UN Women, recently told the audience at the 8th Forum World Alliance of Cities Against Poverty that technology is a fundamental element in creating safer, smarter cities.

While addressing the UN Women's Global Safe Cities Initiative, she said "We know that smart cities recognize that women's equal participation, equal opportunities and equal rights are essential to eradicating poverty and achieving sustainable development" – and that technology has a major role in the UN effort, now in 21 cities worldwide.

While women's empowerment and personal safety issues may at first glance seem unusual in smart cities dialogues, Bachelet would argue otherwise.

She went on to say "A targeted and effective response requires local diagnostics. To make cities safer we place a strong emphasis on taking an evidence-based approach, and taking advantage of technologies that enhance data collection, monitoring and evaluation. We know that smart cities use technology for social innovation. And we know it is smart to provide concrete evidence to authorities to take responsive action."

And that, she noted, is why UN Women is working with Microsoft to identify ways to use mobile technology better to "document, prevent and respond to violence, especially sexual harassment and violence in public spaces."

As an example, she pointed out Rio de Janeiro where communities are taking advantage of mapping technologies to identify safety risks such as lack of lighting, faulty infrastructure and services and obstructed walking routes in 10 of the city's high-risk slums – and forwarding the information to local authorities who are working on solutions.

The Safe Cities initiative is, she said, intended to encourage participation by all residents – women, men and youth – to make cities safer and to ensure they stay that way.

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Solving Boston's urban challenges becomes a group effort

The city of Boston, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and Boston University are working with IBM to find new, smarter solutions to persistent urban challenges, including traffic congestion and streetlight management, energy efficiency, major event coordination, and water/sewer and airport management and maintenance.

As the projects progress, IBM says the partners will collaborate on evaluating and deploying solutions identified in the multiple projects, which will employ IBM technology and massive amounts of data from sensors and databases along with analytics software.

Here is a quick overview of the projects and what they are expected to accomplish:

  • The Boston Mayor's Office of Arts, Tourism and Special Events will pilot an intelligent dashboard from IBM to give city officials in all departments a comprehensive view of events occurring in the city. The outcome is expected to be better overall coordination of events with capabilities for smoother traffic management and better public safety performance, as well as finding potential conflicts in event booking before they occur.
  • The city, Boston University and IBM have developed a set of recommendations to leverage and analyze the city's transportation data, and related data-focused projects will continue this year.
  • The city's Public Works Department is working with a new IBM asset management platform to support maintenance and repair of the city's 60,000 streetlights.
  • Boston University's Sustainable Neighborhood Laboratory and IBM are focusing on smarter energy consumption in residential buildings in conjunction with local utility NSTAR and community development groups. The effort is intended to promote energy conservation among building residents and youth.
  • The Massachusetts Water Resources Authority is conducting predictive maintenance with its water and sewer systems. Previous efforts have cut maintenance and work orders by 38%.
  • The state is working on improving maintenance, energy use and space management throughout its 72 million square feet of property and better managing annual work orders.
  • The Massachusetts Port Authority also is working on predictive service and maintenance for Logan International Airport Terminal which includes air conditioning, doors, escalators and other equipment. The port authority plans to take the project to all of its terminals and other assets such as buses.

"We will work with the private sector as well as our public sector partners to improve maintenance, energy and space management in order to make smart infrastructure improvements that will lead to greater sustainability of state facilities," said state Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance Commissioner Carole Cornelison.

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Case study: City of Bremen Cuts Energy Consumption and Consolidates Building Management with Wonderware Solution

The biggest market in the world for IT? Smart cities

Smart cities are the "biggest market for IT in the world," according to Joe Dignan, chief European public sector analyst for tech research and analysis firm Ovum. And he has a lot more to say about smart city initiatives and why the smart cities market is so strong at a time when so many others are not.

 Quoted in Public Technology, Dignan said "Cities are economic engines. The 19th and 20th centuries were about nation states – but cities have been around much longer."

 In outlining the reason for the smart cities market's growth and strength, he noted that estimates of the market value are all over the map but it remains clear that cities will be very important in the future economy.

 Some of Dignan's observation include:

  •  One reason for the strong smart cities market is that it's global, and new or developing cities are its "bread and butter" because of the relative ease of retrofitting infrastructure.
  •  Older European cities are more complicated because of the architecture, age and challenges of introducing modern infrastructure in existing, heavily built up cities.
  •  The smart city concept can be extended well beyond our traditional definitions of a city to include such structures as oil rigs which can frequently be considered "small cities on stilts."
  •  The increasing frequency of natural disasters also will drive the use of smart city technology. As Dignan put it in the article, "Government needs to get things back up again ASAP – they need a cloud-based government in a box."
  •  The growing smart cities market and its technologies also offer opportunities for other industries that would want to take part such as banks, utilities, telecom and IT companies and more.
  •  It's also a matter of economics and timing, according to Dignan. The growth of the technology has coincided with Europe's austerity measures, meaning governments have to adopt the new technology.

 And there are what he referred to as the four horsemen of the IT apocalypse: the arrival of scalable and cost-effective cloud technology, the "Internet of Things" offering more opportunity for online innovation, the "bring your own" trend which has created growing interest in smart city technology, and the combination of austerity and slow growth that has made the technology more attractive for its ability to reduce costs and take better advantage of data.

Dignan also highlighted the importance of integrating IT as soon as possible in the process to ensure project success and for the IT industry's benefit.

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How will AI transform cities? 3 experts weigh in

Artificial intelligence (AI) is no longer confined to the realm of science fiction. It’s becoming reality, already playing a role in transforming some corporate call centers. But as the technology grows, it could also radically shape the way that cities provide services and determine policy.

At Smart Cities Week Silicon Valley, three experts shared their visions of what AI could do for cities. The visions are inspiring. If they come to life, tomorrow’s cities will have a new tool to make life easier for residents and to prevent unintended consequences from policy decisions. This is what the future could look like. — Kevin Ebi

1. Avoid unintended policy consequences
Policies start out with good intentions, but they can end up hurting the very people they were supposed to help. Here’s one scenario:

You want to improve the quality of life for under-served people in a poor neighborhood. So you bring in a new technology to make the neighborhood better. But makes the neighborhood more attractive, bringing in new residents and driving up rents and property values. Soon the very people you aimed to help can no longer afford to live there.

Ted Lehr, Austin’s data architect, envisions a day when AI leads to smart models that let policy makers see all the possible impacts of decisions — impacts they may not even be aware of today.

“No parent should give their children what they want all the time,” Lehr said. “Cities shouldn’t do that for their citizens either. Perhaps we could be using AI to detect if a plan is prejudicial.”

Or make roads safer. Lehr said that traffic planners have always been able to assume that pedestrians wouldn’t just randomly wander out into a road. With people glued to their smartphones, that’s no longer a safe assumption. AI could one day lead to better traffic safety models.

2. Anticipate citizens’ needs
One industry where AI is beginning to take off is call centers. Each day, computers are becoming better able to understand speech, even if the person speaking has a thick accent.

Companies are obviously interested in that technology as a way of cutting costs. In fact, some forecast that call centers will be largely automated by 2020.

But cities could also leverage the technology to better serve people. People sometimes have requests that involve many different city departments. Getting a building permit. Opening a restaurant. Michelle Rudnicki, IBM’s vice president of Industry Solutions, says AI could pave the way to bringing all city departments together. It could enable advanced call centers that understand what the person is trying to do and to connect all the dots for them, eliminating frustration and wasted time.

3. Improve real-time insight
Planning a trip is certainly easier than it’s ever been. In any major city, you can see the current traffic conditions and build a route that will get you there in the shortest possible time. But Chetan Gupta, Hitachi’s chief data scientist, says those services could be even smarter with AI.

Gupta says the issue is that today’s services are based on what the traffic sensors are seeing right this second, historical data, or some combination of the two. But what if they could see what else was going on in the city and make smarter forecasts about what traffic would be like? AI could one day allow them to do that. For example, they could take sports or concert schedules into account to provide much more accurate forecasts about when you should leave or what methods of transportation you should take to get there.

Additionally, AI could also improve the usefulness of data from sensors. AI paired with video feeds, for instance, would let transit managers better understand how many people are waiting in the bus or subway queue.

4. Always put people first
AI scares some people given the way that it has been portrayed in the movies. But this isn’t about letting computers take over the world. AI is about letting computers be much smarter about the data they analyze and the way they analyze it. And the value is in how it makes people’s lives better.

Rudnicki says let the computers do the heavy lifting, but make sure that people are involved in interpreting and using the results.

“You have to insert a human into it so that it can be used responsibility,” she says. “To serve up better answers look at the data, come up with answers from the data, but hand them off to a human being to where there’s an ability to apply reason and human values to that data.”