IBM targets $57B market with new 'smart city' package

IBM has released its Intelligent Operations Center for Smarter Cities, designed to help cities of all sizes gain a holistic view of information across city departments and agencies.

IBM Corp. has developed a new offering based on its work with local governments and it going after what could be a $57 billion market.

Big Blue, drawing on some 2,000 "smart city" projects it has worked on in recent years, has released its Intelligent Operations Center for Smarter Cities, a solution designed to help cities of all sizes get an integrated view of information across city departments and agencies.

The Intelligent Operations Center combines analytics technologies created by IBM Research working with cities around the world, such as a current project in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, along with those obtained in recent acquisitions.

IDC Government Insights estimates the new smarter cities IT market opportunity at $34 billion in 2011, increasing more than 18 percent per year to $57 billion by 2014.

City managers can apply the technology through a unified operations center to accurately gather, analyze and act on information about city systems and services; analyze real-time information to better model and anticipate problems; and integrate real-time information from across multiple city systems to foster collaborative decision-making, IBM officials said.

“Cities will benefit from a logically central way of understanding their data, of coming to the conclusions about which analytics to use, of using those analytics and visualizing those results,” said Mark Cleverley, IBM’s director of public safety solutions.

The operations center does not necessarily have to be a physical center. It could be a virtual portal with multiple points of entry, Cleverley said. The principle behind the concept is to provide municipalities with a set of pre-packaged products that help cities gain a holistic view across departments and agencies, he said.

The aim is to help cities of all sizes use analytics more effectively to make intelligent decisions based on better quality and timelier information. City managers can access information that crosses boundaries, so they’re not focusing on a problem within a single domain. They can start to think about how one agency’s response to an event affects other agencies, Cleverley said.

Local leaders can manage a spectrum of events, both planned and unplanned, such as deploying water maintenance crews to repair pumps before they break, alerting fire crews to broken fire hydrants at an emergency scene, or anticipating traffic congestion and preparing redirection scenarios.

As city managers consolidate IT infrastructures to cut costs and reduce duplication, they are putting more of a focus on operating smarter cities. Gaining a holistic view of city operations is a wave of the future, said Thom Rubel, vice president of research at IDC Government Insights.

IBM plans to build on the foundation of IOC, offering pre-designed capabilities to bring in information from different city domains, such as energy, health, public works, public safety, transportation and water.

IOC is not something IBM has pulled out of a hat but rather “is founded on real project-based experience,” Cleverley said. IBM is applying the best practices and solutions the company has gleaned from more than 2,000 smarter cities engagements.

For instance, officials in Rio de Janeiro are working with IBM on a multimillion-dollar plan that includes a City Operations Center to help meteorologists, geological surveyors, field operations and security work together to speed up emergency responsiveness. After a series of floods and mudslides claimed the lives of 100 people in April 2010, city officials recognized the need to significantly overhaul city operations, a big step also in preparing for the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016.

The Rio de Janeiro center integrates information from multiple government departments and public agencies to improve city safety and responsiveness to various types of incidents, including locally critical flash floods and landslides.

As part of the agreement, IBM Research scientists have developed a high-resolution weather forecasting and hydrological modeling system for Rio de Janeiro, which can predict heavy rains up to 48 hours in advance.

The Rio de Janeiro center is an actual physical location. "We are working on a cloud-based version of [IOC] so it won’t necessarily need to be on premise,” although most cities will want it on premise, Cleverley said. A cloud computing model would be attractive to lower-tier cities with fewer financial and IT resources, he added.

IBM is establishing a community of business partners that will develop complementary solutions with expertise in areas such as architecture and water management, devices including video cameras and smart meters, and city services software. Partners working with IBM include: AECOM, Badger Meter, ESRI, Telvent, Veolia Water North America and VirtualAgility.

The Intelligent Operations Center for Smarter Cities cost is dependent on the amount of integration required, number of users, how it is deployed -- shared, cloud, etc -- and the size of the city.

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