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Data Innovation Is Helping Cities Forge Ahead

by Nancy Staisey

The following is a guest post from a Data Innovation Day partner.

Recently I was reminded of the first time I went to New York City as a child for a ticker tape parade. What is etched in my memory was the experience of paper shreds and ticker tape snowing down on us as the parade approached.

In that moment, my eyes weren’t on passing cars or heroes, but rather on these little slips of paper covered in numbers and letters. I just couldn’t understand why anyone was throwing all of this data away. It was a snowfall of information that someone thought was worthwhile to print, but not worth saving and using.

Today every one of us produces an avalanche of data. Experts say that the world’s information is doubling every two years, but for many cities, this data is an unrecognized natural resource. This new natural resource can be turned into information and insight that can help transform the way our cities, our country, and our businesses operate.

Luckily this explosive growth in data has been accompanied by advances in technology to make real use of data in a new era of computing. We now have far more advanced tools to understand data and its context and meaning. Just as the x-ray revolutionized medicine by giving doctors new vision into the body, these advanced tools enable us to see into this mass of data.  With increasing computational speed and advanced analytics, we can turn data into predictive insights to create new efficiencies. This is ushering in a new opportunity for cities to move past just-in-time and real time analyses, and beyond the ability to simply sense and respond.

This data innovation is helping cities change the way they work to a new paradigm in which they can perceive, predict and perform in new ways. For cities, this means parking spots that tell drivers when they’re free; weather prediction systems that can forecast floods down to the city block, and city transit systems that text you the most effective way to get to work today.

In Memphis, Tennessee, the local police department for example is enhancing its crime fighting techniques using predictive analytics software to reduce serious crime by more than 30 percent and violent crimes by 15 percent. Other cities are using data for new insight as well. To improve water management, South Bend, Indiana, is predicting the potential overflow of hazardous wastewater. In doing so it virtually eliminated dry weather wastewater overflows and the city’s storage and delivery of water improved while $120 million in infrastructure investments were avoided. In Honolulu, Hawaii, the city is taking a predictive and proactive approach to city maintenance and repairs and resolving citizen complaints, allowing citizens to help identify issues and track progress.

There remains an abundance of data, but the use of big data, analytics, and high performance computing are creating new opportunities to create value for government and business. This will be a key factor in determining which cities and countries pull ahead economically, and which ones fall behind, which cities attract knowledge workers and business development, and which businesses thrive.

Rather than letting valuable data go to waste, like shreds of paper in a ticker tape parade, forward thinking cities are using data to innovate and forge ahead.

Photo credit: Courtesy of International Business Machines Corporation. Unauthorized use not permitted.

Nancy Staisey is Vice President Smarter Cities North America at IBM. To learn more, visit the A Smarter Planet Blog.

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