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Turning small cities into smart ones

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Unlike what we usually think, unexpected events are not exclusive to big cities, even considering that they are more prepared to respond in time than the smaller ones. Traffic jams, security and interruption of essential services like water and transportation can happen in any size of city, not to mention the usual concerns such as weather and health unpredictability. A proper administration is essential to keep a city working, and technology is key to helping cities reach a certain level of success, increasing visibility and better control of operations and making sure best practices can be repeated and automatized.

cloud over city

One of the major inhibitors to implementing any technology in a city is related to IT costs (mainly infrastructure and skills), which can make it hard to get small cities’ operations under a system control. Cloud solutions reduce the cost of those investments due their low total cost of ownership (TCO), and they bring flexibility for the continuous demand for better services and resource availability. All of this allows city management to focus on core needs instead of technology.

There are a few solutions in the market, and IBM is present through its Intelligent Operations Center (IOC) software as a service (SaaS) offering, which brings a rapid way to get city operations ready in a few days. IOC allows administrators to manage operations and visualize resource usage like hospitals, rescue teams and so on. It also creates a platform to treat similar events quickly, consistently and efficiently.

Once the operations platform is set, the next step is to take advantage of being small—turning citizens and nearby cities into part of an integrated platform, which is easier if data and processes are accessible for everyone.

My insight is that collaboration in the cloud will make this happen. Here’s how:

  • More communication between cities and consequently optimized management over shared resources (equipment, water, people and so on)
  • Involvement of citizens on incident reporting and resolution
  • Monitoring of contracted infrastructure like power suppliers, roads, rivers
  • Planning and control of combined activities related to public health or public safety
  • Optimizing administrative functions through planned activities and shared budget

In addition, mobility will increase how information flows in real time from the problem to the operational center, either through a citizen report or through sensors and remote cameras. It will demand more IT resources to capture, store, process and communicate. And again, small cities tend to adapt better to mobile advantages and turn the contribution into a regular activity.

Some city managers may not be comfortable with sharing their data in an unknown place such as public cloud. For this reason, I see small cities sharing private clouds with other cities, splitting the investment or buying it from a closer big city as a service. In both cases it makes city’s administrators powerful, as they are part of an expanded network of resources and capabilities.

It is clear that a different cloud configuration can be offered for small cities as their concerns to manage simple and complex situations changes dramatically. It is up to us to help them think about real problems and how to solve their IT considerations by moving toward more cloud-based collaboration and city operation.

How else do you think small cities could benefit from cloud computing? Please share your thoughts below.

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