IBM’s 2012 Industry Analyst event in Madrid – the Smarter Cities panel

The future is so bright

I attended the IBM Industry Analyst event in Madrid recently and I was very taken with several of the briefings that I sat in on there.

There was an interesting panel on Smarter Cities chaired by IBM Europe’s VP for Smarter Cities Sylvie Spalmacin-Roma. Also on the panel were Francois Grosse (SVP Digital Services, Veolia Environment) and Marc Sanderson International Investments Director, Málaga City. Francois talked about how Veolia Environment works with public transport data and spun off a startup to meet demand in this space. Marc from Málaga gave a very interesting talk about how the city of Málaga is running many projects simultaneously to transform itself into a truly Smart city.

Some of the things Marc mentioned in Málaga are the water sensor project – Málaga has installed 60,000 sensors on its water piping to help it reduce the amount of water lost through leaks. This is particularly relevant given the recent Water 20/20: Bringing Smart Water Networks Into Focus report which maintains that more efficient use of water may save utilities $12.5 billion a year.

Málaga’s emergency management centre has an app that citizens can download to report issues directly to the town hall.

Málaga is the headquarters for the EU’s high speed rail research and it is currently building an 80km high speed rail test track.

Marc went on to point out that that Málaga has a joint project with Spanish electric utility company Endesa called Smart Cities Málaga where it is rolling out smart meters to 17,000 customers and tracking their energy use in an effort to make consumption more transparent to the customer and align the supply and demand curves.

And finally Marc mentioned Málaga’s Zero Emissions Mobility to All project Zem2All. This is a project which sees the deployment of 200 electric vehicles and 229 electric vehicle charge points throughout the city.It is a four year project designed to assess the usage patters of electric vehicle usage on a day-to-day basis. The project contains some of the first bidirectional electric car chargers in Europe – these chargers are capable of taking a charge from the car, as well as charging the car. This is to enable Vehicle to Grid (V2G) energy flows where electricity can move from the car’s battery back into the grid to help with grid stabilisation, for example, and to enable Vehicle to Home (V2H) energy flows where energy can move from the car’s battery into the home to keep the owners dwelling live in the event of short electrical outages.

The Málaga example is a superb one because it crosses so many domains – water, electricity, transportation, and it includes deep partnerships between the public and private sectors. One of the reasons this was made possible was because the Mayor of the city Francisco de la Torre Prados has been a strong proponent of building Málaga’s reputation as a smart city in order to attract in jobs and reduce Málaga’s 30% unemployment rate. Here’s hoping he succeeds.

Apart from this panel discussion, there were also briefings at the event covering all kinds of topics from data center energy management, to social business and most interesting (to me) one titled “Technologies which will change the world” – more on that in another post.

IBM analyst events are always a great reminder of the breadth of IBM’s interests, and this event was no exception to that pattern. My only quibble with the event would be I’d have preferred the smarter cities panel to have taken the form of a briefing, but given they had customers presenting, I can see how that would have been difficult.

[Full disclosure – IBM paid for my travel (train) and accommodation expenses to attend this event]

Image credit nicadlr


IBM launch Intelligent Water for Smarter Cities


Intelligent water is the latest addition to the IBM Smarter Cities portfolio.

in the world’s cities are growing at an astounding rate. For the 1st time in history, over 50% of the world’s population now lives in urban areas. Over 1 million people are moving into cities every week, and it is estimated that by 2050 70% of people on the planet will live in cities.

This unprecedented growth in urban populations makes the provision of basic services like transport, security, water etc. increasingly complex. This is irrespective of whether the city is a mature city or a developing one. It was against this backdrop that IBM launched its Smarter Cities product.

At the core of this offering is its Intelligent Operation Center (IOC) which takes inputs from systems throughout the city and depending on the input, raises alerts, kicks off workflows, or displays the information on any of a number of dashboards which can be configured to display differing information based on a user’s login.

The newly announced Intelligent Water offering is yet another module capable of working with the IOC. In their briefing call, IBM were at pains to point out that their experience working with custom projects like the ones in Galway Bay, the Washington DC, and the Dubuque, Iowa all helped shape this new product.

Water issues are global in their reach, even if the difficulties differ from region to region (i.e. drought in Texas, flooding in Thailand, water quality in India).

IBM’s Intelligent Water helps organise water-related work. It drives proactive maintenance and schedules the maintenance so that the majority of the time is spent actually doing the maintenance, as opposed to driving between destinations. It allows water managers to see where the water is going – is it being delivered to customers, or disappearing through leaks in the pipework? Are customers using it effectively or not?

It integrates with geospatial packages and has map-based views, there are analytics for optimized scheduling, work order reporting, water usage reporting and display dashboards with roles-based information display. It is possible therefore to create views for the public (to display on the municipality’s website, for example), views for the Mayor’s office and others screens for the water planners and water operators.

According to IBM, Intelligent Water is available today. It comes with IBM’s business intelligence reporting tools as part of the solution and is available in standalone, cloud or hybrid versions.

I’m open to correction, but I’m not aware of any other company offering a comprehensive city management software solution like this. With cities growing at the rates they are, and most resources being finite, management solutions like this are going to be in greater and greater demand.

Photo credit Tom Raftery


Smarter cities – cities of almost any size can now go digital, with all the efficiency gains that brings


I attended an IBM Smarter Cities analyst event last week, and it was, not surprisingly, very interesting.

What is the whole rationale behind making cities smarter?

Well, there are a number of factors. For one, the world’s population has doubled in the last 40 years (from 3.5 billion to almost 7 billion). And with the mushrooming population, there is also an increase in urbanisation (in 1800, 3% of the world’s population lived in cities, whereas in 2007 that figured went above 50% for the first time).

The surging numbers of people living in cities are increasing demands on municipalities for services like water, energy, transportation, housing, healthcare and public safety. This is happening at a time of constrained resources and ageing infrastructures for many existing cities.

At the IBM Smarter Cities event, IBM showcased both some of the technologies they are providing to cities and also case studies of some of the solutions they have rolled out.

Intelligent Operations Center

The core of IBM’s offerings is its Intelligent Operations Center (IOC) – this is a application capable of taking information from virtually any IT system a city may have (water management, video surveillance, first responder systems, traffic management, etc.), combining this data and using it to kick off workflows, to trigger alerts, to display on dashboards and/or for data export.

The fact that the system can take in inputs from such a wide variety of systems is, in large part due to its use of the Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) – an XML-based protocol for exchanging alerts between systems. From the CAP Wikipedia entry:

Alerts from the United States Geological Survey, the Department of Homeland Security, NOAA and the California Office of Emergency Services can all be received in the same format, by the same application. That application can, for example, sound different alarms based on the information received.

The IOC’s flexibility when it comes to data inputs ensures it can take in information from almost any IT system – it can also output that same data to other systems or run data through rules engines to kick off workflows. This means the IOC has huge potential as a way to take in information from many disparate sources, have it acted on, and display results in realtime to the responsible city officials.

However, it is those same city officials who may be biggest barrier to the success of the IOC. To get the most from the IOC, it needs access to the relevant data, but that requires the buy-in of the data owners. Most city administrations are based around silos and the people responsible for managing those silos may be inclined to view the data as their own fiefdom. Data sharing cultures will need to be far more widely accepted in city government for the IOC to reach its full potential.

The Smarter Cities sales cycle must be fascinating and likely involves more change management skills than sales ones.

One of the initial customers for IBM’s Smarter Cities solutions was Rio de Janeiro but there was a burning platform there. Rio is hosting the 2016 Summer Olympics and the 2014 World Cup so it needed to ensure it had all its systems in tip-top shape. Other cities have signed up for partial roll-outs (Washington DC and the Sonoma County Water Authority for water management, Richmond Va., and New York for crime reduction and Bolzano Italy for management of the elderly, to name a few). In their cases, increasing sales will be very much a matter of up-selling additional efficiency services.

One of the intriguing aspects of the IBM Smarter Cities solution is that there is a cloud delivered version. This lack of a requirement for a hardware installation can drastically cut costs, the time to roll-out and the IT administrative burden (backups, disaster recovery and availability) making it an ideal solution for smaller urban areas which couldn’t previously have considered such an option.

For the first time, cities of almost any size can now go digital, with all the efficiency gains that brings.

Photo credit Nrbelex