Rio de Janeiro and IBM deliver a smarter approach to city operations



Ovum attended the recent Smarter Cities Forum in Rio De Janeiro, hosted by IBM’s outgoing chairman and CEO Sam Palmisano and his incoming replacement Virginia Rometty. Attendees comprised some 500 elected officials and public sector executives from across Latin America. IBM has made smarter cities a major strategic theme as part of its Smarter Planet program, and the forum showcased a sample of smart-city projects drawn from a portfolio of more than 2,000 in which IBM has been involved around the globe.

The centerpiece of the forum was Centro De Operações Prefeitura Do Rio, a Nasa-style city operations center created by Rio in partnership with IBM. This is a good example of a smart-city initiative that is deploying technology in a practical way to drive day-to-day efficiency as well as to act as a catalyst for better collaboration across public sector agencies.

Cities are re-energizing transformation and IT investment

The idea of smart cities has gained momentum through 2011 as cities look for ways to enhance their “product” in the global competition for citizens and commercial talent. Competition and “coopetition” between cities is emerging as a significant driver of public sector IT investment in a decade that is otherwise kicking off in a climate of austerity.

People vote with their feet to adopt successful cities because they are better places to live, work, learn, and play. Popularity, however, breeds age-old problems such as congestion and infrastructure stress, and new problems such as environmental sustainability, but smarter cities are finding ways to use new technology to plan for growth and to more efficiently deliver critical infrastructure and services.

Cities are therefore “hot” from the perspective of action-oriented public policy. City administrators are looking for better ways to both solve today’s problems and make the planning decisions that will set their city on the path to being the best in their province, nationally, regionally, or globally. This notion of competition between cities is an important new dynamic for re-energizing transformation and IT investment.

Rio’s smarter operations center

A good example of the energizing of a transformation program using technology highlighted at the Smart Cities Forum was the new Centro De Operações Prefeitura Do Rio, a central operations center for the city of Rio de Janeiro. Rio has a population of around 6.3 million, a number that is expected to increase significantly over the next few years. It is 446 years old, with ageing infrastructure problems compounded by historical under-investment and the complexity of its mountainous geography. Oil revenues are underpinning an economic resurgence and a revitalization of the city’s vision, and it was successful in winning bids to host the 2014 Fifa World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympic games. The city, however, faces many challenges as the result of traffic congestion, the lack of public transport, uncontrolled building development, and the effects of extreme rain events. Storms earlier this year caused the loss of 70 lives and significant property damage and disruption to city services.

Rio’s mayor, Eduardo Paes, frustrated by the difficulties of coordinating and planning day-to-day operations and emergency responses across the city’s 30 or more agencies, commissioned the construction of an intelligent operations center in partnership with IBM. The center looks like a Nasa control center, with an 80-square-meter screen, and monitors manned by staff from the various agencies 24 hours a day. The screen displays the latest updates from weather forecasts, live cameras, realtime locations of public service vehicles, and a wide range of sensor inputs and information feeds presented on Google Maps and a range of graphical and video displays.

Better coordination improves day-to-day operations and emergency response

The center, which is now nearly a year old, enables more effective monitoring and control of city operations to deal with the optimization of routine daily traffic and pedestrian flows. It also enables faster and more effective responses to incidents such as road accidents and adverse weather conditions, and better planning and execution of public events such as concerts and the Rio Carnival. Advanced analytics applications are being used to predict dangerous weather conditions and to plan the most effective responses to a range of event scenarios.

TV, radio, and other media have access to a media room in the center. Realtime social media information feeds are also used as part of an explicit strategy to empower citizens with information about the daily operations of the city and emergency situations.

A practical approach has been adopted for systems integration. The various agencies are all at different levels of sophistication with regard to their back-end systems, but the decision was taken to regard agencies as a “black box” and to use practical integration mechanisms to pull together an integrated view for the display screens. The aim is that standard operating procedures will emerge over time to guide the need to invest in tighter systems integration, as opposed to integration being regarded as a precursor to coordination.

Beyond operational efficiency to cultural change

More importantly, from a strategic point of view, the center has become a focal point for more effective collaboration across agencies as they plan and deliver a $7bn program of infrastructure investment in mass-transport systems, roads, and public facilities in the run-up to the Olympics. The value of the center extends beyond its operational focus by creating a new source of “glue” to bring together and bind the interests of otherwise disparate agencies from multiple jurisdictions.

Carlos Osorio, secretary for Conservation & Public Service, the department that runs the operations center, commented that “better cooperation and practical integration activities are the greatest by-product of the center”. He said the center is “like a mobile phone…before you have one you don’t see the need. After, you can’t understand how you lived without it.”

This is a good example of a smart city initiative that is deploying technology in a practical way to address day-to-day efficiencies as well as to achieve the longer-term cultural change in its public service agencies that will be necessary to prepare the city for significant growth in its population.



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