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Two for the price of one

I’ve been thinking about this ever since I sat down in a workshop with Sustainable Glasgow to discuss the future of the city centre in Glasgow and what changes are required, with limited resources, to cater for future needs.

The climate is changing, and it’s likely to get wetter and warmer.   Anna Beswick, of Adaptation Scotland, presented on the subject, and some solutions which assist.  Take a look at their website to find out more.

What jumped out at me was the need to implement solutions that can address more than one problem, thus maximising any investment.  For example, green walls and roofs assist with CO2 challenges, but also provide a level of insulation which reduces fuel consumption and therefore costs to domestic households, and to businesses, and carbon emissions by the energy providers.  Of course, this would not be appropriate for every property, but where applicable more than one challenge is being (in part) addressed by one solution.

I know less about these non-technical solutions than ones which are provided by technology, but I believe the principle applies to technology also.  One of the benefits of a system such as IBM’s Intelligent Operations Centre, is that it is a platform which allow reuse of technologies which have been applied to one requirement of a city – and of the learnings from that technology – for additional requirements of the city.  For example, it can be used to integrate asset management of roads and demographic data (typically data held by different functions in a local authority) so that it is possible to work out which roads and pavements should be gritted first in winter based upon the people that use them.  The next step could then be to integrate with CCTV provided by organisations external to the local authority to monitor traffic on the roads, and enhance the gritting plans based upon that.  (Ordinarily this example would be appropriate for this time of year, but perhaps I need to change this to dealing with flooding and floodwater instead.)

Two (or more) for the price of one is always an attractive proposition.

The challenge now is assisting cities with how to allocate cost internally when one solution helping more than one department…

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Small steps

I’ve been thinking about the “how” of Smarter and reading the vision for Smarter Cities at IBM.com is an inspirational one. But for those who already have commitments on resources (people, budget specifically) then the approach to Smarter can be achieved with smaller steps.

Let’s think about a single view of the citizen and what that may mean. A local government will comprise of many departments and for one citizen, lets call him Dave, each department may have their own copy of his contact and personal details. It is quite possible that one department will have more than one record for Dave, perhaps one with an old address and one with a newer one. And neither of those records may be as up to date as one held by another department. If Dave calls in, who do they think they are talking to? Can they allow him to access services online and be sure they are providing to the right Dave? Do they offer the same services to all the different versions of Dave?

But, we’re taking a small steps approach so we can’t rip out these IT Systems and start again, trying to consolidate into one. After all, there could be reason for having many different systems. What we need is to implement a master data management layer between systems or components that request citizen data and the databases that store data. MDM can interrogate the various data sources and present one consolidated, and more accurate, view of Dave. A view consistent for all departments.

We can increase certainty that Dave will be offered the right services, charged correctly for council tax, given the appropriate benefits and so on.

Perhaps with this single view the next step is to provide multi-channel access to the same services.

However, a local government may prefer a first step to be focused on internal operations. IBM’s Intelligent Operating Center enables a city leader to have a view of the performance of the local government and the city. The council could monitor how waste disposal is performing or how traffic is flowing on the city’s roads. But, if we are thinking in small steps it may prefer to employ intelligence capability, such as that provided by IBM Cognos to interrogate data and tackle Absenteeism and the associated costs. It can identify if the same people are continually off sick at the same time, or regularly after certain sporting events. But the patterns identified will not always be such. It could be possible to identify others not necessarily associated with questionable behaviour. What if a local government came across patterns which would indicate a member of staff had depression? What are the ethical implications?

So, not everything need be done in a big bang. It’s quite possible, and often preferable, to take smaller, yet still significant, steps to becoming Smarter.

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