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Can IBM Help Cities See The Future?

Analytics service aims to help city leaders predict long-term impact of initiatives before they're created.

Slideshow: IBM Empowers Smarter Cities
Slideshow: IBM Empowers Smarter Cities
(click for larger image and for full slideshow)
IBM has partnered with the city of Portland, Ore., to develop a new analytics service that allow city governments to predict future internal and external dynamics of policies they aim to create. System Dynamics for Smarter Cities is aimed at helping city leaders figure out the long-term impact citywide policies will have on both citizens and city departments ahead of time, according to IBM.

Having an understanding of how certain initiatives will cause departments and cities to interact will allow city leaders to invest more wisely in policies that are beneficial to their municipalities and avoid wasting time on policies that could have a negative impact, the company said.

IBM approached Portland in late 2009 to develop the new analytics system with city leaders. The company also collaborated with regional subject-matter experts, researchers at Portland State University, and experts from Forio Business Simulations, a simulation software and systems provider.

To begin the project, IBM conducted a series of workshops with a range of experts, including economists, educators, police officers, city planners, business leaders, transportation experts, and others. That information was then codified and combined with existing government data--such as budget allocations and demographic information--to develop a comprehensive information store about the city.

The result of this work--which took about a year to complete--was a computer model of Portland as an interconnected system that gives city planners an interactive visual model to navigate and tests how changes will affect different city systems.

The process that created this model can now be recreated from a service available from IBM to be used with different cities so they can use the same predictive analysis when making decisions.

Portland city leaders recently used the model developed there to identify how its plans to reduce carbon emissions 40% by 2030 and 80% by 2050 was connected to a reduction of obesity levels in the region, and plan accordingly to better leverage this connection, according to IBM.

IBM has been investing in developing systems for and with city and regional governments. Late last year the company unveiled an unrelated but similarly named Smarter Cities campaign, which invested $50 million in grants to 100 worldwide cities to foster citizen engagement, services and efficiency through technology.

What industry can teach government about IT innovation and efficiency. Also in the new, all-digital issue of InformationWeek Government: Federal agencies have to shift from annual IT security assessments to continuous monitoring of their risks. Download it now. (Free registration required.)

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