Today municipal analytics gained another endorsement. In a joint announcement with IT firm IBM, the city of Minneapolis announced it will be the next U.S. metropolis to initiate a data analytics program to accelerate insights in all of its departments.

The initiative is the result of IBM’s First-of-a-Kind (FOAK) grant program and supplies Minneapolis with about $1.5 million worth of research expertise in exchange for access to city data for IBM software testing. As part of the agreement, the city will provide an additional $150,000 to support deployment of the analytics system, officially called the Minneapolis Intelligent Operations Platform.

Once completed, Minneapolis will join the ranks of cities such as Chicago — which has used its own open source technology sponsored by Bloomberg Philanthropies — to integrate data from different departments for near-instant review and analysis. IBM said it expects Minneapolis, along with Montpellier, France — the other city included in its FOAK grant — to see efficiency gains in traffic, water and emergency management.

“The [tech] industry and the world talk about big data, and to me, the key is what you do with it, it's all about analytics,” said Minneapolis CIO Otto Doll.

The idea for the platform originally took root at the end of 2010 when IBM approached the city about an IT FOAK development project. A handful of concepts and ideas were suggested, however, Doll said consensus among city officials gravitated toward a data analytics solution to aid Minneapolis' departments. IBM agreed and development was formally initiated in May 2011.

"We ultimately nailed down that what we thought we needed was an environment that gave us some advanced analytics capability,” Doll said.

The city’s desire for an advanced platform meant officials wanted the new analytics system to analyze data across multiple departments and be intelligent enough to mimic common problem-solving skills applied by department analysts. Doll outlined the platform’s four primary problem-solving constructs: the ability to detect anomalies in a data set or combination of data sets; to see patterns in data; to identify the cause and effect of events; and to make determinations based on data generated in geographic heat maps.

Akiba Saeedi, IBM’s Smarter Cities product management director, said she remembered Doll’s initial requests as a challenge that spurred her team to innovate.

"One of the things Otto challenged us with,” Saeedi said, “was [when he said], ‘It's going to be great if I can ask the system a question and get back an answer ... but what I really want is to have the system tell me what I don't even know to ask.’”

Saeedi said for law enforcement, Doll wanted the platform to alert crime analysts to data anomalies and trends that may call up concern. As an example, she suggested that an increase in building vacancies in close proximity to an area with a high concentration of liquor licenses might be conditions for red flags.

Beyond crime, she said, the city can also use the analytics system to make more informed decisions, better allocate resources and propel efficiency by aligning multiple departments together on shared initiatives.

Though the analytics platform has already been put to use for the Minneapolis Police Department, city regulatory services and the Department of Community Planning and Economic Development, it has yet to be filled with data from all departments — a process that Doll estimates will carry into 2015. Currently, data from 911 and 311 calls are placed into the platform every 15 minutes, other data is uploaded nightly and non-urgent data may be posted on a weekly or monthly basis.

Considering how recent the system is, Doll said he expects to show results after city departments have had time to experiment with the data analysis. According to a release from IBM, the platform is connected to analytics technology that has in the past been used to provide citywide traffic visibility to alleviate congestion, improve traffic management, optimize road capacity, rapidly respond to incidents and deliver travel advisories to motorists. Some cities have used the analytics technology to reduce congestion by as much as 25 percent.

In relation to emergency management, the platform has provided emergency managers with critical communication from first responders and implemented scenario planning to streamline responses to emergencies. Some cities have reduced response times by 25 percent.

Similarly, water management has also benefited local governments. IBM reported that its analytics tools have reduced water leaks in certain cities by as much as 20 percent. Water quality, water usage and city resiliency preparations in times of flood or drought have also benefited.

Whether such gains occur in Minneapolis is yet to be determined. However, Doll said he and fellow city officials are more than optimistic and have accepted analytics as a fundamental next step to providing better services to a growing base of citizens.

"When I talk to leadership — council members, the mayor and department heads — they are moving up the analytics scale," Doll said. "And I think this system is hopefully going to allow us to move the whole city through that analytics spectrum.”

Government Technology Staff Writer Jason Shueh Jason Shueh  |  Staff Writer

Jason Shueh is a staff writer for Government Technology magazine. His articles and writing have covered numerous subjects, from minute happenings to massive trends. Born in the San Francisco Bay Area, Shueh grew up in the east bay and Napa Valley, where his family is based. His writing has been published previously in the Tahoe Daily Tribune, Amazon Publishing, Bike Magazine, Diablo Magazine, The Sierra Sun, Nevada Appeal, The Union and the North Lake Tahoe Bonanza.