Municipalities have a new tool to integrate disparate computer systems. This month IBM debuted its Intelligent Operations Center for Smarter Cities technology, which connects siloed programs in local government departments, captures real-time data and sends the information to decision-makers.

The software establishes a unified central point of command where analytics from water departments, public safety, transportation, social services and other agencies can be examined in greater detail, allowing for more efficient problem solving and resource management.

“As cities build out their ability to connect to more data, providing analytics and linking data through an operations center is what we’re trying to do,” said Jim Colson, chief technology officer for IBM’s Industry Solutions Software Division. “Most cities have bits and pieces today; they just don’t have an integration platform.”

The theory behind the system is to make it easy for cities and counties to take advantage of all the advances in data collection and analytics by working within the confines of the technology they already possess. The idea is that events such as traffic congestion, water main breaks and security issues can be handled more quickly, with all departments fully engaged and working together, to ultimately improve services for citizens.

The cost of the technology is dependent on a number of factors, including the size of the city, amount of integration required, the number of users, and whether or not the system would be deployed using the cloud, according to Jenny Hunter, spokesperson for IBM.

“It’s hard to provide a set dollar amount on it because it’s similar to ordering off an a la carte menu,” Hunter said. “While all interested cities would invest in an operations center, cities may then decide to expand their solution to focus on a city system such as transportation or water depending on the needs and priorities of their city. Engagements like this can range from hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars.”

Brown Deer, Wis., will be one of the first cities to deploy the technology. Mike Rau, water superintendent of Brown Deer, said his department is in the midst of ironing out implementation details as the system relates to water accounting and quality issues.

Rau explained that in a typical water department, there’s a master meter system that has the amount of water in a city’s system, and there are residential meters, which keep track of the amount of water used by customers. The difficulty with that setup is statistics on water usage are only available once per quarter. But Rau is hoping IBM’s technology changes that.

“In this system, I can get a daily look at the numbers and make better decisions about whether to send a repair crew or leak detection investigators to a [location], so that’s one of the areas that this new technology is really going to help us,” he said.

Future Uses

While the Intelligent Operations Center for Smarter Cities technology is still in its infancy, Colson sees its use expanding beyond city departments. He said other uses could theoretically extend to places like entertainment venues where crowd control and vehicle traffic issues need to be mitigated.

In addition, Colson stressed the software’s ability to link to other municipalities, allowing for a broad look at data across regions.

“The ability to provide an essential view of what happens in your municipality, but also to link to other municipalities and be able to coordinate with them is part of the strategy and intent here,” Colson said. “We didn’t demonstrate a lot of that particular point, but that’s inherent in the architecture and the technology.”

Brian Heaton  |  Senior Writer

Brian Heaton is a senior writer for Government Technology. He primarily covers technology legislation and IT policy issues. Brian started his journalism career in 1998, covering sports and fitness for two trade publications based in Long Island, N.Y. He's also a member of the Professional Bowlers Association, and competes in regional tournaments throughout Northern California and Nevada.