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The Bulletin

'Smart' cities organize services around needs

Posting in Architecture

SAN FRANCISCO -- The digital and physical worlds are converging, enabling us to leverage information to develop new insights and wisdom, according to IBM engineer Dr. Colin Harrison.

See also on ZDNet: Qualcomm CTO talks meeting growing network capacity needs in cities

Speaking at Meeting of the Minds 2012 on Wednesday morning, Harrison covered the basic set of principles behind IBM's Intelligent Operations Center and portfolio of solutions designed to enable smarter cities and intelligent systems for public safety, utilities, transportation, social programs and venues.

In explaining the genesis behind the Smarter Planet initiative at IBM, Harrison cited that the world has produced the following during the last 20 years:

  • A global, high-bandwidth network
  • A population of over 1 billion Internet users
  • Roughly 4 billion mobile phones
  • Billions of embedded sensors in infrastructures and environment
  • Globally-integrated business processes

Harrison posited that it is no longer necessary to make guesses about what is happening today or what might happen tomorrow because we have the data and the planet is wired for that data.

But, according to IBM, the question is now: What are we going to do with all of that data?

Also the inventor of IBM's Smarter Cities architecture, Harrison described that the global initiative is "mainly built around the idea of looking at what is going on in the world in real-time" and harvesting that data so that IBM can help city managers by enabling them to reduce costs and achieve theoretical capacities in things like transportation systems.

Harrison remarked that his outlook on the deployment of Smarter Cities reminds him of the early days of the Internet during the 1990s when consumers were just getting their hands on personal e-mail, connecting via AOL, and so on.

The key, Harrison continued, is organizing services around needs -- not vice versa. This means reducing cross-agency inefficiencies and moving these infrastructures into the current Internet age to improve the usability of the city.

Essentially, IBM's concept is to build a new user interface that exists between inhabitants and their city.

Nevertheless, with any great power comes a greater responsibility as well as threats to be wary about. Harrison briefly glossed over the topic of the cloud, positing that in a connected world, we have a lot of choices.

"That's an aspect of usability," Harrison continued, "But that also brings with it a lot of dependencies. Dependencies connect me to good things but also bad things."

Harrison used the example of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan in March 2011, explaining that if a factory in Japan is shut down by a natural disaster, a factory in Detroit on the same, connected infrastructure could be shut down shortly there after.

— By on October 10, 2012, 4:46 AM PST

Rachel King

Rachel King is a staff writer for ZDNet. Previously she worked for The Business Insider, FastCompany.com, CNN's San Francisco bureau and the U.S. Department of State. She holds degrees from the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University. She is based in San Francisco.