Scientists project that due in large part to human activity and the increase of carbon emissions, temperatures around the globe will be an average of 2.7°F warmer by the year 2100. The effects could be catastrophic, from increased flooding and heat waves to permanent damage to the global water supply and local ecosystems. With more than 70 percent of carbon emissions coming from cities, the need for cities and corporations to reduce their energy consumption and carbon emissions is more urgent than ever. Many are now beginning to do so with the aid of the cloud.
Measuring energy consumption in the Belgian city of Ottignies-Louvain-la-Neuve formerly meant that city engineers had to go from building to building to collect manual surveys. This labor-intensive process produced far more data than the city officials had the time or capacity to analyze, and left too much room for human error. In 2013 the city turned to a cloud-based energy monitoring solution to streamline the process. When the system revealed that nearly half of the city’s energy output powered building lights and temperature control, city engineers created a more efficient system. These improvements have already led to a 28 percent reduction in energy consumption in municipal buildings, but that’s just the beginning: The city hopes to be carbon-neutral by the year 2050.
Making Buildings Green
Private property owners are also using the cloud to help reduce carbon emissions. In Seattle, Washington, the High Performance Buildings Pilot Project links over two million square feet of building space. Real-time energy data from these buildings is channeled into a single cloud repository. A group of downtown property owners, known as the Seattle 2030 District, has big plans for that big data: to cut their collective emissions in half by the year 2030. Estimates predict the overall project will save anywhere from 10 to 25 percent in energy and maintenance costs for participating buildings.
“What is impressive is not only how much time we save collecting data, but how much easier it is for us to analyze and present it. … This not only improves communication, but it also makes our data analysis more credible. ”
– Tanguy Boucquey, city energy manager in Ottignies-Louvain-la-Neuve
Smaller-scale projects are also now in progress around the world. When town officials in Arlington, Massachusetts, decided to cut carbon emissions, they started with a single school building. They first installed a new cooling unit in the summer building at the Pierce School. Town officials tracked energy output in the building’s 40 classrooms, then ran the data through a cloud-based analytics platform. The system was a first for the district, and it paid off: Over the first two years, it helped contractors cut the time they spent looking for and repairing equipment failures by nearly 20 percent. With the ability to make more immediate repairs, the school decreased its natural gas consumption by 20 percent.
These innovative systems are easing the challenges cities face in managing their energy use and helping them to make major strides forward in saving money while saving the planet.
A city’s infrastructure increasingly means more than the analog highways, buildings, and pipes that keep it running: These days, a city’s infrastructure must also include an ongoing stream of data among city departments, citizens, and employees both public and private. Whether to streamline a daily operation or facilitate a large-scale civic project, cities are already using digital tools to become more efficient, less costly to run, more communicative, and better informed.
As the number of tourists visiting historic Lviv, Ukraine, increased from 900,000 in 2010 to 1.7 million in 2014, city employees tracked tourism data through spreadsheets. The process was vulnerable to human error and very slow: It took up to 55 days to generate reports. This changed significantly when the city installed three new Tourist Information Centers (TICs). The TICs became a two-way stream of information, with visitors able to pick up brochures and speak to city officials and officials asking visitors a few basic questions and entering it into a cloud-based analytics tool. Once analyzed, that data let the department know the major interests and languages of their tourists, allowing them to adjust for translation needs and project the traffic at its various sites.
Building their own web interface for tourism information and hosting that data in the cloud saved the city more than $10,000 in the first year, while also reducing the amount of time it took employees to generate reports from 55 days to three. The upgrade has been so successful that the city will soon offer this information to local restaurants, hotels, and venues so that they can better adjust to tourism traffic.
“This information will enable restaurants, hotels, and festival organizers to better understand who is visiting the city and then tailor their offerings to that clientele. And the data can inspire entrepreneurs to introduce new tourism options that create jobs and boost the local economy. ”
– Timothy Aleksandronets, head of the IT office for the Lviv City Council
Tax Collection and Payment Made Easy
The cloud is also helping tax governance in Mexico, where more and more of its 40 million taxpayers now interact with the government through online portals. The process of filing taxes virtually is faster and more organized, and moving to cloud-based storage and services has cut Tax Authority’s costs by 20 percent. After realizing that their outdated data infrastructure could only serve about 30,000 people at once, and that this frequently led to website service disruptions, the Tax Authority decided to institute a hybrid cloud system that renovated the department’s hardware and software. Now that it’s on the cloud, the system can issue electronic invoices, provide immediate customer service to every citizen using the online portal and support third-party tax filing systems. As a result, the department has been able to increase its data-processing capacity enormously: After handling 9.5 billion electronic invoices in the 15 years between 1997 and 2012, it processed 10 billion in 2013 and 2014 alone.
The taxpayers are clearly taking advantage of this easier, faster process, while the department deepens its knowledge of the city’s tax-base. The Tax Authority can analyze and integrate 10 million invoices in just a few minutes and provide returning taxpayers with pre-populated forms the next time they need to file invoices.
These innovations aren’t just about making cities and governments more knowledgeable and cost-efficient. They’re also about making citizens’ lives easier.
When cities and their communities engage with each other, city operations as well as quality of life improve, but the faster city populations grow, the more difficult it becomes to communicate effectively with residents, to get them engaged in everyday decisions and processes. Cloud technologies are already helping some cities to bridge that gap, better informing and connecting their residents to smooth the road to progress.
When the German army gave the city of Ulm, Germany, control of the former Hindenburg Barracks, for example, city officials wanted to turn the barracks into an engaging and dynamic community space, but only if citizens agreed. Realizing they could reach more residents online than by organizing a traditional town hall, they introduced a citizen-engagement solution, connecting a cross-media cloud platform to the project website so that residents could pose questions or offer ideas for the new space. The dynamic nature of the platform allowed residents to browse charts of relevant data and share to social media.
“By using [cloud technology], we were able to engage our citizens in meaningful, efficient dialog about urban development projects that directly affect quality of life. ”
– Christian Geiger, digital officer in Ulm, Germany
By hearing and responding to citizen input through the cloud before breaking ground, the city was able to adjust plans accordingly and avoid issues that may have come up during the construction and renovation process.
A Portal to Citizen Engagement
Connecting in this way can be as beneficial in the long term as it is for specific projects or initiatives. HamburgGateway, the eponymous web portal for the German city of Hamburg, launched as an early pioneer of e-participation in 2003. More than a decade later, the portal now hosts 70 city services for city residents, employees, and businesses–from choosing a license plate number to municipal job postings to building permits. And the momentum hasn’t stopped: In 2013 alone, HamburgGateway averaged 3,000 new registered citizens and 150 business registrations a month, for a total of 185,000 users, more than 10 percent of the city’s total population.
The portal’s continued success highlights the influence of a smooth flow of information between government and citizens, and the role that digital technologies can play in the continued growth and vibrancy of our cities. These technologies are uniquely poised both to keep the communities of a city informed and, perhaps more important, to mobilize residents to voice their opinions and participate.
When a city has big aspirations, it commits to big projects. And when it commits to big projects, it needs the right technology to support its goals. That’s why so many innovative cities are turning to cloud technology to help them accomplish major tasks—the cloud allows city employees to streamline and expedite IT operations and communication, empowering them to do their best work and to take control of their ambitions.
In Jönköping County, Sweden, for instance, cloud computing has been the driving force behind an effort to streamline medical care, at the area’s three hospitals and 45 different care centers. Patients from 13 municipalities seek care at these centers, serviced by a substantial number of doctors, nurses, and other health-care providers.. To ensure that patients are able to attain cost-efficient and coordinated healthcare no matter where they go, Jönköping City Council digitized their operations.
Moving medical documents to the cloud enables health-care employees at all levels to securely access the information they need, whenever and wherever they need it and more easily collaborate with colleagues at different hospitals and access patient records recorded at other facilities. Moving medical operations to the cloud also allowed employees to schedule appointments and even monitor certain patients from anywhere within the municipality—from any hospital, any floor, even from remote locations. The cloud has an airtight mobile device management system—IT workers keep data safe through encryption, and they have the ability to wipe any lost or compromised devices–ensuring that this sensitive medical data is secure.
“With a standardized solution based on [cloud] technology, up-to-date information refreshes constantly across multiple systems, so that all [city employees] have the same view of the information at all times. ”
– Karl Fasold, system administrator, Orleans Parish Communication District
Using Data to Fight Crime and Save Lives
Remote access to centralized information has also empowered law enforcement officers in New Orleans, Louisiana. To pull off the ambitious goal of overhauling dispatch services, the city teamed up with the Orleans Parish Communication District (OPCD) in 2013 to modernize emergency services, shorten response times, and reduce instances of error. The aim was to make information and data more available to emergency responders across all departments, including the police force, fire department, and EMS.
In order to give all employees access to as much information as possible, data needed to stored in one central location. The cloud offered solutions that were immediate and tangible. A central console allowed dispatchers to re-route calls to the appropriate departments more efficiently, making sure that they were transferred to the nearest station with the most available manpower. The console also let responders call more quickly and easily for backup, making sure that the right people are at the right places when they’re most needed. Building on this success, the OPCD is currently working on a way to allow citizens to text 911 when they’re in danger, and in the future, videoconferencing and social media may be folded into the operation.
When the city employees are given the tools needed to pinpoint the exact needs of their citizens, they gain the power to do the best, most helpful—and potentially life-saving—work that they can.
As ambitious cities move operations to the cloud, among their first concerns is to find a solution that keeps personal information private. Take, for example, the case of San Bernardino, California. The sheriff’s department employs 3,400 law enforcement staff to serve the county’s 2.1 million citizens. This includes 50 IT professionals who interface with thousands of devices on a regular basis. San Bernardino is on an earthquake fault, meaning that any digital operations must be able to function when fractured or otherwise offline in an emergency. Moving daily operations to the cloud gave the department more assurance that they’d be able to remotely access all city data even when they can’t reach headquarters.
“The regulatory compliance built into Office 365 actually went over and above what we expected, which made it very easy for us to incorporate the solution into our IT environment. ”
– Ted Byerly, systems development team leader, San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department
Digitizing government operations is more complicated than it is for corporations or citizens. The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department has to follow tight federal and state security standards that protect citizens and city workers alike. Any new technology the county employs must be shown to meet those regulations before it can be used, including proof that it can keep its data safe. A secure cloud-based platform gave San Bernardino the ability to pass those tests.
IT Security for the Connected City
On the other side of the U.S, in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, city employees have been using mobile devices at work for years, but there was no standard for devices or online practices. That made it difficult for Mecklenburg’s IT force to securely wipe sensitive data in the event of a lost or stolen device, putting the data of both the city and its citizens at risk, especially since city employees often worked remotely with confidential information.
To get ahead of the problem, Mecklenburg moved over to a cloud-based storage system that grants authorized IT staff access to any of the city government’s mobile devices that are linked to the cloud. That gives them the ability to tackle security issues as they arise from wherever they happen to be. The early success of Mecklenburg’s cloud storage has already inspired the city to expand its cloud-based operations; currently, the county is considering the possibility of storing restaurant inspection data alongside up-to-date state and federal inspection requirements, which would allow inspectors to look at performance backlogs when conducting inspection. It would also give them the ability to share documents with other inspectors.
By relying on cloud technologies with built-in data security capabilities, cities can put the minds of their citizens and public employees at ease, and earn trust for their new, innovative digital solutions.