Cities are growing at an unforeseen pace—and so is the data they produce. Explore this interactive virtual city to see how the cloud enables city agencies to improve the ways they serve and connect with their constituents.
As the global population soars, one of the world’s most pressing issues will be the use of finite resources, none more critical than water. Climate change is already confronting some cities with water shortages, others with flooding, and still others, such as Singapore, with both. Technology can offer solutions including greater precision in water management, which will require the computing power, data analytics, and “smart” machine-learning systems that the cloud makes possible.
Some cities have already shown what cloud-based solutions can do. In the middle of a record drought, the governor of California challenged the city of San Francisco’s Public Utilities Commission to reduce the city’s water usage by 25 percent. To achieve this goal, the city installed a network of sensors within the water system. Data from those sensors fed into a cloud-based analytics platform, which enabled city officials to monitor water levels and weather patterns in real time, then adjust usage on a near-hourly basis. Housing this information in the cloud rather than expensive hardware and servers allows the agency to focus on its most crucial, daily task: getting water to the people of San Francisco as efficiently as possible.
Reducing Waste With Data
The city of Breda, in the southern Netherlands, faced the opposite problem: There was too much water, in the form of unexpected floods. In the past, city workers monitored potential flood zones by actually visiting the areas, and then alerted headquarters if a particular location needed attention or a water pump had failed. Workers couldn’t be everywhere at once, so in some of the most at-risk areas, pumps ran continuously. That wasted tons of energy. The city streamlined and improved operations by turning to a solution similar to the one used in San Francisco: Sensors feed data to a cloud-based analytics platform, which allows officials to simultaneously monitor the water levels and pumps in every neighborhood. This reduces energy waste and prevents floods where possible. In the Mongolian city of Hohhot, too, officials are monitoring source wells, pumping stations, water quality, and pipelines through mobile apps and sensor networks developed on the cloud. The complex data solutions help them eliminate information silos and give managers instant real-time intelligence on every link in the water-supply chain—which assures water quality for all residents citywide.
“This solution enables the city of Breda to optimize asset management, energy and maintenance costs, while preventing flooding.”
– Mark Voermans, Chief Business Development Officer, iReckon BV
Singapore’s national water supply comes from four sources. By the time it reaches the tap, it has either been gathered in local catchments, imported, reclaimed, or desalinated. Still, there is often a shortage of clean water in the poorest areas. The National Water Agency needed a better way to keep citizens informed of water levels–those of both clean drinking water and potential flooding. Installing a sensor network linked to a cloud-based analytics platform provided the monitoring they needed. That information reaches those who need it most through a mobile app called MyWaters. Beyond emergency alerts, the app includes educational tools encouraging smarter water use. Finally, it is a two-way system: Citizens can report issues and post photos to the app, knowing that the information will quickly reach the agency.
With projections showing that 60 percent of the global population will have cell-phones by 2050 (and closer to 100 percent in developed countries such as the U.S.), this increased connection between cities and their constituents will be increasingly valuable. As people around the world become more connected, and more mobile, than ever, the cloud will help people track their data from anywhere, enabling more productivity, better use of resources, and more, even when they’re on the go. Not all cities need systems as ambitious as these, but as urban populations grow and the planet’s supply of water does not, the need in many cities will become ever more pressing.
Population growth presents public-education systems with the need to keep a growing number of students enrolled and engaged, and analyzing student metrics has already given more than one school district a head start. With a high-school graduation rate in 2010 that stood at just 55 percent, 26 points lower than the national average, school administrators in Tacoma, Washington, decided to attack the problem with data analytics. Feeding student grades, curriculum, attendance, health records, and behavioral data into a cloud-based machine-learning platform, they looked for correlations to dropout rates and managed to change the trajectory of students most at risk. As of 2016, Tacoma’s school district actually beat the national average, increasing its graduation rate to 82.6 percent. In the short term, the cloud helped educators hone in on what was causing the graduation problem. In the long term, having these student characteristics available for further analysis will also allow Tacoma to identify and address other problems that may be school- or district-wide, supporting their students better in the process.
Expanding Opportunity With Classroom Tech
The fact that 93 percent of U.S. teens have access to a computer, 47 percent have smartphones, and the “digital divide” is closing fast, means teachers can use interactive, online learning tools to keep students engaged inside as well as outside of the classroom. In the United Arab Emirates, students of the Al Amal School for Deaf Students can access and review materials at home on a cloud-based network, using the cloud to learn and excel according to their own unique needs. Outside of Chicago, in the predominantly Hispanic Cicero School District, more than half of the students speak Spanish as their first language. Seeking more robust bilingual offerings, administrators have tried desktop ESL programs in the classroom. This was problematic, though, because sitting at a desktop computer takes the students away from the general classroom; it requires designated time. The district has since turned to tablets that students can hold in their hands during class. The tablets are loaded with cloud-hosted video, audio, and visual ESL programs that are regularly updated. This seamlessly integrates their technology coursework into their regular classroom activities, saving important instructional time that can be applied elsewhere. It also enables the students to access the ESL resources at home. “The Surface Pro 3s are great because if someone at home may not be able to read to the students in English, they can have material read to them on the computer,” says Sherlock Elementary School principal Rita Tarullo.
“Kids are always very interested in ‘How does this apply to me?’ and ‘Where does this fit in real world?’ and it’s a no-brainer to me that the biggest hook is technology.”
– Tim Harkrider, Superintendent of Willis Independent School District
Stretching these digital boundaries helps educators make learning compelling as well as useful for the 21st century job market. Schools in Willis, Texas, are distributing smart devices linked to a cloud-based network packed with interactive teaching tools for use in and out of class, and Miami-Dade County is using a similar network to sharpen the technical skills of students in its youth training programs. These cloud solutions promise to proliferate, offering teachers new applications for learning and engagement and preparing students for the digital workplace.
The challenges faced by the world’s metropolitan health departments are multiplying in number and complexity every year. Ease of travel and globalization have facilitated the spread of Zika, Ebola, and other viral and bacterial sources of disease. Urban centers trap too many people at the deadly intersection of poverty and poor health. The 60-and-over population, growing 3.5 times faster than the general population, needs new senior-health services. And as city agencies focus greater attention on managing the health of whole populations, preventing crises before they happen has become increasingly urgent.
Taking Care Online
In the Netherlands, home-care providers often travel from one patient to the next without stopping at a central office to input data into patient files, which were previously all in paper form. Through new custom-built cloud software, they’re now able to input that information and access patient files digitally and remotely, provided they have a mobile device or tablet. This immediate input helped increase caregiver productivity by 30 percent, allowed families to access their treatment plans and files 24/7, and reduced costs to the municipality by providing scalability.
“The ultimate payoff is that we can now more easily make a difference in the lives of individuals with developmental disabilities who may not have anyone else who understands them.”
– James Dunaway, CIO of the Mississippi Department of Mental Health
Virtual health and cloud-based care benefits patients, too, by making medical care more accessible and navigable for the patient and more efficient for providers, a combination that produces better health outcomes. The Mississippi Department of Mental Health is using a cloud-based mobile app for information sharing among patients, caregivers, and provider networks that allows for close and constant monitoring of a patient’s response to treatment, progress against their health care plans, and an early-warning system for new symptoms.
Using Trends To Improve Outcomes
In Seattle and Kansas City, a cloud-based telemedicine app is improving access to health care for low-income populations. Hospitals are utilizing custom apps to monitor babies born with heart disease. Family members input their babies’ metrics, and the apps automatically alert health staff if anything looks troubling. These remote analytics allow staff to be proactive, able to see health events coming before they happen. In Toronto, 20 percent of patients who had arthritis-related surgeries failed to see improvement. Doctors are using cloud-based analytics to recognize trends in recovery. This deeper understanding of past results is helping to predict the outcome of arthritic surgery for new patients, preventing unnecessary procedures, and improving each patient’s chances of a quick and painless recovery.
The ability to collect, store, and analyze vast amounts of medical data through the cloud enables health care providers to anticipate neighborhood-, community-, and city-wide issues and so help deliver care to the people who need it most before they need it. Doing so can reduce the squeeze on health care resources and hold down costs by eliminating later health crises and emergency-room visits. The cost of public health may well continue to rise as the population does—in the U.S., health spending already accounts for almost a fifth of total GDP—but one recent study suggests that robust integration of e-healthcare could reduce labor costs by 25 percent and operating costs by 30 percent. By collecting and analyzing biometric patterns in individuals and communities-correlating rates of poverty with rates of heart disease, for example-cities can target treatment and outreach to address crises before they happen.
Nearly four million people live in Cape Town, South Africa. It’s the second-largest municipality in the country, and it’s only getting bigger. As is happening in cities across the globe, many residents are being priced out of downtown neighborhoods and moving to what were once considered the outskirts of the city, far from the business and cultural centers. Recognizing an increased demand on its public transit system, particularly the buses serving the outer areas, the transit authority wanted to create easier ways for residents to navigate timetables and routes. They tapped into a local startup, WhereIsMyTransport, for some help.
In collaboration with Cape Town, WhereIsMyTransport developed an app, FindMyWay, that updates public transit schedules and delays in real time, as well as traffic and other information. It allows all users to determine the fastest way to reach their destinations, and makes it easier to navigate the public transit system in general. Knowing that the app needs to serve residents who don’t always have smartphones, the city made it accessible on feature phones (those that are able to connect to the internet, but are not smartphones), too. By hosting the app on the cloud, service is more reliable, and can be scaled globally, according to Devin de Vries, co-founder of WhereIsMyTransport. Moreover, cloud computing allows WhereIsMyTransport developers to track users’ movement patterns around Cape Town as they use the app—data that could later help the city make more targeted, specialized changes to its public transportation.
A Virtual Road Map
Similar actions are being taken to improve, rebuild, and rethink transit systems worldwide. In Paris, France, a massive car-sharing service is improving transportation for citizens within the city and 63 surrounding municipalities. Users connect to the system’s virtual infrastructure via the cloud, allowing them to quickly and easily sync up with the program’s registration kiosks, rental kiosks, and charging stations from anywhere. The city of Brampton, Canada, recently built a cloud-based portal that allows its citizens to view traffic patterns, road closures, and construction projects, and the island of Jersey is encouraging the use of its public buses with a real-time map that gives citizens the confidence to depend on public transit. And in London, a cloud-enabled payment system gives a passenger the option to pay for subway rides with just a wave of the wallet.
“People, very often, don’t think of public sectors as being capable of this innovation. People seem to love it. Usage has been growing 12% every week.”
– Sashi Verma, Director of Customer Experience, Transport of London
On the other side of the world, Auckland Transport, the agency responsible for the public transportation and infrastructure of Auckland, New Zealand, manages its operations on the cloud. Cloud computing allows the agency to centrally house documents for more than 200 improvement projects, including a project designed to overhaul and update the city’s public transportation. The improvements are coming just in time, too, considering Auckland’s population is projected to jump from 1.4 million to 2.2 million by 2020—those new residents will need an efficient way to get around.
All of these innovations have a quantifiable impact. Paris’s car sharing service, for instance, is projected to eliminate an estimated 60 million car trips in and out of Paris by 2023, effectively preventing 75 million metric tons of carbon dioxide pollution. And the overhauls made to London and Auckland’s public transit systems will improve boarding for millions of riders. The changes these city planners and engineers are making through the cloud are shaping an urban future that’s cleaner, more efficient, and easier to navigate.
More eyes are on law enforcement and public safety than ever before. Dashboard- and body-mounted cameras for police departments, license-plate recognition technology, real-time digital-device reports of crimes-in-progress: All of these innovations and many more require data retrieval, storage, and advanced, cloud-based analytics to increase transparency, civic engagement, and, perhaps most important, public trust.
In Orange County, California, the sheriff’s department aspired to increase accountability and transparency. The department leveraged the cloud to build employee profiles and ratings in an accessible database, which helped reduce use-of-force incidents and allowed the department to measure the effectiveness of training and policy. Before those records were brought online, they were in paper form, untraceable, siloed, and unaligned with other data and information being collected by the department. Deputies can now enter information directly into the database—and that wealth of information allows cross-referencing that helps the department make decisions about its deputies, strategies, and training. Making that data visible to all employees is the first step towards a fully transparent and accountable police department.
“I think it gives citizens peace of mind that their interactions with us are being recorded.”
– Jason Rodriguez, Miami-Dade police officer
Always On The Record
In Florida, the Miami-Dade police department has deployed 1,000 body cameras that automatically activate when an officer begins an interaction with a citizen and immediately upload the footage to the cloud for analysis and archiving. “I think it gives citizens peace of mind that their interactions with us are being recorded,” said Miami-Dade police officer Jason Rodriguez. Studies have proven that such surveillance decreases police misconduct and that when citizens are cognizant that they’re being filmed when they encounter the police, they might be less likely to provoke or act out. In Oakland, California, use-of-force complaints dropped from 3,902 in 2009 to 895 in 2014 after officers began wearing cameras.
In the nine years since Charleston adopted new camera and tracking technology, crime has dropped 70 percent. When Charleston’s system produced more data than the city’s servers could handle—body cameras generate many gigabytes during every shift of the department’s 458 police officers—the department sought out a cloud-based solution, which included features such as remote access and heightened situational awareness. “For example, if an officer is on a routine traffic stop but isn’t responding to calls, we can access the in-car camera with a live view to make sure everything’s okay,” says Police Chief Greg Mullen.
The Miami-Dade department also released a community-policing app, which allows anyone with a smartphone to take pictures or recordings of suspicious activity and upload them, via the cloud, to headquarters. This cloud solution facilitates better communication between police and the communities they serve, and the hope is that the app will encourage trust and collaboration.
The cloud is also helping to make prisons safer in Illinois, streamline intelligence and forensic investigations in Colorado, and prompt quicker, more effective responses to natural disasters and crises in San Bernardino. And the kind of comprehensive, bird’s-eye-view of a city that cloud-enabled intelligence has brought to Brampton, Ontario, promises to make the world’s fast-growing cities as safe as cities can be and keep police departments and the citizens they protect on the same side.