Leveraging Data and Analytics to Build Smarter Cities
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Leveraging Data and Analytics to Build Smarter Cities

Samir Saini, CIO, City of Atlanta
Samir Saini, CIO, City of Atlanta

Samir Saini, CIO, City of Atlanta

Technological advancements have led the public to expect access to information and services at their fingertips. While the private sector has already begun to win over the customer by catering to these demands, the government sector is not far behind. An increasing number of municipal bodies within and outside the U.S. are leveraging technologies like cloud, mobile, artificial intelligence (AI) and analytics to serve the public better. This has provided the much-required impetus to digital governance that accords foremost priority to the matters of public interest and convenience. While digital or e-governance has certainly helped the citizens in a big way, municipal bodies have witnessed a huge inflow of data, constraining their existing storage infrastructure. Furthermore, as digital governance requires streamlining public engagement, exchange of data between the two parties through self-service applications is likely to be frequent.

Challenges in Implementing e-governance

While governments face a mixed bag of challenges in im­plementing e-governance, they can be grouped into three categories.

• Legacy Infrastructure: The lack of adequate infrastructure to handle the massive influx of data into the public sector, and support initiatives like analytics, is conspicuous. Be it the server networks or the end-point devices, such as desktops, legacy infrastructure needs to be replaced with modern and cutting-edge systems. Revamping the security infrastructure for a holistic understanding of the cyber security risk profile is crucial. It helps in countering the attacks on high-risk assets and applications owned by local governments.

• Rationalization of Applications: Municipal CIOs must understand the requirements of each department and have the applications custom­ized accordingly. The applications should not only simplify the workflow for staff, but also ensure maximum value for serving the public. The appli­cations and the IT infrastructure supporting them must be of low complexity, to reduce costs.

• Data Proliferation: Collating all the data flowing into disparate systems and gaining insights that could help the municipal administration as well as the general public, has been the biggest pain point for local governments— that are usually expected to do more with less.

Data Analytics for Combating the Challenges

Embracing the new breed of data analytics that helps in mining the data from multiple systems could be a potential game changer for municipalities. The City of Atlanta is moving very aggressively on this front. Our first step in harnessing the power of analytics is through implementing descriptive and predictive analytics. In doing this, data will be pulled from multiple sources into a cloud-based data lake to produce visualizations and predict the future possibilities with some degree of certainty. This provides situational intelligence—a real-time understanding of the current occurrences in the city, besides the ability to look into historical data. Municipalities can particularly leverage this to predict instances of crime or breakdown of critical civic infrastructure such as the streetlights. Prescriptive analytics harnesses artificial intelligence and machine learning to prescribe the necessary course of action and executes it automatically. Cognitive analytics, which uses techniques like natural language processing and machine learning algorithms is also bound to make inroads into the government sector.

Key Takeaways from Analytics

Consolidating the data from different departments, working in the interest of the city to obtain the big picture, is a step towards building a smart city—an urban area where all the data is utilized to improve critical outcomes within the municipal jurisdiction by leveraging analytics. In a smart city, different departments partner with each other to obtain insights into their existing and newer data sets collected through IoT sensors, to improve civic services. Attending to the insights obtained from data enables municipal bodies to serve the public better. The top priority of a CIO in a municipal body should always provide the best-in-class civic services. Once the quality of services garners public satisfaction, municipal CIOs could look towards leveraging their data and improve the outcomes of all critical areas that impact the public to enhance the quality even more. This again underscores the role of data. Essentially, prioritizing ‘I’—the information, in the acronym ‘CIO’ is the key to success.

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