Watson, Twitter to help Smarter Cities Challenge winners

Denver, Detroit, Memphis and Rochester, N.Y., will be applying IBM’s Watson and consulting services to city challenges as winners of IBM’s Smarter Cities Challenge program.

Six IBM experts will spend three weeks with every city’s staff pinpointing a critical issue each municipality faces that could be addressed with technology. In addition to providing pro bono consulting services, IBM said it will use Watson Analytics Professional Edition to uncover trends in city data. This might include studying travel patterns, public health, or the effects of man-made and weather events. Some of the cities also will receive a Twitter grant that will help them better understand the social sentiment surrounding a particular municipal topic.

In Denver, IBM will work with the city to develop and implement a coordinated point of entry system known as a Coordinated Assessment and Housing Placement System. CAHPS allows providers to make data-based decisions regarding the most appropriate and intensive services for the individual or family. It will reduce regional duplication of efforts, allowing cities in the Denver metro area to maximize limited resources to benefit the most vulnerable populations – the homeless and those at-risk of homelessness.

“This grant will support the metro area’s ongoing efforts to build a coordinated entry system for multiple platforms and streamline service for multiple jurisdictions,” Mayor Michael B. Hancock said. “There is only one word for that level of coordination: smart.”

Memphis will address the growing number of nonemergency calls to the fire department for medical services and transportation to the hospital.

The Memphis Fire Department responded to about 120,000 emergency calls in 2014, and around 25,000 of those calls were not emergencies, according to a report by the Memphis Commercial Appeal. One of the reasons the city wanted to address the growing number of non-emergency calls is that an ambulance trip can cost the city up to $800.

“If it’s not an emergency call ... there’s a good chance [the insurance company] won’t pay,” Memphis city fire director Michael Putt told the Commercial Appeal, while those without insurance would likely be unable to pay.  “They may need some type of help, but the ambulance ride to the hospital may not be the type of help that they need.”

Memphis Mayor A. C. Wharton said at a press conference earlier this month that the intent is not to take away services for people who are in need, but to find other ways to help those who turn to EMS when emergency service isn’t needed.

In Detroit, city officials can use IBM services for critical issues ranging from jobs creation,  transportation, and public safety, to healthcare, revenue, social services and public works.

Detroit along with Memphis will  get access to historic and current twitter data that will be analyzed by  Watson Analytics. In addition, Twitter will detail an employee to help make greater use of the data.

Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren has not yet announced that city’s plans after winning the challenge, but she did say that city officials and IBM will look at a wide range of options. 

"As a result of the grant, a team of IBM experts will spend three weeks in Rochester. These experts specialize in management, urban planning, law and environmental science and technology, human recourses, finance, marketing, and more," Warren said at a press conference. "They will look at issues of critical importance to our residents -- issues like access to jobs, safe neighborhoods and a quality education."

About the Author

Derek Major is a former reporter for GCN.

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