Detroit, Memphis Win Big in Smarter Cities Challenge

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Connecting state and local government leaders

Both municipalities will receive access to Twitter analytics and maybe an expert analyst.

Detroit, Michigan, and Memphis, Tennessee, two of four U.S. cities to win IBM’s Smarter Cities Challenge, will be granted special access to their historic and current Twitter data and, possibly, an expert from the social media site to analyze the metrics.

For the first time in the challenge’s six years, one of those two cities may win the service, valued at $50,000, to better utilize the Twitter data they’re getting.

Using cloud-based technology, the Twitter data can be parsed alongside weather, location and financial data to draw out trends and help identify resident influencers for better decisionmaking and public engagement.

“What can a city learn from Twitter data?” asked Michael McGoey, senior business development manager, in a Challenge blog. “A whole lot, it turns out: a deeper understanding of citizen concerns; which parts of town tourists are visiting; how citizens from different neighborhoods interact, among many other things.”

Santa Monica, California, recently analyzed more than 159,000 tweets with other data sources to gauge citizen well-being, McGoey noted.

Twitter insights are magnified when merged with the predictive analytics of IBM Watson—also being made available for the first time to all 16 winning, international “smarter cities”—uncovering hidden patterns and relationships to explain what’s likely in the future.

The other two U.S. cities to win this year’s challenge are Denver, Colorado, and Rochester, New York, though their Watson insights will be limited to non-social data like travel patterns and public health information.

Six IBM experts will spend three weeks with every city’s staff pinpointing a critical issue each municipality faces to develop innovative solutions for.

Past IBM successes include Birmingham, Alabama’s health initiative introducing mobile, fresh and affordable food markets to underserved neighborhoods, as well as Knoxville, Tennessee, securing $7.12 million to make 615 homes more energy efficient with insulation.

Suffolk County, New York, launched clean-water initiatives providing increased natural disaster protection with IBM’s consultation.

Jobs creation, transportation, public safety, revenue, and public works are all issues tackled through the Challenge, which received more than 100 applications this year.

By mid-2016, IBM will have helped more than 130 Challenge cities out of more than 600 applicants with 800 IBM experts rendering $66 million in services—$500,000 a city.

"With the help of our experts, cities around the world are now able to better use data and transform the way they engage citizens, deliver service, and make their cities more liveable,” said Jennifer Crozier, IBM’s Global Citizenship Initiatives vice president, in a statement. “Over the next year, we're eager to work with this new group of leaders to make their cities smarter."

Dave Nyczepir is News Editor for Government Executive’s Route Fifty.

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