April 12, 2012

Cambridge, Ontario teams up with IBM to coordinate construction

The City of Cambridge, Ont. is working with IBM Corp. (NYSE:IBM) on a research project intended to make it easier for city engineers to coordinate construction activities both on and below the surface of roads.

Engineers from the city are also taking advantage of cheaper computing technology from Research in Motion Inc. (NASDAQ:RIMM), famous for its BlackBerry handheld wireless e-mail devices and based in nearby Waterloo, Ont.

Last June, the city started an 18-month research project with IBM using the Armonk, N.Y. computing firm’s Analytics for City Services and Safety (ACCESS) project. It uses a combination of asset management, predictive modeling, geo-spatial analytics and business analytics software.

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IBM is investing $1.5 million into the effort and Cambridge is spending $150,000 on project management and other expenses, said Mike Hausser, Director of Asset Management and Support Services for the city’s department of transportation and public works.

The City of Cambridge, Ontario is working with IBM Corp. (NYSE:IBM) on a research project intended to make it easier for city engineers to coordinate construction activities both on and below the surface of roads. City public works workers are also taking advantage of cheaper computing technology from Research in Motion Inc. (NASDAQ:RIMM), with plans to purchase Playbooks.


The City of Cambridge, Ontario plans to purchase up to 50 of Research in Motion Inc.'s Playbook computer tablets over the next 12 to 18 months. Instead of having to go through a list of printed work orders, Transportation and Works employees will be able to see the list of work orders on their computers and look at reference documents, sketches and links to maps of underground utilities.

Hausser said the aim is to coordinate repair and replacement activities on a block of road, taking into account the life expectancy of the sewer and watermain system, so that all systems are reconstructed at the same time.

Hausser has a background in information technology (IT) as well as civil engineering, so they can use software to coordinate these activities manually.

“We are a couple of engineers with IT backgrounds so we can do the kinds of things that most normal engineers would not be able to do, but it’s quite awkward,” he said.

“It takes a lot of time and a lot of expertise to put these things together.”

IBM plans to convert the tools built by the city into tools that can be used by other engineers in other cities.

“The whole idea here is to use advanced analytics to better plan the work efforts that occur in the city by being able to tie together the multiple different departments,” said John Longbottom, smarter cities lead executive at IBM.

“So, if the water department is doing some mitigation somewhere, how do we get the optimum alignment right across all of the other departments so when we go to do a dig, are we going to cause some major disruptions in the city?”

Longbottom added IBM is discussing the program with other municipal customers, but IBM does not have authorization from those municipalities to identify them to the media.

The key IBM workers are from the company’s research centre in New York, Longbottom said, adding a few are from the Canadian services organization of IBM.

“I think what it does is it makes the projects themselves more complex, because you’re going to do multiple mitigations in one envelope, and we’re trying to give cities a chance to employ their scarce resources in a more effective way.”

Rather than “re-invent the wheel,” Longbottom said IBM aims to use its existing software, including the DB2 database, ESRI mapping software, the business intelligence and querying tools IBM inherited when it acquired Ottawa-based Cognos four years ago and the Maximo asset management software.

Currently, Hausser said, Maximo users with the city need to have their data entered at a city office after the end of their shifts. He added that the city plans to take the technology a step further by purchasing about 50 RIM Playbook computer tablets, over the next 12 to 18 months.

With the Playbook, he said, they plan to synchronize their data outside the office, initially by connecting to their BlackBerry devices. He added the BlackBerry PlayBook OS 2.0 software, released by RIM last month, will let city workers use a simplified version of Maximo in the field.

“Just like they would have a stack of work orders on a clipboard of paper, they will see that list of work on the Playbook,” Hausser said.

“Then, they would click on that list and it will open up and give them the work instructions and any of the information they need, along with any reference documents or drawings or sketches, which also links to the mapping system, which has all the details of the underground.”

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