Rio as a Model for City 2.0


view of Rio de Janeiro next to the ocean, seen from an elevated distance

Yesterday’s NY Times Business section include an article discussing Rio de Janeiro’s “mission control center”, a system and project that promises to revolutionize the way cities are run.

Reading about the system and the process of building it, one can draw quite a few parallels to our own industry and transformation.

The Operations Center of the City of Rio is the first of its kind – a citywide system that integrates data from all of Rio’s agencies.

Like BIM, Rio’s system seems to be 10% technology and 90% sociology. The city already had all of the information, but it was in different departments and systems. The system reports all city activities but takes it a step further by identifying patterns and trends. The NYT article summarizes “Like a corporate chief executive, the mayor wanted to knock down silos among his departments and combine each one’s data to help the whole enterprise.” (We should offer them a great motto: We all work for the city!) The goal is to take Rio into a city managed by data.

The $14M project was a massive undertaking for the city and IBM. The NYT article even recognized the parallel to our industry, comparing IBM’s approach to a general contractor – managing the project, and subcontracting some of the work to various entities (local and international). Interestingly enough, IBM terms its role as the “master integrator”. From the NYT article:

I.B.M. incorporated its hardware, software, analytics, and research. It created manuals so that the center’s employees could classify problems into four categories: events, incidents, emergencies, and crises. The manuals also lay out step-by-step procedures for how departments should handle pressing situations like floods and rockslides.

I.B.M. also installed a virtual operations platform that acts as a Web-based clearinghouse, integrating information that comes in via phone, radio, e-mail, and text message. When city employees log on, they can enter information from, say, an accident scene, or see how many ambulances have been dispatched. They can also analyze historical information to determine, for instance, where car accidents tend to occur. In addition, I.B.M. developed a custom flood forecast system for the city.

If this doesn’t sound like a model for “data-driven building management”, we don’t know what is.

The city is already a model; the mayor spoke last week at TED, and (probably not) coincidently, City 2.0 was the recipient of the 2012 TED Prize. City 2.0 “is the city of the future in which more than ten billion people must somehow live happily, healthfully, and sustainably”. Another connection to note: Autodesk is a sponsor of City 2.0.