Leading web-based companies, well-known retailers, financial titans, and healthcare conglomerates aren’t the only ones taking advantage of big data. Some of the world’s most prominent cities are also learning how to exploit their information resources in new and impactful ways. And World Wide Technology (WWT), a global technology integrator with $6.7 billion in annual revenue, is helping them.
“When it comes to big data, some start with technology and figure it out from there,” says Chris Infanti, engagement manager for WWT’s big data practice. “We take the opposite approach, focusing squarely on business outcomes.”
Defining the opportunity is the first step, he explains, and that’s exactly what WWT has done for one of the most populous cities in the United States. Instead of diving deeply into IT circumstances and desires, WWT reached out to 11 of the city’s departments, including:
- Fire and rescue
- Public works
- Human resources
“The city’s central IT group wasn’t used to collaborating with the various departments,” Infanti says. “Starting with the business groups allowed for more ideas and free thinking.”
The big data opportunity
WWT conducted nearly 30, two-hour interviews with city employees, working to understand how each department serves the city and its citizens, what applications they utilize, their goals and challenges, and how data can potentially help. The discovery process took three weeks and included more than 100 city employees.
“We found that the city is already capturing loads of data,” says Infanti. “But much of that data is fragmented and dispersed among 300 departmental applications.”
Therein lies the big data opportunity. WWT used the findings to identify 32 use cases, most of which involve combining disparate data sets for greater efficiency and value. WWT also developed an overarching data management strategy and roadmap for the city.
With the city’s data assessment and initial planning completed, WWT has recommended prioritizing the use cases and selecting two or three that offer ease of implementation and high impact. The city can then deploy a big data platform that is sized for those use cases and capable of scaling over time.
“It’s always good to show the value of an investment quickly,” Infanti says. “And once you successfully complete the first use case, others become easier.”
Numerous use cases examined
Some of the use cases are very specific, such as combining property data with police records to improve the safety and efficiency of building inspections. Others are broader, such as visualizing the full scope and status of projects that involve multiple city departments. And some take advantage of unstructured data, such as:
- Video from sanitation trucks
- Video from police dashboard cameras
- Text information from the city’s 3-1-1 system
- Building plans and survey data used by the public works department
The city is also considering predictive models for preventive maintenance on crucial city infrastructure.
“With 32 use cases that can all deliver value, it’s a matter of prioritization,” says Infanti. “Fortunately, with new platforms like Hadoop, the city can start small and expand over time.”
Before any capital investments are made, the city can use the WWT Advanced Technology Center (ATC) in St. Louis to test different software solutions on the Intel® Xeon® processor-based Cisco Unified Computing System™ and see how a big data platform would integrate with existing systems. And because big data technologies are so new for the city and its staff, the ATC can also be used for hands-on education and training.
In addition to pinpointing opportunities to leverage data in new ways, the discovery and planning process has also brought the city’s IT group closer to its departments. And for the first time, they are working together to envision and design a centralized data infrastructure, policy, and roadmap that will help the city work more efficiently in support of its citizens.