IBM Helps Cities Take the Guesswork Out of City Services

New Web site analyzes publicly available data to improve transportation, energy, health, and education

ARMONK, N.Y., March 2, 2011 — IBM (NYSE: IBM) today inaugurated a free Web site called City Forward (  It’s designed to improve the quality of life in cities of all sizes around the world by helping officials make sounder and more scientific decisions on city services.

The site gives policy makers, citizen-advocates and the public a new perspective on how their respective cities are performing compared with others.  It serves up easy-to-use data to help them make more informed decisions that improve services and make their citizens and businesses healthier, happier, safer, more productive and prosperous.  

It captures vital statistics on the performance of many specific services such as education, safety, health, transportation, land use, utilities, energy, environment, personal income, spending, population growth and employment.  Any citizen, advocate, government official and academic worldwide can then gather, compare, analyze, visualize, and discuss statistical trends, giving them real-world insight that can help shape public policy — before laws are amended or passed.

Official data that reflects a city’s well being may be publicly available, but they are often scattered or exist in a hodgepodge of formats, making it hard to compare one city or service to another.  Even within a single city, such data is often published independently by individual agencies, making it hard to see the bigger picture.  City Forward addresses these issues by bringing useful statistics and graphing tools together in one place, offering easier and more insightful analysis.  

People might log onto the site to compare their hometown with a noted success shown for another, comparable city.  They can then devise strategies to replicate those successes.  The software also helps people spot unforeseen patterns and relationships between city life and governmental policies.  City Forward can tap into new or diverse measures of daily life, and help people examine how one issue might affect another, seemingly unrelated issue.  It can then spur new ideas that take advantage of these insights and assist people in predicting the results.

For instance, data in City Forward that measures traffic jams in a given city might not only speak volumes about commuting habits and road conditions, but also correlate to economic impact and air quality.   Consequently, a city may then decide to make the wireless Internet more readily accessible in the hopes of encouraging telecommuting, reducing traffic jams, improving the air, or giving students access to additional academic resources — making for safer, more educated and prosperous cities.  

A city looking to measure the true efficacy of a progressive health insurance or public health plan could use the Web site to analyze hospital emergency room visits, tax revenue, disease outbreak or even employee absenteeism.  Or, a city contemplating higher tolls during certain times of day might choose to analyze and correlate traffic patterns, air quality, pedestrian safety, or local economic activity.  

Users can even create their own “explorations” — customized, visually compelling graphics and charts — that bring their academic studies to life for all to see and comment upon.  Interactive discussions about the implication of a statistical trend can then be held.   Advocacy groups or civic leaders might use such an exploration to gain consensus, validate a recommended policy, recommend the modification or create a public program.  

Initially, data from 55 cities of all sizes across six continents are available.  Helping cities make even more informed decisions, City Forward will eventually incorporate top tier analytics technology to not only examine the past, but help people predict likely developments and outcomes based on trends.

Amy Liu, senior fellow and deputy director of the Metropolitan Policy Program at The Brookings Institution, said:  ”Today’s city and metropolitan leaders are overwhelmed by the rapidity of technological, economic and demographic change and the deluge of data and information.  Providing leaders with tools to help them access, make sense of, and visualize the data and trends shaping their community will go a long way in helping them make smart decisions and effectively adapt to and lead in today’s global marketplace.”

“City Forward substitutes data for intuition, making cities more livable, maintaining both government transparency, and civic literacy,” said Stanley S. Litow, IBM vice president of Corporate Citizenship & Corporate Affairs, and President of IBM’s Foundation.  ”Ultimately, obtaining unique insights into information will help society make smarter and more informed decisions to benefit the public good.”

Regions may also choose to use City Forward when competing for, or implementing an IBM Smarter Cities Challenge grant.  The Smarter Cities Challenge is a competitive, IBM grant program providing $50 million worth of technology and consulting services to 100 cities worldwide over three years.  One of the conditions for Smarter Cities Challenge Grants asks cities to clearly articulate local urban challenges that technology might help address.  Insights gleaned from City Forward can help identify problem areas and point to new and innovative strategies that address them.

IBM designed and built the City Forward software under its philanthropic program, and collaborated in its design and execution with universities, cities and a range of not-for-profits such as The Brookings Institution, MIT and NYU.  The company owns and manages the Web site as a free, public service and will continue to voluntarily add publicly available data and information.  Over time, IBM will widen the type and amount of information contained, the number of cities represented, and its features and functions.

The interest in cities as social and economic powerhouses has marched higher in lockstep with their global growth.  In 2008, according to the United Nations, more than half the world’s human population began living in cities for the first time in the world’s history.

IBM has been a leader in corporate social responsibility and corporate citizenship for 100 years.  IBM puts initiatives into place that address vital issues, such as the environment, community economic development, education, health, literacy, language and culture.  IBM deploys its most valuable resources — technology and talent — to bring these programs to fruition. Since 2003, more than 170,000 IBM employees have shared more than 11 million hours of service, transforming communities in more than 70 countries.  The expertise and time shared during that time is estimated to be valued at one-quarter of a billion U.S. dollars.

To view a video that explains the context, power and potential of City Forward, please visit  To learn more about IBM’s corporate citizenship initiatives, please visit:   To learn more about other projects to advance humankind, please visit

Ari Fishkind

Source: IBM

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