Leaders from academia and private industry gathered at a Fordham analytics conference to discuss how cutting-edge computing could radically change the way cities operate.
“Analytics Skills for 21st Century Leaders of the Smarter Planet,” a forum on March 31, was hosted by IBM in conjunction with the Department of Computer and Information Science and the urban studies program.
Jane L. Snowdon, Ph.D., senior manager of smarter building research at IBM’s J. Watson Research Center, delivered the keynote speech in Flom Auditorium.
Snowdon specializes in modeling, analytics simulation and optimization of buildings to identify energy and cost savings. She laid out four drivers of “smarter” cities: globalization, economic, environmental and technological. The impact of the last category cannot be overstated, she said.
“In 1978, United Airlines approached IBM to help them with their fleet scheduling problem. It took nine hours on a mainframe computer to run that,” Snowdon said. “With today’s advances in hardware and software and clever algorithms, you can now run that same problem in less than a minute on a ThinkPad running Windows. So what took a long time before is almost real-time today.”
A result of this increased computing power, Snowdon said, is that 15 petabytes (or 15 quadrillion bytes) of data are generated every day. In book form, this data would stretch to Pluto and back.
“An information worker spends 4.5 hours reading and answering emails, 13.3 hours creating documents, 9.6 hours searching for information, but only nine and a half hours doing analysis,” she said. “So if there were some way we could do more analysis and less information finding, that would be of benefit.”
How might this capability be used to solve real problems? One example Snowdon offered was traffic management in Stockholm, Sweden, where a congestion-pricing plan was successful in changing driving patterns.
Another example is IBM’s partnership with New York City on PlaNYC, a concerted effort to shrink the city’s carbon footprint. The company has deployed an analytic tool at 1,400 K-12 schools that cover 150 million square feet.
“There are 9,000 buildings in Manhattan, and about 5,000 of those buildings are owned by city government—schools, prisons, courthouses, wastewater treatment plants. The City of New York pays $1 billion annually on electricity. So there’s a great incentive to find ways to reduce consumption,” Snowdon said.
“The focus here has been primarily on identifying which schools are underperforming in terms of energy, and is there a better mix of gas to oil and electricity that can be used to lower the bill?”
Snowdon’s talk was followed by two panels, “Multidisciplinary Academic Approach to Real World Problems Using Analytics,” featuring Fordham professors, and “Market Requirements for Analytics Skills for the 21st Century Smarter Planet,” featuring three private sector specialists.
Frank Hsu, Ph.D., Clavius Distinguished Professor of Science, quoted historian David McCullough, who said that knowledge isn’t just about accumulating information—it’s about analyzing problems and learning how to do things by doing them.
“The world is facing a talent shortage that could significantly impact energy, education, environment, health, health care, economic growth, security, sustainability, urbanization and global competitiveness,” Hsu said.
“Developing real-world readiness analytics skills will enable our students to conceive and construct innovative solutions and applications to address societal and business challenges and opportunities in the smarter planet,” he said.