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The Mayor of London The London Assembly

Big Data and Cloud Computing Are Fundamentally Changing London and Other Major Cities

For the better part of a decade, IT experts have discussed the imminent impact of big data and cloud computing on the very cities we live in. It wasn’t until recently that the deeper effects of their forecasts became apparent, however.

Now, in the second half of 2015, the question arises: How have technologies backed by big data and cloud computing affected major world population centres such as London, Toronto, and Seattle?

Journey Mapping and Personalized Travel News in London

In London, the impact of big data and the Internet of Things (IoT) has been huge. For example, Transport for London (TfL) oversees all the trains, buses, taxis, roads, ferries, walking paths, and cycle lanes in the city.

That’s a huge responsibility for a single organization – one that’s historically been hard to manage. In 2003, TfL made a calculated decision that would have a substantial impact on traffic flow within and around the city – all backed by big data. That’s the year that Oyster prepaid travel cards were introduced.

These cards, which are swiped at entry and exit, enable TfL to gather and develop rich insights into the travel behaviour of much of the general population. “This data is anonymised and used to produce maps showing when and where people are traveling, giving both a far more accurate overall picture, as well as allowing more granular analysis at the level of individual journeys, than was possible before,” writes Bernard Marr, contributor and big data expert.

While there are still flaws in the system – one of the biggest is that it’s still not possible to record when a passenger exits a bus and ends that trip – the current level of data gathering is far superior to technology that existed 15 to 20 years ago. “Big Data has clearly played a big part in re-energizing London’s transport network,” Marr writes.

“But importantly, it is clear that it has been implemented in a smart way, with eyes firmly on the prize.” Big data can only have a positive impact if it’s implemented in an effective manner, and London has clearly done it right.

“Cloudy” Computing and Toronto Weather

Though London made it look easy, working with big data calls for a significant investment of time, money, and effort. As any IT expert will tell you, “It requires massive infrastructure, development, and personnel investment which limit its accessibility.” The Canadian metropolis of Toronto has invested all its chips in big data and cloud computing.

The result of their efforts has been a cloud computing revolution. The city has established a command centre that organizes and aggregates data from the water system and weather forecasts to predict and prepare for natural disasters with an accuracy that was previously impossible.

While the technology hasn’t yet been fully leveraged, the potential cost savings are already apparent. By utilizing existing resources and maximizing their potential through cloud computing, Toronto is heading in the right direction.

Seattle’s Power Consumption and the Cloud

In late 2013, city officials in Seattle decided it was time to make a more efficient use of power. They also felt the answer wasn’t to impose restrictions or install an entirely new infrastructure. Instead, they decided the city could generate a 10-25 percent savings in both energy and maintenance expenditures by turning to the cloud.

From the onset, Bill Mitchel, senior director of Microsoft’s World Wide Public Sector, insisted this was the only solution. “The cloud is the only way to tackle this; it would be cost-prohibitive with hardware in each facility,” he told reporters.

The program has been successful thus far, and city officials are facing a new mission now: reduce total downtown energy usage by 25 percent with the development of smart buildings.

A Bright Future for Big Data and Cloud Computing

From London to Toronto to Seattle, big data and cloud computing are making their mark on the cities we live in. There’s plenty of reason to be optimistic as these population centres go forward, and others follow their example.

Larry Alton is a Freelance Writer