Rio de Janeiro Proves A City Can Be Beautiful And Intelligent

Ever since my first visit to Rio years ago when I used to jog along Leblon admiring the view, I’ve been struck by the legendary beauty of this beachfront city. Now, it’s the city’s new intelligence that takes my breath away. On a recent visit to Rio’s Center of Operations I stood in front of the largest screen in Latin America watching traffic hotspots and roadworks on 80 monitors fed by cameras, sensors, mobile devices and other systems scattered around the city. This massive connection of devices, data and things displayed around the clock on a giant video wall brings the Internet of Things to life in a way I’ve never seen before.

The center integrates data from over 30 municipal, national and other public sector organizations to provide a real-time picture of traffic, weather and environmental  conditions, emergencies, events and anything else that can impact the day to day life of the city’s 7 million inhabitants.  Connected to the local meteorological institute and working hand in hand with the police, public services, radio and television stations, the center issues daily briefings and can immediately inform citizens about natural disasters, power outages, unusual occurrences or mega happenings such as Carnival or sports events. Even more important, this intelligence enables faster decision making during moments of crisis and can help save lives.

But it’s not just a one-way street! Citizens can get information and provide feedback about what’s working and what’s not. Apart from the center’s sheer size and technological sophistication, one of the key differentiators about Rio is the way citizens are integrated in the city’s operations through social media. Citizens are encouraged to access the Citizen’s Portal of the City of Rio and take an active role in operations via Facebook FB +3.12%, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

Alexandre Cardeman, the CIO of the center, told me that during this year’s Carnival CCL -0.64%, the team noticed a spike in negative keywords such as ‘ugly’, ‘disgusting’, and ‘embarassing’ in tweets and other messages. By zooming cameras in on locations where the messages where being sent from, they identified large piles of garbage left in the wake of the first Samba School’s procession. The center immediately alerted the garbage collectors who were able to clean up before the next group paraded down the avenue. This kind of operational transparency and efficiency based on collaboration between city and citizens can only happen thanks to advances in technology and specialized tools for social media analytics and business intelligence.

In a world where 5 billion people will be urban dwellers by the year 2030, how we manage our cities today and plan for the future is becoming more and more critical.  Having seen how Rio de Janeiro is integrating and analyzing large volumes of data and using social media and mobile devices to make life better for its citizens leaves me more confident than ever about the role of technology in solving modern day challenges.  Rio is a good example of why Brazil is one of the four countries identified by the SAP/Harris M2M survey as being most ready to drive connected, smarter cities. With the right tools and infrastructure and visionary leadership in the public and private sector, everyday citizens can be smart about shaping the future and transforming their own lives.

This post originally appeared on SAPVoice of Forbes.

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