IBM pledges $50 million in grants for 100 'smart' cities

IBM is giving $50 million in grants to 100 cities across the globe to help them be more efficient, open, effective and engaged -- that is, "smart."

IBM on Tuesday kicked off its "Smarter Cities Challenge," a competitive grant program in which Big Blue will award $50 million worth of technology and services to 100 municipalities around the world.

City officials will vie for IBM's money by submitting proposals that explain problems they have and strategies to address them. The 100 strongest applicants -- that is, the best and most realistic of the bunch -- will, over the next three years, receive visits from IBM consultants who will audit each city's administration of healthcare, education, safety, social services, transportation, communications, sustainability, budget management, energy and utilities.

This program is IBM's single-largest philanthropic investment, the company said.

Requirements:

  • "Clear articulation" of two to four strategic issues that "can potentially and reasonably be acted upon."
  • A track record of innovative problem solving.
  • Commitment to the use of technology and open data.
  • Willingness to provide access and time with city leaders and public engagement.

Succinctly, IBM doesn't want to throw away money, and the best cities will be the ones who are willing to invest as much time and effort as IBM to improve.

Municipalities of all sizes are eligible, but IBM says that cities with populations between 100,000 and 700,000 will "gain the most from the experience."

In the U.S. alone, that would include 257 cities, from Anaheim, Calif. to Yonkers, N.Y.

IBM's interest, of course, is both in philanthropy and to expand its services business by providing an initial relationship gratis.

As befits that plan, IBM experts will make recommendations to city officials for growth and efficiency, from better delivery of municipal services to spurring more citizen engagement. They'll help cities prioritize needs, review strengths and weaknesses, and learn from peer cities by collecting and crunching data.

In IBM's own words:

For instance, IBM experts might suggest ways to link the processes and objectives of multiple departments to reduce cost and improve productivity. A city's education program could be more effective if it was closely coordinated with social services, transportation, parks and recreation, public health, and safety. Police officers might be more effective if timely, customized information were electronically "pushed" to them while walking the beat or in transit. Citizen engagement could be improved if computer access were more widespread. Snow removal teams might be more efficiently deployed if ultra-precise weather data were obtained and analyzed.

IBM has already done similar work in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Chengdu, China; and Katowice, Poland.

It has also inaugurated pilot grant programs in Baltimore, Md.; Austin, Texas; and Mecklenburg County (near Charlotte), N.C.

Here's a promotional video for the contest:

If you do the math, it's about $400,000 for each of the 100 winners -- not a bad prize for progressive cities facing budget shortfalls. Will your city be one of them?

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com