Founded in the third century BC, Barcelona is the second-largest city in Spain with 1.6 million residents and approximately 14,000 employees. Considered a global innovator in trade, tourism, IT and architecture, the city of Barcelona actively works to help shape its future success – and that of other cities – with technology.
Each of Barcelona’s agencies uses a different system and third-party tools to manage processes including business intelligence (BI). Before 2013, this meant that staff had to compile disparate data manually to create insight into city services including transportation and emergency-response teams. Not only did these manual processes slow efficiency, but they also inflated costs. With the emergence of social media and other new technologies, huge volumes of public data had become available but were untapped by city personnel and citizens.
To facilitate progress, Barcelona decided to create an affordable, easy-to-use Big Data solution in a cloud. “We are preparing for a new era where we can use Big Data to improve the quality of life for people through better services and economic growth,” says Lluis Sanz Marco, Director of Information at the Municipal Institute of Information for the City of Barcelona.
After reviewing cloud technologies, Barcelona decided to build a pilot Big Data solution on the Microsoft platform. The solution uses Windows Azure, Windows Azure HDInsight Service and Microsoft SQL Server 2012 Enterprise Edition software – as well as the Windows 8 operating system and Microsoft Excel 2010 spreadsheet software. Marco says, “We can analyse big and complex data at a reasonable cost in comparison with other massively parallel processing technologies using Windows Azure HDInsight.” To help design and deploy its pilot Big Data solution, the city engaged Bismart, a Microsoft Big Data Partner and Microsoft Business Intelligence Partner of the Year.
In 2011, a team of engineers from Bismart and the city created a hybrid cloud, moving some departmental systems to Windows Azure, while keeping others in the city’s private network. Barcelona also worked with Bismart to create three new services: Open Data, bigov Better City Indicators, and the La Mercé festival. All three of these services, which are currently in pilot test, can help the city achieve its goals in providing better services and government transparency.
Bigov Better City Indicators
To increase government transparency, the city worked with Bismart to create a dashboard known as bigov Better City Indicators. Designed for use by government staff and citizens, the dashboard provides near-real-time views of 120 key performance indicators (KPIs) that measure data about topics such as administrative procedures; city services including public bike usage and the number of people using each bus route; the economy; and population demographics. Bismart also developed the Windows 8 app using Microsoft Visual Studio 2010 Premium.
La Mercé Festival
To streamline the planning of Spain’s largest annual festival, La Mercé, and to test the feasibility of using Big Data, Barcelona worked with Bismart to create the La Mercé service. It can give government staff insight into structured and unstructured data related to the festival so that the city can improve the services that it provides and facilitate greater attendance. Collected data relates to the festival’s entertainment and food venues, citizen interest and satisfaction, people mobility, and incident detection. Other data sources provide insight into credit card transactions, website visits, customer service enquiries, GPS data, traffic status, weather data and parking. The city can also gain insight into the number of people who entered the festival through a particular gate and statistics about medical emergencies and crime. This improves future festivals by minimising past issues.
Improving Quality of Life and Business Opportunities
Delivering the free Open Data services also provides opportunities for companies to create new apps and online services. In addition, being able to make sense of Big Data significantly improves the services that the city can provide because staff can better identify the needs of people based on records in government systems, social media and GPS signals that reveal how people move about the city.
For example, Barcelona can use its increased data insight to improve its public bike hire stations, a programme known as ‘bicing’. As Lluis Sanz Marco says, “One of the problems in the big cities like Barcelona is transportation. We follow the tracking of the buses, but also we follow the tracking of other transportation like bicing. By processing the data, we know we can gain the insight needed to distribute bicycles in a different way so that people can use them to connect with other forms of transportation such as buses and trains. In addition, we can give people more options for public transportation and so create a more sustainable model.”
With its new Big Data solution, Barcelona can facilitate greater collaboration with citizens, business owners and tourists. “Our Windows Azure Big Data and BI solutions are really international projects,” says Marco. “Along with helping our city, they could be the foundation for a smart-city infrastructure proposed by the City Protocol Society. If accepted, other cities could use the framework to improve services and help people around the globe determine where they want to live and invest by drawing comparisons between locations.”