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IBM Launches $50 Million Smarter Cities Challenge

Could your city use an infusion of IBM talent and technology? The computing giant is offering its help with the Smarter Cities Challenge, a grant program that will dole out $50 million worth of technology and services to 100 cities around the world.

The program, launched this week, will give $250,000 to $400,000 worth of services to each city selected through the competitive grant process. Those services may include access to City Forward (an IBM tool which allows cities to analyze and and visualize data across systems), workshops on social networking tools, time with top IBM talent, and assistance with strategic planning. IBM explains:

A consistent theme will be collecting, sharing, analyzing and acting on data. 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.

First up for the Smarter Cities Challenge: pilot grants in Baltimore, Maryland; Austin, Texas; and Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. Future Smarter Cities will have to articulate between two to four strategic issues that can be acted upon by a grant. If the competition between cities for Google's ultra-high speed fiber network is any indication, applicants should start getting creative.

Cities considering the application process might want to take a look at IBM's CityOne, a city simulation game intended to help developers and city planners deal with issues related to climate change, electrical grid management, banking and more. The game could, in other words, help cities pinpoint problems that might be alleviated with a little help from IBM.

Ariel Schwartz can be reached on Twitter or by email.