Dreamforce 2018 - a look at how Cary, North Carolina, is turning itself into a smart city

Derek du Preez Profile picture for user ddpreez September 25, 2018
Cary may only be the seventh largest municipality in North Carolina, but this town has big ambitions to transform how it serves its citizens, through the use of Salesforce and Dell Boomi.

Wilson Farrell and Terry Yates discussing Cary’s Smart City initiatives

What is a smart city? A smart city is one that utilises smart technologies to make better decisions, improving the economic growth and quality of life for citizens. That’s the vision for Cary, North Carolina, according to Wilson Farrell, the Town of Cary’s Platform Strategist.

Farrell was speaking this week at Dreamforce in San Francisco, where he and Terry Yates, Cary’s Smart Cities and IT Project Manager, explained how the town is transforming the way it interacts and serves citizens through the use of smarter technologies, Salesforce, and Dell Boomi as an integration layer.

Cary is North Carolina’s seventh largest municipality, but this town has ambitions way beyond its modest size, where it is move predictive analytics to better serve its 135,000 residents.

Farrell took to the stage to explain that the town’s smart strategy began with thinking about how it could improve its “spaghetti chart” of systems of record and integration connections. He said that it was a “huge mess” and was resulting in distinct departments and individuals in the town not sharing information, working in disjointed processes and working inefficiently.

Cary needed to break this down, break down the silos, and collapse the hierarchy, according to Farrell. He said:

When you break down silos, those great ideas that we have in the organisation can come to the top. They’re not longer held within an organisation, they can be shared across the organisation. We want to collapse the hierarchy, allow departments to interact with each other.

We developed a strategy for how to do this and we landed on platforms. No surprise there. It’s not just one platform, it’s a series of platforms. We wanted to choose best of breed - Salesforce is in there for CRM, Box for document management, Esri for mapping and GIS, Office 365 is our tool suite, and we use SAS as our analytical tool. Using those together, we landed on Dell Boomi as our integration platform that we wanted to use to bring these technologies together.

On the Salesforce side, Cary began using Field Service Lightning and IoT Cloud, which sparked the smart city thinking. Farrell said:

We’ve got Field Service Lightning, where we are putting work orders into the field. Previously we had a paper process, people had to come back to the office and grab a piece of paper, head out to the field, fix the issue. Now they can go from job to job. We are using Live Message to text a case, so people can text an issue in. Say, if the gate is failing at the dog park, citizens can text that in and we can resolve in real-time. Before they had to call and leave a message.

IoT Cloud we are using right now for our traffic signalling, we have a use case where we are monitoring our traffic signal system and so if a signal goes into flash, we don’t have to wait for the citizen to call, we will know. We are now starting to push event data. When a signal goes into flash, we are using Boomi in real-time to shove that data into Salesforce.

Cary is now also using Salesforce to predict water leaks in people's’ homes, by collecting data and comparing it to past usage. Farrell explained:

We have a smart metering system, where we receive reads from your water meter every hour. We collect that via a series of towers, they all report in, and then we analyse all of that data overnight. We can detect when we feel like people’s water is doing something weird. We compare current usage against past usage and we come up with leak detection. We come up with maybe 500 leak detections a day out of 70,000 litres.”

Getting all of those into a place where we can triage that, we utilise Boomi to take all of this analytical data that we are using to detect leaks and then create cases within Salesforce. With those cases there is all the information about the customer and their past usage history and we can contact the customer or push people into the field.

Big ambitions

Yates said that following the leak detection project, his team began to wonder, what other opportunities are there out there? He wanted to figure out how Cary could leverage this new systems to better serve the Town’s citizens. However, with such a big opportunity, it’s difficult to know where to start. As a result, Cary began to create a Smart City ecosystem to help solve its problems. Yates explained:

We didn’t know the questions to ask, so we started an endeavour to create a smart city committee, which is made up of all the business units at the town. To create an ecosystem to really understand the different business units needs. It has representatives from every department. Then we started engaging outside technical advisors - we’ve got everybody from non-profits, to the chamber of commerce, Duke University, corporate partners, and then the most important piece, the citizens.

Having all those folks centred on that vision is super important. We started having brainstorming sessions, hackathons, all with the ecosystem. We started really trying to figure out all the problems we were trying to solve. It’s easy to deploy smart city technology solutions, but it’s really about trying to understand the problem you’re trying to solve. We have limited resources and we don’t want to spend time working on something that isn’t going to solve a business problem.

In addition to this, Cary also know has a simulated smart city, that is centred around the Town’s campus and government buildings. Yates and his team use this as a sandbox to allow the Smart City Ecosystem, vendors and start-ups to come and trial out ideas, to prove they solve a problem, before anything gets signed off. He said:

Out of that came our simulated smart city. What that is, is a mini city on our campus where we can test our different technologies. We can prove that they work. We can work out all the bugs. And work out a cost proposal. Any government agency can do this - if you take this model, any government agency can do it. It’s a living lab for your agency. You’re basically leveraging your existing resources - in our case, our department reps, our ecosystem, our existing facilities, our 911 centre - they’re all located on the campus.

You want to deploy your solution? You have to prove it to us. We’re not going to pay for that solution. You’re going to install it on our living lab. We are going to have a use case of the problems we need to solve. We are going to make sure we test it out and solve that problem. Then we will look at enterprise deployment.

From reactive to predictive

So, what’s the end goal for Cary and its smart city ambitions. Ultimately, the city wants to use its existing smart systems, and its new platforms, to move from reactive problem solving, often driven by citizen reports, towards predictive problem solving through the use of technology. Yates said:

We had super smart systems. We had water metering systems, we had wastewater systems, we have public safety communication systems, we had traffic systems. They were all producing data. They were all pretty active. But we had to wait for a citizen to call in and say we had a problem. It was all reactive.

What Salesforce and Boomi have allowed us to do is to really go to a unified proactive state, where we had all these smart systems, but we are starting to interconnect them together. We are starting to make it so that if a traffic intersection goes into a flash, it immediately issues a work order ticket to a technician in the field, it immediately syncs data to Waze, reroutes traffic. It’s getting more proactive. In the next few years, we are going to get to a predictive state.

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