How the Windy City Flourishes on the Cloud

The City of Chicago unveiled a complex technology plan in 2013. Now, Oracle’s cost-effective, nimble system is helping to bring Chicago’s plans for a smarter, cleaner, safer city to life.

In 2013, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced The City of Chicago Technology Plan, a first for the city and a major step forward in solidifying the Windy City’s place as a premier technology hub. At its core, the plan aims to integrate into civic life from expanded computer science education and STEM programming for children all the way through to an increase in jobs and economic growth, next-generation infrastructure, and smart communities. As a partner with Chicago for more than two decades, Oracle has been a major contributor of that continued development, helping city leaders such as CIO Danielle DuMerer make their innovative plans a reality.

Blockchain strategies, machine learning, and advanced cloud computing aren’t exclusive to private corporations. In fact, some of the most advanced technology is being deployed for the benefit and safety of the public sector. These governmental entities frequently deal with a wide swath of concerns. For example, Chicago’s plan features automated sensors to track the quality of water on the beaches of Lake Michigan as well as a plan to develop an affordable gigabit-speed network. Achieving all of these diverse goals requires partnering with vendors equally focused on making a positive impact. As a leader in cloud-engineered solutions, Oracle has helped Chicago think on an even larger scale.

“The City of Chicago has realized the value of moving their on-premises systems to a cloud-based architecture in order to cut costs, rapidly address evolving business needs, and leverage the talents of their employees toward the business of government,” says Justin Ventura, state and local government sales representative for Oracle. In fact, the company’s Exadata Database Machine has proven an indispensable tool for systems in use for units ranging from the Chicago Police Department to the Department of Water Management.

But throughout all of these projects, the city has made residents the focal point. One such effort has tied to a revamping of the 311 system for city services. “Our goal is to improve our residents’ experience interacting with government, including by providing multiple channels to access service and information, including text, social media, and mobile applications,” said DuMerer in a recent interview with MeriTalk.

The 311 project is also another instance of the city tying together its diverse projects. According to DuMerer, the multichannel system will be integrated with sensing technologies in the Internet of Things. By example, the city’s street lights will all be connected to a management system that will alert the city to an outage even before a resident would need to file a ticket.

“Advances in technology have unlocked the doors to city hall in a way that was unimaginable just ten years ago,” Ventura says. “Agencies are becoming digital and interconnected. Constituencies are instantly connecting with city and state employees, and devices are providing a constant stream of digital data to help agencies think proactively about citizen needs.”

Another important area of tech advancement in Chicago lies at the intersection of transportation and big data. As pollution levels rise and residents make an effort to cut down on personal automobile usage, public transit becomes more essential. Part of making the Chicago Transit Authority a more easily accessible resource has been the installation of bus tracker displays at bus shelters across the city. These digital readouts show riders bus arrival times and have already been installed at about 420 stations.

Alongside the increase in public transit, biking has risen in prominence, including the soaring popularity of the bike-sharing system Divvy. Beyond the tech needed to maintain the system, the city has taken major steps in making data derived from the bike-share available to the public. To that same end, the city has made data regarding air quality, temperature, pedestrian foot traffic, and more gathered via array of things sensors available as well. This transparent data-sharing is an innovative step toward even further collaborative innovation. The array of things will help researchers and policymakers better understand how cities function and allow Chicago to become a global leader in urban sensing initiatives, according to The City of Chicago Technology Plan.

Developing the necessary systems and tools for an entire city’s worth of technology can be a major challenge—not to mention that the realities of residents have to be considered in all technology decisions. “We have to balance investments in new technologies with investments in human and physical infrastructure,” DuMerer explained to MeriTalk.

In addition to assisting the city with its own offerings, Oracle has helped Chicago’s technology plan by further consolidating solutions. The city had been using tools such as Taleo for HR and BEA WebLogic for middleware deployment. However, Oracle helped facilitate a way for these various tools to work together. “Today, all of these solutions are now integrated into Oracle, making us the most powerful, unified cloud solution available today,” Ventura explains.

Chicago has already made vast strides in its efforts to advance its place as a leading technology ecosystem. Eighteen months into the initial plan, Mayor Emanuel issued a letter extolling the city’s progress, but also noting that there’s still a lot left on the agenda. The goal, after all, remains to “give every child in every neighborhood the chance to participate in the 21st century technology economy.”

Oracle has been an essential partner throughout the early successes, and will surely be key to the continuing progress. It will also do so with an eye on reducing impact on the city’s budget, moving quickly, and bettering the experience of every Chicagoan. “Oracle can help transform legacy enterprise systems into a cost-effective, nimble system poised to serve employees and citizens alike,” Ventura says. “We give our government customers a complete cloud vision, enabling agencies to meet the ongoing challenges of providing vital services.”