Newton part of initiative

COVINGTON -- The city of Covington and Newton County have been selected to participate in IBM's new Smarter Cities program, a global initiative to help cities better meet new demands of an increasingly urbanized world.

Last year for the first time in history, the majority of the world's population lived in cities, according to the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations. A century ago, fewer than 20 cities around the world had populations in excess of 1 million people. Today, that number has swelled to 450 and is expected to continue to grow.

IBM has put together a Smarter City Assessment Tool to help cities better deal with that growth.

According to a press release issued by IBM, selected cities will provide IBM with specific data about their core operational systems, including people, business, transportation, communication, water and energy. That data will then be analyzed to determine a city's overall capabilities to meet the needs of its population and recommend improvements, as well as set priorities for the future.

Covington is one of 20 cities selected worldwide to participate.

"The plan is for the city and county to participate as one community," City Manager Steve Horton said.

Atlanta was to initially participate but pulled out. Covington Mayor Kim Carter and Board of Commissioners Chairwoman Kathy Morgan attended a Smarter Cities forum and spoke with an IBM representative, which led to the invitation to participate in the program, an IBM spokesman said.

The assessment is free to both governments. Morgan said the typical charge for such an evaluation exceeds $150,000. The assessment is for information purposes only, and the county and city will not be required to implement any of the recommendations, she said.

The Smarter City Assessment Tool is based on a methodology developed by IBM's Global Location Strategies consulting service, which helps corporations determine the best countries and cities to locate businesses.

"Cities are in the midst of a realignment of power, with greater influence highlighted by greater responsibility," said Peter Korsten, global leader for IBM Institute for Business Value. "Aspects of a city's operations that city managers have previously been unable to manage -- and therefore unable to influence -- are increasingly being digitized, creating brand new data points. With greater digitization of its core systems and the use of advanced analytic capabilities, cities can enhance decision-making and improve urban planning."

An IBM spokesman said details of the program are still being hashed out and the timeline for when the assessment will take place locally has not been decided.