Montgomery – The Capital of Dreams – Brings Big Ideas to City Governance

From pavement management to sanitation fleet efficiency, Montgomery is making things happen. The city recently won two separate Smart 50 Awards! In recent years, Montgomery has experienced a renaissance both economically and structurally. In addition to serving as the second largest city in Alabama and the seat of state government, Montgomery is home to a major military installation (Maxwell-Gunter AFB), the USAF Air University, Civil War and Civil Rights historical monuments, and an industrial base that includes Hyundai Motor Manufacturing. From street paving to sanitation, Montgomery strives to provide the best public goods and services it can to the community. It was our pleasure to dig in a little bit deeper on what it means to be a smart community with Savio Dias, IT Manager for the City of Montgomery. Here’s what he had to say:

SD: Last July, we engaged in a pilot program with a private company to scan and analyze a significant portion of our roadways using Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology. Montgomery is also committed to going the extra mile in other areas as well—such as sanitation, recycling, and routine trash collection. Since we are one of very few cities of comparable size or larger that collect household garbage twice a week and yard trash once a week (meaning our trucks ride every street in the city a minimum of three times per week), this presents us with the opportunity to integrate some of the latest technology to be more proactive and responsive to anticipating community’s needs. With so much time spent on these streets, we imagined that the sanitation fleet could be harnessed as a roaming data center to proactively identify non-sanitation related issues throughout the city.  Identifying pot holes, high grass/weeds, damaged street signs, broken traffic signals, and other important issues that needed to be addressed could be routed to the appropriate departments for service rather than wait for a complaint to surface. These Smart 50 Awards showcase two of the recent innovations we’ve adopted in deploying Montgomery’s Smart City Strategy.

LB: Every city has its own set of challenges and priorities. How did Montgomery land on these focus areas in which to invest?

SD: Montgomery’s leaders try to be good stewards; we are constantly looking for the best ways to invest the people’s resources in improving tangible conditions related to everyday life. Street paving is a vital component of infrastructure, and maintaining a good infrastructure is key to providing accessible roadways to residents, aiding commerce through local businesses, and providing reliable support for interstate commerce along the strategic I-65/85 corridor. Previously, the City of Montgomery evaluated its 1,100-mile road network using a team of four independent asphalt field inspectors and two GIS technicians. This process was time-consuming; it took an average of 6 to 8 months to complete and relied heavily on the individual assessments of field inspectors. Now, our entire inspection process has been streamlined and is capable of being completed within 30-days—a substantial time reduction. Incorporating AI technology also enables the City to scan and analyze a comprehensive view of the entire 1,100-mile road network more frequently. Collecting more accurate up-to-date data also enables Montgomery to switch from a reactive analysis strategy to proactive preventative maintenance—an approach that will save taxpayer dollars in years to come. Likewise, given the extensive time our sanitation fleet and personnel spend in the field, we decided that equipping them with the latest technology will permit us to switch from being reactive to proactive in the field of public health and sanitation. This use of advanced technology has enabled Montgomery to document when a location was not serviced and why, analyze which neighborhoods have been serviced and which have not, and begin migrating from paper-based route sheets to digital route sheets which can be updated in-real time based on new requests.

LB: Once you know what you need to do, there’s also the challenge of finding the right partners and choosing appropriate technology. How did you know you had the right partners and the right technology with RoadBotics and Rubicon Global? What did they do to put you at ease as someone implementing solutions for the community?

SD: Being a smart city doesn’t always require enormous expenditures or a massive overhaul to reinvent the wheel; often, it involves identifying a new, creative solution that someone else has developed to solve an age-old problem. Take street paving, for example. Last year, while at a conference, I met Annie Tamburro—Director of Business Development with RoadBotics—who presented an impressive demonstration of this new and innovative method of road mapping using AI technology. After we talked, I went home and pitched her ideas to our Director of Public Works: Chris Conway. We decided to first run a pilot program on a small scale to see if this technology could be successfully incorporated in our overall infrastructure strategy. The pilot program was successful and resulted in greater time efficiency and cost-savings to the city, which, of course, is the goal of adopting Smart technology. Likewise, Chris introduced the concepts he discovered from Rubicon in the field of sanitation, we envisioned how it would materialize, and decided to test it out on a smaller scale to ensure it was compatible with our current system before moving forward. In this way, I’m a firm believer in using pilot programs to ensure that a new form of technology is compatible with the current system and beneficial to a city’s overall strategy.

LB: What do you hope that Montgomery is known for, in time? 

SD: Montgomery is ever-changing—it’s always evolving. From being the First Capital of the Confederacy to the birthplace of the Civil Rights movement, Montgomery—now known as the Capital of Dreams—is determined to find its place moving forward. Right now, many of our main initiatives involve transforming Montgomery in to a safe Smart City Hub. When considering incorporating new products and services stemming from the latest technological innovations, we thoroughly analyze and investigate to ensure they are a good fit with our strategic plan, a wise investment of the public resources, and positively impact the health and productivity of our community.

In due time, I’d like for Montgomery to be known by our motto: “Smart City, Smart Vision: Making Dreams a Reality”.

LB: How do you define a smart city?

SD: I see a smart city as a fully integrated city which effectively uses tools and technology to enhance communication, collaboration, and coordination in order to improve the quality of life for the whole community. I envision a smart city as one in which everyone has a voice—and various platforms are available for two-way communication where the governed can have a greater capacity to influence those who are in positions of key decision-making. In my mind, a smart city strives to fully integrate people and ideas through new and frequently developing channels of evolving technology.

LB: What does it mean to you to win two Smart 50 Awards when only 50 were selected and hundreds applied? 

SD: Obviously, I am proud of Montgomery’s recent accomplishments and am glad to see the Smart 50 Awards showcase some of our most recent efforts towards modernization. I’m glad to be a part of this. I hope we continue to capitalize on our current momentum and carry the torch of innovation in to the future.

LB: What results have you seen from the two projects that have encouraged you to continue? What’s next for Montgomery?

SD: The successful launch of these programs has resulted in a search for additional ways of employing tools of technology—such as Artificial Intelligence (AI)—in improving our city. Montgomery is searching for partners with innovative solutions in various fields to enhance the delivery of public goods and services within our community. More specifically, Montgomery recently began collaborating with RePower South to bring a cost effective, environmentally-friendly, and seamless sanitation solution to restoring residential recycling operations this month. We have also begun installing neighborhood and street cameras, upgrading our fiber network, replacing 22,000 old street lights with new, energy efficient LED lights within the next 12 to 15 months, and reducing fuel emissions by offering smart parking through an app. I also think AI is going to be an area where we hope to use tech more and more—not just cameras and video feeds, but having the AI spot things we care about—from public safety to public works—not just eyes, but eyes with a vision that can analyze thousands of images at once and give us an idea of issues we may not even be aware of.