10/15/2013 12:14 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

Meet Your Neighbours Virtually Before Your Condo Is Finished

As Asia and the Middle East build new cities with "smart clouds" at the core, Toronto, Canada, has launched a long-term, fully integrated, renovation project aimed at bringing back life and business to its beleaguered waterfront. Unlike other rehab development projects of the past, this one will offer a new wrinkle: An ultra high-speed fiber optic pipe with an IBM custom-made portal.

The new infrastructure project will deliver the speed and bandwidth needed for businesses and software developers to be competitive in the new digital world. It will also be a key selling point for residents and future homeowners to gain access to the fully connected network. It's an inclusive model.

In this new model, emulated from Chattanooga, TN, which was the first North American urban center to wire its 150,000 residents and businesses with high-speed fiber, people will access the "virtual" community before they move into their new home or office.

How cool is that? Meet your neighbors virtually before your condo is finished.

This changes the paradigm on the complaints that the millennial generation lacks the interpersonal skills to deal with others, the result of spending too much time online and on social media sites. People in Toronto's waterfront and Chattanooga will now physically live and work in the community, as well as be connected virtually to the hyper-local network.

IBM SmartCloud Rises in the Toronto Waterfront Revitalization

For one of the world's largest waterfront revitalization projects --$35 billion to be invested over 35 years -- Waterfront Toronto has partnered with IBM to use its Intelligent Operations Center to deliver the community network's portal on the IBM SmartCloud.

From IBM's press release: "IBM SmartCloud will integrate multiple data sources and create real-time visualizations that will deliver insights and create opportunities for social collaboration."

In an interview with Waterfront Toronto's CEO John W. Campbell, he said, "When we started the project, we knew we had to do something different, something that would last well into the future. The mandate was to convert 2,000 acres of land, some brownfield, into mix-use communities over the next 30-40 years, a $35 billion investment. $6-8 billion will be spent on infrastructure. The seed capital came from the Canadian federal, provincial, and municipal governments. The project will be guided by our triple bottom line approach, by good design, increasing sustainability and creating quality of life for Torontonians."

The forward-thinking Mr. Campbell and his team see the future as a highly integrated, connected, open access network with sustainability built into the project. Like the United States' P3 model of public-private-partnership, Toronto needed to bring high-speed fiber to the home network in a "hybrid private model, where we collect fees from developers," he said. "The project is contracted with 10-year agreements with a Canadian telecom company, with the pipe being able to deliver 100 MB per second, scalable to 1 GB, and let them delegate and assign the services to the users."

He qualified that having the fiber wasn't enough; that the project had to build a portal for the users to access and be interconnected with one another.

"The company we selected was Element Blue to build the portal with their operating system," he said, but noted that it had to be platform-agnostic allowing for Linux, Windows, Apple and other brands.

"We are the first open access network in Canada, and the second one in North America, after Chattanooga. We both borrowed from urban open access model in Sweden," John Campbell said.

The importance of bringing in IBM's business partner Element Blue to the project was the "need to build and host the portal beyond the network provider and make sure that it is bulletproof," he said.

IBM has its second largest research center, outside of Westchester County, NY. It is located just outside Toronto in Markham and has over 1000s of PhD scientists working there.

The goal with Waterfront Toronto's portal is to "Populate it with social applications, beef up social collaboration, and get the users to become part of the virtual government. The New Blue Edge platform is about bringing jobs to Toronto. We are going to launch an innovation center for digital media and tech, where they can really make use of the ultra high-speed network to hook up with other companies," he said, and added, "This will be a synchronous model, where we bring tech jobs, while allowing professionals and businesses to use the network and portal to reach out to community in a kind of virtual lab."

IBM Smart Cities Approach

IBM Smarter Cities Intelligent Operations software offers new capabilities for urban planners, architects and managers. They include permitting and event management, infrastructure planning for capital improvement projects, and water efficiency analytics to monitor and improve the performance of city water systems. The latter will be crucial for the development of cities on the East Coast that have older infrastructure that needs to be replace or maintained.

To learn more about IBM's social business platform, I spoke with Marc Dietz, IBM Director of Cloud SaaS Strategy. The IBM division includes a new role-based approach to its cloud strategy with more than 100 cloud-based applications for lines of business leaders, from marketing and sales officers, to eCommerce, customer care, procurement, and supply chain officers.

"IBM's SaaS solutions are aimed at CIOs and IT leaders, targeting supply chain, human resources, and healthcare professionals," Marc Dietz said. "We are going to the market with 100 cloud-based applications. We launched the latest SmartCloud for business portfolio, social business, enterprise, email to communication, document management, and file sharing, wrapped in a SmartCloud that pushes towards mobile, social, and analytics."

I asked: "How will this help city governments?"

Marc Dietz paused, and said, "For city management we offer intelligent operations software, delivered in the cloud that will help manage capital budgeting, water efficiency analytics, traffic and transportation."

These new applications are being deployed in major cities around the world, driving new capabilities and offering new insights, while cities like Toronto resurrect their waterfront with an infrastructure that can carry, share and deliver data in a smart portal.