IBM Software Brings the 'Smarts' to Smarter Planet

By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2009-07-09

IBM Software Brings the 'Smarts' to Smarter Planet

IBM's software is the lifeblood of its Smarter Planet initiative to add a layer of intelligence to the basic processes that run today's world, including roads, water and power, among other things.

Indeed, Big Blue's Smarter Planet initiative has deep roots in IBM Software Group. In fact, you cannot even talk about the IBM Smarter Planet strategy without mentioning IBM's Tivloi brand, as Tivoli provides much of the software to enable the management of all the smart processes, networks and grids that will bring the smart strategy to fruition.

"The basic idea of Smarter Planet is resonating because anywhere you look there's instrumentation, and the amount of information you can get out of that is enormous," said Al Zollar, general manager of Tivoli software at IBM. "Smarter Planet starts with a simple proposition that as more things get instrumented-like facilities in a data center-using embedded chips or RFID devices, and being put together on networks. ... We're calling that whole movement Smarter Planet."

IBM software, particularly IBM's Tivoli software, provides service management solutions for industries that help them build what IBM calls twenty-first century infrastructures, or dynamic infrastructures. And IBM software is used to manage the infrastructure of smart utility grids, smart water management and traffic systems, smart levees, smart oil refineries, and more.

IBM middleware, systems management and collaboration tools, and other software lie at the heart of many of these systems. IBM's Tivoli software automates, secures and manages the smart IT and physical assets, and WebSphere software manages the business processes in different environments including SOA (service-oriented architecture). Information management software from IBM manages the data. And Lotus software helps organizations work smarter, while Rational software is developing advanced systems and tools for enterprises to build up dynamic infrastructure. 

Where there used to be a clear line drawn between the five brands in the IBM Software Group and their uses for organizations, all are now working together, on top of and around each other, to make a more intelligent and dynamic infrastructure possible. The comprehensive software offerings coupled with extensive hardware and services expertise-especially in the areas of industry-specific service management offerings-are unmatched by anyone in the industry and proving to put vendors such as Hewlett-Packard even further behind in the race, IBM officials claim.

"Many of our competitors are trying to use similar words to describe what they offer, but the difference is we have the experience and customer success stories," Zollar said.

Of the mingling of the IBM software brands to deliver a final, smart solution for customers, Zollar added: "The brands are just convenient handles for our clients to look at what they can ask us for. Underneath it all, we look at this as a set of architectures for us to deliver what our clients need."

Software has long been used to operate electric grids, pipelines, railways, production facilities and manufacturing lines, among other things. Now IBM software is being used to make these grids, infrastructures, facilities and products more intelligent so as to save money, improve operations, and better manage the use of, and even save, natural resources, Zollar said. Where corporate and public IT departments were once tasked with managing scores of PCs, servers and networking gear in their data centers, they are now required to  manage bridges, trains, nuclear power plant turbines, sand bags in levees and any other piece of physical infrastructure to which wireless sensors can be applied.

And, according to Zollar, IBM has big plans-along with the hardware, software and services chops-to help customers in this new world where the boundaries of the traditional IT data center are being stretched far beyond the data center. The opportunity provided by this new world is sizable. Market research firm IDC estimates the market for the services, products and technologies to build the new infrastructure to stand at $122 billion by 2012.

As Zollar noted, IBM has the tools and technology as well as the experience to take on these new challenges.

For example, in the Netherlands, with about 27 percent of its area and 60 of its population located below sea level, IBM is working with country officials on a smart levee system where sand bags are equipped with sensors and managed through an integrated emergency management system, IBM said. In a widespread storm, rising water levels and weakened levee walls can alert central management systems to deploy manpower and resources to the areas requiring immediate attention. This saves money on infrastructure costs and quickly resolves problems affecting the residents.

And the same software that is creating smarter levees can be applied to bridges, IBM said. The I-35W Mississippi River bridge collapse in Minneapolis is a good example of what a smarter bridge could prevent, IBM says. Smart bridges with sensors to report wear, weaknesses, and areas of corrosion or concern can report back to a centrally managed system aligned with city infrastructure and planning. City and local government offices are able to deploy resources to the bridges in need before a catastrophe happens.

Moreover, utilities in the United States, Denmark, Australia, Italy and other countries are now using IBM software to build digital grids to monitor the energy system in real time, the company said. This enables them to fix outages much faster, and source and distribute power more intelligently. It also makes the integration of traditional and new sources of power possible, providing end-to-end insight across all forms of energy.

Smarter Traffic and Rail Systems


Smarter Traffic and Rail Systems

Also, IBM is using software in Brisbane, London, Singapore and Stockholm to deploy smarter traffic systems, Zollar said. And at least 20 other cities have active bids to do the same. In Stockholm, the new smart toll system has resulted in 20 percent less traffic, a 12 percent drop in emissions and 40,000 additional daily users of the public transport system.

IBM is eyeing U.S. stimulus funding as it plies its smart technology solutions in the states. According to IBM estimates, the U.S. government has earmarked almost $27 billion for building new highway infrastructure. The White House estimates 150,000 jobs will be created or saved on highway projects alone and some 400,000 overall.

Meanwhile, IBM also is working to deliver smarter rail systems both in the United States and abroad across Europe and China. According to a study IBM released in April, increasing demand on rail systems in the United States and around the world will dramatically strain existing rail infrastructure. The study, "The Smarter Railroad," analyzes new approaches to modernize and build high-speed rail networks globally.

The IBM study indicates that about $300 billion will be spent globally to upgrade, expand and initiate high-speed railway networks during the next five years. These investments will be used to build a new rail infrastructure that can meet increasing rail capacity demand over the next two decades. Even meeting current demand requires that nearly 40 cents on every revenue dollar is spent maintaining the rail system, IBM said.

In another rail initiative, IBM in June IBM opened a new Global Rail Innovation Center in Beijing to bring together industry leaders, researchers and universities to advance next-generation rail systems. The Rail Innovation Center is staffed by a global network of IBM rail consultants, software specialists, mathematicians and business partners. China is in the process of revolutionizing its rail infrastructure and operations for the 21st century, introducing new high-speed trains and a vastly expanded rail network, IBM officials said.

"The global rail industry in 2009 and beyond will struggle to meet the increasing demand for freight and passenger transportation, while aging systems and existing tracks complicate the problem," said Keith Dierkx, director of IBM Global Rail Programs. "However, rail companies around the world are starting to apply new technologies that will help them build high-speed rail systems that more efficiently move people, are more cost efficient and make more intelligent use of all rail assets, from tracks to trains. IBM is already helping railroads build these smarter rail systems around the world."

To help take on all the challenges IBM is addressing in various vertical markets, the company has come up with a series of Service Management Industry Solutions.

"Increasing reliance on computing power to manage physical assets like manufacturing facilities, parts in a supply chain, power plants, billions of mobile phones and other tangible entities, along with the need to deliver better, more intelligent services to customers, is prompting organizations to adopt more dynamic infrastructures," said IBM's Zollar. "IBM Service Management Industry Solutions help organizations use technology to intelligently respond to the global trends and disruptions affecting businesses, while also achieving a sustainable competitive advantage."

The specialized software and services, announced in February, help customers build new, more dynamic infrastructure that will bring more intelligence, automation, integration and efficiencies to the digital and physical worlds, IBM said.

The IBM Service Management Industry Solutions are customized for seven industries: utilities, chemicals and petroleum, telecommunications, retail, banking, electronics, and manufacturing. Also in February, IBM delivered additional new services, a new governance consulting practice, new Tivoli Service Automation Manager software and new Tivoli Key Lifecycle Manager software.

"We're creating a software platform-a service management platform to manage assets for the entire infrastructure," Zollar said. "This will manage the life cycle of the assets in a dynamic infrastructure, from procurement of an asset through retirement. This is end-to-end asset management, and it's another piece provided by our Maximo-based technology."

IBM got the Maximo software in its acquisition of MRO Software in 2006.

Smart City Development


Smart City Development

Meanwhile, IBM also is getting involved in the planning and development of smart city infrastructures.

At a SmarterCities forum in Berlin in June, IBM announced a new Smarter City Assessment Tool to help cities better understand and meet the new demands of an increasingly urbanized world. According to the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations, the majority of the world's people live in cities. By 2050, 70 percent of the world's population will live in cities.

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

However, delivering technology and services to help foster a smarter planet is not enough for IBM. The systems giant also is helping to prepare the work force that will manage and run the new smart systems. IBM has announced it is working with Nicholls State University to offer new curriculum in its information systems program designed to help students develop skills required to get jobs in emerging fields including electronic medical records, intelligent transportation systems, and smart energy and utilities.

Beginning in the fall 2009 semester, undergraduate, MBA and eMBA students at Nicholls will be able to take courses in IT Service Management that will provide them with the relevant skills to get the jobs in the evolving IT industry.

"With governments around the world investing in intelligent infrastructures from smart grids to new transportation systems, companies are under pressure to hire employees with an expansive set of skills that cross IT and business," said Paul Kontogiorgis, IT services curriculum program director for IBM Tivoli software, in a statement. "IBM is working with universities, like Nicholls, to better prepare a work force that is not only knowledgeable about the interconnection of IT and business, but able to apply these expansive skills across all industries and sectors."

"Nicholls is committed to building tomorrow's experts in IT today," said Neset Hikmet, Ph.D., a professor of information systems at Nicholls State University. 

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