IBM CEO Palmisano Touts Smarter Planet Strategy

Speaking in London, IBM CEO Sam Palmisano spoke about the successes in the company's Smarter Planet initiative, which involves the increased intelligence in digital devices and using the data collected to improve everyday life. He touched on the benefits to everything from traffic congestion to power consumption, and also noted concerns around security and privacy when talking about the collection of vast amounts of data on people.

Just over a year after introducing his company's Smarter Planet strategy, Sam Palmisano, IBM's chairman, president and CEO, is pitching the success-and concerns-of the initiative.

Speaking to business and civic leaders Jan. 12 at the Chatham House in London, Palmisano cited successes of the Smarter Planet push, from reduced traffic congestion in some cities to more efficient health care to a decrease in power consumption by households that use smart metering technology.

At the same time, he noted the concerns that arise over privacy and security when mountains of data are collected and analyzed. Pointing to public cameras in cities like Chicago and London that are used by police and emergency medical professionals, Palmisano said having those cameras running around the clock can cause some uneasiness.

"Some citizens have expressed discomfort at living in ... not a safer society, but a -surveillance society,'" he said.

However, the successes in the Smarter Planet initiative can't be overlooked, Palmisano said.

The strategy is built around the idea that more and more digital devices are not only collecting data on everything from power consumption to water usage to traffic, but they're being found in such diverse places as hospitals, banks and city streets. In addition, the computing power and software capabilities can now take that data and analyze it, giving users the intelligence to act proactively in ways that help reduce cost and waste, he said.

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It's also going to be increasingly important as the amount of data flowing over the Internet increases, to more than half a zettabyte-or 1 trillion gigabytes-over the next three years. The key will be to take that data and turn it into intelligence that can then be acted upon, he said.

"As I said, all this data is far more real-time than ever before," Palmisano said. "Most of us today, as leaders and as individuals, make decisions based on information that is backward-looking and limited in scope. That's the best we had, but that is quickly changing. ... We now have the capability, with advanced software analytic tools, to extract value from data-to see the patterns, the correlations and the outliers. Sophisticated mathematical models are helping us begin to anticipate, forecast and even predict changes in our systems. That's the promise of a smarter planet."

The benefits can be seen already, he said, ticking off a list of savings achieved through the use of smarter technologies: $15 million saved yearly by cities that use traffic congestion solutions, operational efficiency up 10 percent in hospitals and health clinics in Spain that use smart technology, and a 15 percent drop in the amount of power used by households with smart metering devices installed as part of larger smart grid projects.

Palmisano noted the interest worldwide in such intelligence in technology devices-IBM executives have been in more than 50 countries pitching the strategy, and have attracted almost 2,000 civic leaders to 100 presentations on the subject of smart cities. In addition, IBM has built more than 1,200 smarter solutions.

In dealing with the concerns over security and privacy, Palmisano said IBM has been working to build coalitions to deal with the issues. For example, the company is working with Security and Defense Agenda, a Brussels-based think tank, to sponsor what they're call SecurityJam, which will take place in February and will bring together thousands of experts, government officials and organizations to talk about threats to international threats and security. Recommendations from the event will be forwarded to the European Union and NATO in April.

The idea of smarter technology makes more sense now given the difficult economic times, Palmisano said.

"The world economy has stabilized somewhat, although significant challenges remain," he said. "Stimulus programs are making an impact, but they cannot and should not last forever. In fact, for the foreseeable future, we will be faced with addressing many pressing global issues with less, rather than more, resources.

"Indeed, applying smarter technologies to drive cost out of our legacy systems and institutions-doing more with less-will be critical to our near-term and long-term economic prospects."

And the pitch for IBM officials is that their products and services-from hardware systems to such software portfolios as Tivoli and Maximo-are best suited for this smarter world, though other vendors also are pushing the idea of greater intelligence in their offerings. For example, Cisco Systems is aggressively pursuing smart grid projects.