IBM tackling water issues globally

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Water, water everywhere…

Water is becoming scarce resource globally – even more-so in rapidly growing urban environments.In fact, according to the UN, water use has been growing at more than twice the rate of population growth in the last century. – See more at: Also, increased droughts, and flash floods are not helping matters.

To help alleviate this, it is great to see IBM stepping up to the challenge and helping with the issue in various communities:

  1. In London for example IBM announced that it will be working with Thames Water to improve operations and customer interaction. According to the announcement, the alliance will analyse big data and social media to boost “safety, reducing total expenditure and environmental impact alongside lowering energy and chemical costs”. This is important as Thames Water ramps up to meet the obligations of the next regulatory period (Asset Management Programme 6 – AMP6) from 2015-2020.
  2. IBM are also using big data and analytics to help the Arad Group process water consumption data of water meters. The Arad Group has water utility customers in 50 countries worldwide who could potentially benefit from this getting quick insights into water losses in its system. This solution also reduces by around the number of technician visits required by about 50%, freeing up those hours for more valuable work.
  3. IBM and Waterfund LLC, have signed up the Ministry of Water and Environment of Uganda to become the first African nation to become a member of the Water Cost Index (WCI). The Water Cost Index calculates the unsubsidised cost of freshwater production, to bring financial transparency to investors in water infrastructure. The hope is that this will help Uganda attract private sector funding and facilitate Uganda in the provision of clean and safe freshwater for its citizens.
  4. In South Bend, Indiana, federal requirements to change the way the sewer systems work meant that this small city (pop. 100,000) was going to be faced with a bill in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

    To avoid this they instrumented their sewers, and wirelessly piped the information from these sewers to IBM’s Intelligent Operation Center (IOC). South Bend now has the most instrumented sewer system in the world, reducing the number of waste water overflows and keeping the local water system cleaner. The system saves South Bend $100m in water capacity and reduces the number of fines South Bend would have been subject to by $600,000
  5. IBM has worked with partners to manage Lake George, one of New York’s most pristine natural ecosystems. This project aims to create a sophisticated lake environmental monitoring and prediction system giving scientists and the community a real-time picture of the health of the lake. The hope being that the software and lessons learned can ultimately be used to help other lake systems worldwide.
  6. And, IBM worked with the Dutch Ministry of Water (Rijkswaterstaat) on a project called Digital Delta. Theis project aims to provide realtime information on water quality, the impact of extreme weather events, and the risk of floods or droughts. It will enable relevant agencies to share this information quickly so response efforts can be quickly coordinated.

Ready access to water has been an issue for mankind since the dawn of time. With our ever growing global population, water is going to become an ever more pressing concern. Companies like IBM who can help alleviate some of these issues will no doubt have a ready market for the foreseeable future.

Image credit Tom Raftery


Top 14 IBM achievements in the last 100 years

IBM turned 100 earlier this month – a significant achievement for any company, but for one in the constantly shifting sands that is the technology industry, it is particularly notable.

As part of the celebrations, they released the video above outlining 100 of their achievements during that time. The video is beautifully executed and it is a great IBM marketing tool. It is easy to see that the video has a strong sales message towards the end (which tbh, is a tad unnecessary) but the earlier content is definitely worthy of comment.

Some of the highlights for me were:

  1. In 1914, 76 years before the US Disabilities Act, IBM hired its first disabled employee
  2. In 1930 IBM receives its first patent for a traffic signal timing system
  3. In 1932 IBM started education programs for employees and customers
  4. In 1934 IBM introduces group life insurance (in the midst of the Great Depression)
  5. In 1935 IBM opens the first professional training school for women
  6. In 1941, IBM hired a legally blind employee, psychologist Dr. Michael Supa, to make its products more usable by the visually impaired and to assist in the hiring of 181 people with disabilities over the following two years
  7. In 1942 IBM launches a disabled employee training program
  8. In 1943 Ruth Leach Amonette is elected IBM’s first female Vice President
  9. In 1946 IBM hires T.J. Laster, their first black sales representative, 18 years before the Civil Rights Act of 1964
  10. In 1953 IBM chairman Thomas Watson issues the company’s first Equal Opportunity Policy letter
  11. In 1967 IBM employee Benoit Mandelbrot ask’s How long is the Coast of Britain and a new branch of mathematics (fractal geometry) is born
  12. In 1981 IBM introduces the first IBM PC
  13. In 2004 IBM creates the World Community Grid – a public grid computing project to tackle scientific research projects that benefit humanity
  14. And in 2008-9 IBM creates the Smarter Planet and Smarter Cities programs.

Other highlights include inventions of the ATM, the barcode, and DRAM; the fact that at least 3 IBM’ers have won Nobel Prizes; and IBM’s Deep Blue beating world champion chess player Gary Kasparov.

It is easy to criticise this video by saying it is nothing but a sales pitch – but the strong sales message is only really in the final two minutes of the video (from 11:14-13:15) – if you stop the video at that point, you miss nothing and get see for yourself the list of their achievements.

These are just my favourites, what are yours?


Innovation at the IBM Smarter Industries Symposium

IBM Smarter Industries Symposium

Photo credit Tom Raftery

I attended the inaugural IBM Smarter industries Symposium recently and the major talking point that emerged from it was Innovation.

The event was a nice mix of presentations by IBMers, customers and “breakout exchanges” with a healthy mix of both.

Almost all of the speakers talked about the increasing complexity of doing business today. Frank Kern, for example, mentioned that 79% of CEO’s expect high level of complexity in the next 5 years but only 49% say their companies are prepared for it! Interestingly, 60% of those say that what is needed to combat complexity is creativity!

Ginni Rometty talked up the need for businesses to become smarter and provided a three-step roadmap for them to become so. The steps consisted of

  1. Instrument to manage
  2. Integrate to innovate and
  3. Optimise to transform

Basically, Ginni is saying that organisations need to digitise all aspects of their business, integrate the data streams from this instrumentation to take advantage of it and then use things like predictive analytics to transform from being reactive to being proactive. Predictive analytics are already being used by the New York police department, Frank Kern reminded us, to predict where the bad guys will go after they commit crime!

Ginni used the example of the Singapore Land Transport Authority’s bus arrival predictor (98% accurate to within a minute up to an hour ahead of time). This was deployed around the same time as congestion charges to encourage people to use public transport. Not only can you quickly see up to an hour ahead of time when buses are due, but the system can also give you an idea of seat availability – how’s that for predictive analytics?

Organisationally, the rollout of analytics is transformative. It leads to smarter decisions – ones based on data, not the HIPPO principle (HIPPO = Highest Paid Person’s Opinion!).

In the Capitalizing on Complexity session there were speakers from 1800-Flowers and Texas utility Oncor – two very diverse businesses, I think you’ll agree. Chris McCann of 1-800Flowers said when they realised that their business is not about delivering flowers, but delivering smiles, they quickly expanded the range of smile-giving products they deliver! He said their future is a combination of social media and commerce – a mix he referred to as social commerce.

Because Gen Y doesn’t make purchasing decisions before checking with their network, it is now more important than ever to ensure your brand is well thought-of online. As a result, 1-800Flowers makes extensive use of social media to handle customer complaints, to get customers to tell their stories online and to create “brand apostles” to help 1-800Flowers engage in the conversation without being overbearing.

Mark Carpenter, Oncor’s CTO, was really interesting. Oncor have 3.1 million customers and obviously, Oncor know that their customer base varies enormously. Some customers don’t want to talk to anyone, they want to control everything from their iPhone! Others want to pick up the phone, and not just talk to a person, but talk to a Texan! So Oncor handles all of these requirements, giving the customer what they want – they have kept their call centers in Texas and they are now able to communicate with their customers, from their call centers via social media, if that is the customer’s preference. Hello @oncor, good job on your FaceBook page!

A utility that uses social media? Social business? Seriously innovative stuff.

Other things which helped cement the Innovation theme at the Smarter industries Symposium were the story of IBM’s taking on Jeopardy with their Question Answering system, code-named Watson; Mike Rhodin’s talk on use of social media analytics both externally facing to provide better customer service and internally-facing to track employee satisfaction; and all of Chair of the Institute for Large Scale Innovation, John Kao‘s keynote!

Smarter times are coming!


Rich Lechner talks about Smart Buildings and a Smarter Urban Infrastructure

I had a great chat about Smart Buildings the other day with IBM’s VP Energy and Environment, Rich Lechner.

Why are smart buildings important? Well, as Rich says, in the US buildings are responsible for about 70% of the energy consumption and for about 40% of the greenhouse gases emitted.

When you combine that with the fact that 3.5bn people are living in cities today and that that number is rapidly increasing you start to see why making buildings smarter needs to be a very high priority.

The chat with Rich was great because, as with all my interviews, it was unscripted and Rich talked knowledgeably and compellingly about the kinds of ways we can make buildings smarter, and gave the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas as a case study of what can be achieved.

The interview was so good, I split it in two rather than cutting any of it out – here’s part 2:

[Disclosure] – These videos were sponsored by IBM.


IBM’s Software Analyst Connect event, Smarter Planet and sustainability

I attended IBM’s eighth annual Software Analyst Connect (#Connect09) last week in Connecticut. The theme of the event was “IBM Software for a Smarter Planet”.

You have to admire IBM for coming up with the Smart Planet branding strategy. Now anything Smart (Smart Cities, Smart Water even Smart Work) is automatically, subconsciously associated with IBM.

The Connect 09 event itself was superb. The delegates were all analysts and I was humbled to be in the company of so many really bright people.

It was a two day affair broken up into a healthy mix of keynotes, breakout sessions, round tables, an appliance showcase and chats with experts. The content level was very high and the networking opportunities were off the charts (I had face time with Steve Mills, Al Zollar, Sandy Carter and John Soyring (in the video above) to name-drop but a few).

The breakout sessions had titles like:

  • IBM’s Industry Frameworks and Solutions for a Smarter Planet
  • Driving Smarter Business Outcomes with Analytics and Information and
  • Smart Work and Dynamically Adaptive Collaboration

So while the content was quite in-depth and at times extremely technical, unfortunately there wasn’t a strong emphasis on sustainability. This is no big surprise as this was never billed as a sustainability-related event.

Having said that IBM’s larger Smarter Planet strategy talks very much to the Internet of Things vision where everything is instrumented with RFID tags or sensors and inter-connected which has massive potential implications for making the world more sustainable.

Then the talks from Steve Mills referenced IBM’s work with utilities in the Smart Grid arena and the development of the SAFE Framework while John Soyring talked up IBM’s work around the world on Smart Water initiatives.

The one use of the Smart X lingo which IBM use and I do object to is Smart Oilfields. The thinking goes that Smart Oilfields are ones that extract oil more efficiently from the ground. I’m sorry, but CO2 is a pollutant which is endangering all life on this planet. Anything which helps put more CO2 into the atmosphere, cannot be very smart.

It was spectacular to get a chance to record my chat with John Soyring about IBM’s work on water globally. Take 10 minutes to watch the video above. You’ll be glad you did.

Full disclosure, IBM is a client and paid my airfare (economy) to attend the event, accommodation and all delegates received a gift of a solar phone charger.


IBM’s Jim Spohrer on the Smarter Planet University Jam

IBM held their inaugural Smarter Planet University Jam earlier this year. The Jam was a crowdsourcing process held by IBM earlier this year where nearly 2,000 students from more than 200 universities from 40 countries around the world took part with the aim of building a Smarter Planet through technology.

Some of the findings from the Jam were:

  • Eight of 10 students want universities to revamp traditional learning environment
  • Over 90% want to join or start a Green Advocacy group at their campus
  • 64% of students believe that the world has a chance to reverse carbon emissions by 2025 and
  • 60% believe that education and efficient transportation offer the best hope for sustainability of our cities

I had the chance to talk to Jim Spohrer, the Director of IBM’s Global University Programs (GUP) recently about the Jam. We discussed the thinking behind it, the outcomes what were its take-aways.


Mobile phones – distributed air quality sensor network?

Since giving my talk on sustainability in the mobile phone sector at Mobile 2.0 in Barcelona a few weeks back and writing my post about how Augmented Reality on mobiles could be transformative for Green tech I have been thinking a lot about how mobiles could make a significant positive contribution to the planet.

The context behind this is that while there are 1 billion PCs in the world and 1.4 billion internet users, there are 4 billion mobile phone subscriptions and climbing. One possibility I posited at Mobile 2.0 was that mobiles could become clients for grid computing projects like IBM’s World Community Grid. This would add significantly to the compute power of the grid (but for now battery life considerations probably means this is still a few years out).

The other thought rattling around in my head was probably sparked off by my discussions with IBM execs around their Smarter Planet initiative. It occurs to me that if mobile phones had built-in air quality monitors, you could very quickly build up a real-time map of pollution hotspots. Current municipal pollution monitors are static and far too few in number to give a meaningful picture of air quality but if mobile phones had this capability, the combining of the air quality information with the GPS data from the phone would allow for pinpointing of pollution trouble spots very quickly.

Obviously for this to be effective, the data would need to be anonymized and uploaded to a central server. Also, the pollution information would need to be made freely available for everyone’s consumption. There may even be a business model there for someone to pay mobile phone users to sample air and upload the information.

A quick bit of research around this thought and I found the video above showing that not alone is it feasible but it wasn’t a hugely original idea on my part 😉

With the recent news of urban pollution being responsible for lower IQ in children and being implicated in premature births of infants and preeclampsia, there is a definite health imperative for something like this. Especially in China, where air pollution is causing massive health problems. Imagine if the Chinese authorities mandated this the way they mandated that all mobile phone chargers use usb back in 2006! Very quickly economies of scale would drive costs down and competition amongst manufacturers would mean smaller chipsets to do this.

Original Rockwell GPS receiver - image from

Original Rockwell GPS receiver - image from

For anyone who thinks that air quality monitors would be too bulky for mobile phones, just have a look at what the original GPS receivers looked like (large backpacks) and now they are embedded in most smart phones!

One final thought harking back to my post on Augmented Reality, with air quality data from mobile phones uploaded to the cloud (unintentional pun, sorry!) it would be very straightforward to create an Augmented Reality view of air quality allowing mobile phone owners to ‘see’ pollution in their immediate environment – imagine how quickly that would drive home to people the seriousness of their air quality situation.