Instrumented Interconnecteds Intelligent
Archive for February, 2009

It doesn’t come as a surprise to anybody that our health systems are in need of significant reform. Part of that reform is digitizing paper-based medical records. But simple digitization (Electronic Medical Records) is just the start. To illustrate at a high level some the opportunities for creating a smarter health system, we put together the following video:


For a much deeper discussion on this topic, though, listen to the latest “Building a Smarter Planet” podcast episode, with Dr. Russ Robertson, chairman of the Counsel of Medical Education at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, and Dan Pelino, general manager of IBM’s Healthcare and Life Sciences Industry.

Download the Building a Smarter Health System Podcast (mp3)

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Smart Healthcare Over the past few months, we've used this blog to talk about a lot of important issues we face as employees and citizens, ranging from traffic and banking to food and energy. But none of these topics resonates on a personal level quite as much as healthcare. Each of us cares intimately about the quality of our healthcare for ourselves, our families and our friends. We care about whether we have access to care, and whether we can afford it even if we do. And, finally, we care that we get the best care available when we need it most.

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In the Financial Times op-ed today, IBM chairman Sam Palmisano suggests we focus stimulus development on projects
that build competitive advantage in the different world that is taking
shape.  He lists a few examples of these
type of efforts underway, where
is helping governments to
build a smarter infrastructure.

  • The island of Malta is creating one of the world’s
    most advanced smart grids and it is also building smarter water and waste
    management systems, using instrumentation with advanced sensor technology to
    gain a better understanding of demand, supply, routing and sourcing. 

  • Stockholm has developed a dynamic new traffic
    management system to understand and predict vehicle patterns and encourage new
    behavior.  Traffic congestion is down by
    20 percent and pollution by 12 percent. 


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February 18th, 2009

The groundwork for a Smarter Planet — a world of intelligent infrastructure for energy, healthcaretransportation and more — is arguably in place:  just consider the global web of supply chains that interlink the global economy.

These networks already weave together businesses, partners and customers into intricate, dynamic relationships. And they are functioning not just as the physical plumbing of economic activity, the literal means of production, distribution and consumption of goods and services, but also operate as complex information networks.

Smarter Planet is about enabling the world’s physical and digital networks to converge. That interaction can be advanced by embedding societal systems like supply chains with new kinds of sensors, software, and self-awareness. 

IBM's inaugural Global Chief Supply Chain Officer Study, which launches on Feb. 24th, focuses on just such an innovation: the supply chain of the future. The report is based on in-depth interviews with 400 executives responsible for the logistical networks that have become essential to the financial health of most companies that interconnect through them.


In fact, if a smarter planet can be broadly defined as one that is instrumented, interconnected and intelligent, those same characteristics apply to the smarter supply networks that serve as the world's arteries of commerce. 

The study’s five key findings focus on the challenges of cost containment, visibility (the ability to “see” and act on the right information), risk management, customer intimacy, and globalization as a growth opportunity.

Strategically, the study notes that:

“Building this kind of [smarter] supply chain is a strategic undertaking; it implies a different role and set of responsibilities for supply chain executives. These executives must become strategic thinkers, collaborators and orchestrators.”

What will make these webs of production and distribution smarter? Different kinds of sensors and information technologies will make supply networks more instrumented and interconnected. But what’s ultimately required are the analytical resources to extract new, actionable intelligence from such complex systems. What kind of new intelligence do we mean, and what actually is new about it?

“New intelligence” will flow from advanced computing techniques and expertise that can reveal insight from rivers of real-time information. Innovations in data visualization, predictive modeling and simulation software will make new kinds of knowledge possible, and lead to more evidence-based decision making.  (For examples, see these posts on our companion site on Tumblr tagged "new Intelligence.")

As the study reports, managers need to peer through the "data fog" of supply chain information not just to better perceive their own operations, but to gain visibility into what’s happening across the network that extends to partners and customers. 

As strategic and practical as data sharing across this extended supply chain might seem, one unexpected finding on data visibility was that “many executives reported that their organizations are too busy to share information or simply do not believe collaborative decision making is that important.”

That sensibility may change as new intelligence tools help supply network professionals make better decisions and spot strategic patterns and trends.

The study revealed another pressing issue for supply chain managers: their need for better tools to manage risk and deal with disruptions. Consider current problems with contaminations in our complex supply chains for food, toys and other products that need to be recalled. Smarter supply chains embedded with sensors and software can help trace such quality control issues back to their source, as well as to more rapidly identify where suspect inventory has been distributed.

If advanced supply chains will be like the nervous system of a smarter planet's body — its eyes, ears and sense of touch — then this new intelligence will be the brains to help us gain new understanding and greater mastery over these  complex economic ecosystems. And the new links in smarter supply chains, factories, office buildings and highways will include such elements as wireless sensor networks, GPS, actuators, radio frequency identity (RFID) tags, and other kinds of monitoring equipment. 

RFID tags already widely used in shipping and inventory control, but can enable products to be embedded with even more precise and dynamic data. For example, fish caught off the coast of South America could be tagged to authenticate exactly when and where they were taken, and their temperature en route to market tracked to prove freshness and legal provenance. Or the diverse products that a hotel chain or government agency buys could be measured for how "green" they are in terms of manufacturing processes and overall carbon footprint.

(In fact, IBM has just announced a Supply-chain Network Optimization service (SNOW) that is  a harbinger of such new intelligence resources. Another is Carbon Management Analysis tool 
that debuted last year.)

So what about this "new intelligence" distinguishes it from the kind of data-mining and information-crunching commonly done today? Of course, the volumes of data involved in supply chain management are already huge, but will grow exponentially. What's really different is the variety of kinds of data  — geospatial or location-based information, digital multimedia and environmental conditions to name just a few — and the unique insights that we may glean from finding correlations across such diverse sources.

Another major new characteristic is the velocity with which supply chain data flows, and the concomitant speed needed to capture and process it to be useful. Complex traffic patterns, millions of financial transactions per second, video from tens of thousands of security cameras, are examples of where we need to be able to sift not just static mountains of data, but dynamic, changing information torrents. 

Indeed, for information from smart systems to be most valuable, it often needs to be processed in seconds, minutes or hours rather than days. We need to be able to find and analyze digital needles in haystacks that are not stationary, but rolling past on fast-moving trucks.

The need for speed is also about getting rapid return on this new intelligence so that it can be applied right now to help the world's economy — and all the businesses in the complex economic webs that make up supply chains  — get back on our collective feet.

Finally, if you're in need for some inspiration about the power of deep data and statistics to tell us important things about the world, and to give us new insights into the changes happening around us, this presentation by Hans Rosling, a professor of global health at Sweden's  Karolinska Institute,
 is a treat and a mind-opener.

Jack Mason
Strategic Programs, IBM Global Business Services

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The following is from Grady Smith, CEO of Cullman Electric Cooperative, in Cullman, AL.

In the 1930’s only 10 percent of rural American households were served by electricity. As the REA and the TVA brought power to unserved regions, public power companies were faced with a double challenge. Not only did we have the duty of building infrastructure that would take electricity to the countryside, but we also had to educate our communities on how this new technology could be applied to enhance their lives.

Seven decades later, we face the same challenge. But instead of electricity, it is broadband service that is on course to change our lives. The delivery of voice, data and even video at high speeds is the culmination of years of research and development that began with basic consumer dial-up service in the early 1990’s. I do not believe it is an exaggeration to say that broadband service is the single most important technological issue of this generation, and that it will have the greatest impact on society since basic electricity and telephone service.

At Cullman Electric Cooperative, we have kept a watchful eye on an emerging technology known as ‘broadband over power lines,’ or BPL. The possibilities are incredible. As Michael Powell, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, told BusinessWeek a few years ago: “Think about it… if every electrical plug becomes a broadband port, that would be huge.”

Our interest in this issue naturally stems from the fact that it could dramatically impact our industry. But beyond that, we see BPL as a technology that could become particularly important to homes and businesses in rural areas like those served by Cullman Electric Cooperative.

The industry has moved beyond the question “can voice, data and video be transmitted effectively, safely and rapidly over power lines?”. Research has provided an affirmative answer. Now the questions are “can this technology be deployed to the masses economically?” and “will the equipment stand the test of time?”.

To help answer these questions — and new ones as they arise — Cullman Electric Cooperative is involved in one of the few live BPL pilot programs going on in the nation. We have partnered with IBM and International Broadband Electric Communications, Inc. (IBEC) of Huntsville, Alabama, to turn our lines and poles into a research facility. IBM and IBEC’s knowledge of BPL technology is joining forces with our experience and expertise as an electric utility to validate two distinct BPL applications.

The first is distribution system security through video surveillance. IBEC’s equipment is consistently sending real-time video of a stretch of power line and our headquarters back to a designated central monitoring facility. This could prove invaluable as our industry moves toward more stringent security regulations, allowing us to forego considerable costs by using existing infrastructure to transmit video.

The second application is broadband Internet service to locations within our system. I am pleased to report that several of our members are involved in this pilot, and that they are successfully uploading and downloading data through an ‘always-on’ Internet connection via an electrical outlet.

There are still other applications of this technology to explore. Cullman Electric Cooperative could one day monitor and control our remote equipment through BPL. This technology could also allow us to read our meters remotely.

Another exciting possibility is a wireless network that would allow any customer with a password to access the Internet from any location that was near a power line — in their home or office, on the road or on a park bench.

Studies estimate that 37 percent of Americans live in areas that most likely will never be served by broadband service via cable or DSL. I believe our customers should be able to enjoy the benefits of rural life without being left behind in terms of technology. BPL may well be the means whereby public power companies once again take bold steps — just like we did 70 years ago — to bring the power of technology to rural America and thereby change people’s lives for the better.

Grady Smith is the CEO of Cullman Electric Cooperative in Cullman, AL

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February 17th, 2009

The companion to this blog, our Smarter Planet site on Tumblr, is what feeds the "Related Discussions Across the Internet" links in the left hand navigation.

As Tumblr aptly describes its platform, if a blog is more like a journal or longer-form discussion format, a "tumblelog" is more like a scrapbook. Posts are brief, multimedia and in our case, cover the waterfront of news, developments, sites, insights and examples of how a smarter planet is emerging. Our goal is to give people a broad feel for what smarter planet means, and how widely it is taking shape.

And now we've i
mplemented a version of the site optimized for mobile devices.  So be sure to add to your iPhone, Blackberry or other device bookmarks.

Of course, this mobile iteration isn't just a convenience for the rapidly growing ranks of mobile internet users. The explosion of web-enabled smartphones and other handheld devices loaded with sensors such as cameras, microphones and GPS chips is one of the most salient signs of the "internet of things" and "ubiquitous computing" that is central to what Smarter Planet is all about.

Jack Mason
IBM Global Business Services, Strategic Programs & Social Media Innovation

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February 9th, 2009

We asked Gary Gohen, who leads IBM's Communications Sector, for some perspective on the opportunity for building a smarter telecommunications system. Below are some of this thoughts:

Smarter telco - 250
In working with IBM’s clients in the telecommunications industry, I hear directly from business leaders around the world about the ways their companies can play a role in building a smarter planet by helping to change the way our global communications infrastructure works.  And in almost all of these discussions, we talk about the need to improve dramatically the economics of service delivery across all aspects of their businesses, and about new and emerging business models for communications service providers.

These companies are seeing first-hand how billions of people and intelligent devices are driving an incredible increase in global communication.  Today, mobile Web subscriptions are at four billion, and counting.  By 2011, almost a third of all humanity will be on the Internet.  New investments in broadband infrastructures worldwide will likely accelerate this growth, extending the Internet into new markets, and broadening its reach inside existing markets, as more people within established economies gain affordable access to broadband Internet.

All of this growth in demand represents a huge opportunity for telecommunications companies, but to take advantage of it and stay ahead in the ferociously competitive marketplace, they know they need to develop new capabilities.  Today's networks will have to become smarter, so they can have the kind of intelligence and analytical capability needed to make sense of the flood of data coming from billions (and eventually, trillions) of connected people and sensors and devices.  They will need more flexible, open architectures, so new services can be created and deployed to meet the rapidly changing needs of people who want individually customized services.  The kind of evolved, converged information technology system you have to have to support these kinds of  capabilities is something IBM calls the dynamic infrastructure.

The transformation is already underway:  For example, telecom service providers in India are facing both explosive growth and intense competition.  To gain a competitive advantage, some are reinventing their IT to provide deeper connections between business units, the data they generate, and the processes they need to run efficiently.  One of India's largest telecom service providers used this model to cut the time required to activate new mobile accounts by 90 percent.  When you sign about a million new customers per month, that type of agility is a serious advantage.

In China, a leading telecom company is using social networking technology to bring together the ideas and expertise of company researchers to create new services at a record pace.  While in Europe, a provider of both fixed telephony and Internet services is working with us to completely redesign and integrate its business processes to give it the speed and flexibility it needs to meet subscriber demand and capitalize on skyrocketing growth in its home market.

In Indonesia, we're working with a leading telecom service provider on a network management systems that infuses software into its physical communications network to automatically detect and resolve service problems.  The system can go further to predict trends in the way its network is used — and adjust accordingly to provide the best possible service to customers.

Successful business models in the global telecommunications industry are increasingly based on this "smarter" approach that leverages instrumented, connected, intelligent systems.  With governments and companies worldwide investing in expanding broadband access, and with more people and "intelligent" things coming online by the minute, this is a great time to think about ways to build a smarter telecommunications infrastructure together.

Gary Cohen is the General Manager of IBM's communications sector.

*** Update: Given the topic above, we wanted to share this related video about the preponderance of connected objects and the potential impact for a smarter planet:

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February 5th, 2009

It's sometimes difficult to resonate with strategic visions such as building a smarter planet. Executives and thought-leaders can make a big difference, but what can an ordinary employee do to help make things happen?

Me, I've been with IBM for a little over a year, having joined it right after finishing my master's degree. I sometimes feel overwhelmed by all the changes happening in the business world, and I wonder what how I can help make things better. Whether you're also new at work or you've been there for a while but you still don't consider yourself an experienced decision-maker, you probably know what I'm talking about.

As I thought about how I can help build a smarter planet, I realized that new employees like me can contribute something, too.

I often find myself asking people questions about the way things work. "Why?" "Why not?" "What if…" Most of the time, I learn that there are great reasons why people do what they do. Sometimes, though, my questions get people to reexamine assumptions, and we figure out even better ways to work.

If you're a new employee, you might be worried about asking silly questions to which everyone else knows the answers. Go ahead and ask. Maybe you'll uncover some assumptions or inefficiencies, and you'll help make things better along the way. If you're working with new employees, be open to suggestions and new ways of working. Who knows? Maybe you'll pick up a tip or two.

As a new employee, there's so much for me to learn. I'm really lucky that I can share what I'm learning with my coworkers through internal blogs, bookmarks, and wikis. Not only does recording what I'm learning help me learn more effectively, it also helps me share what I'm learning with more people, and I end up documenting all sorts of knowledge.

If you're a new employee, write down what you're learning and share your notes with your coworkers. If you're managing new employees, set up ways for people to share what they know.

I'm learning a lot, and I really love what I'm doing. Some people tell me that's because I'm young and I'm new to the company, and I remember reading a book that said most new employees lose their enthusiasm after six months. I've met lots of other people who've shown by example that you can still be passionate about your work after decades, though, so I still have hope! I'm passionate about what I do, and people tell me that they find my enthusiasm infectious. I help them feel happier and more motivated about their work, and that helps them perform better.

If you're a new employee, stay in touch with the reasons you liked the job offer, and discover new reasons to be passionate about what you do. If you work with or manage new employees, help them stay engaged by connecting them with people who are passionate about their work, and help them harness their passion and infect others with their energy.

Even new employees can help build a smarter company. Even new employees can help build a smarter planet. Let's make it happen.

Sacha Chua is an Enterprise 2.0 consultant and application developer with IBM Global Business Services. She helps organizations learn more about Web 2.0 tools and concepts, incorporate those into their business strategies, design and develop solutions, and make the most of those tools through coaching and adoption support. She also helps companies understand Generation Y, which she belongs to. She has been with IBM for a little over one year. Her personal blog is at

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As reported by, IBM is teaming with the Mediterranean island nation of Malta to build a smart utility system.

The plans include replacing:

“250,000 utility meters with interactive versions that will allow Malta’s electric utility, Enemalta, to monitor electricity use in real-time and set variable rates that reward customers that cut their power consumption. As part of the $91 million (€70 million) project, a sensor network will be deployed on the grid along transmission lines, substations and other infrastructure – to provide information that will let the utility more efficiently manage electricity distribution and detect potential problems.”

**Update: More at Earth2Tech

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February 3rd, 2009

With the increased attention around smart grids, we asked Jeffrey Katz, the chief technology officer of IBM’s Energy & Utilities industry to share some of his thoughts on the opportunities for building a smarter energy infrastructure. He is currently representing IBM at the DistribuTech Conference in San Diego, and sent us the following:

Smart Utilities
Building a smart grid is a complex undertaking. It requires new technologies that affect an infrastructure system with massive, wide-reaching influence. The benefits, however, are clear and worth the investment.

With a smart grid, improvements to the underlying power utilities infrastructure are much easier, less costly and more efficient. Smart grids provide tremendous amounts of data that can be analyzed in real time to help predict maintenance problems and equipment failures, and can be used to better forecast capital equipment expenditures. For consumers, smart grids will open an array of new services that better match their unique needs and habits. Consumers will have more control and be able to “communicate” with the grid, making decisions based on their personal usage patterns, such as planning for better use of renewable energy when available.

With such an important undertaking, however, it becomes important for people to understand what is meant by “smart grids” in the first place. Based on work we’ve done with electric power utilities across the world, we’ve noticed a number of common characteristics one would associate with a smart grid.

First, a smart grid requires the deep integration of Information Technology and Operational Technology – two parts of a utility company that have traditional not shared much common ground. Much of the “smartness” of the new grid results from the symbiotic nature of these two areas, with IT precepts being adopted into the realm of the relays and reclosers, and the non-stop reliability requirements of the transformers and trucks being adopted into the automation and IT processes.

Next, security is essential in the smart grid. Just as bank robberies have largely moved from physical banks to cyberspace, smart grid vulnerabilities are likely to be digital in nature. Security must be built into the grid at the outset to prevent to any kind of malicious attacks or disruptions. Based on experience across many industries, we’ve developed a number of methodologies at IBM to mitigate these risks.

Another important characteristic of smart grids are the ability of far-flung electric power systems to communicate across the network. Just as the brain can sense and respond to damaged nerves throughout the body, so too can a smart grid’s central nervous system react to situations throughout the power network. A smart grid’s communication links are vital to sensing grid activity and emanating control signals for grid optimization work, including demand response.

With such complexity, a smart grid needs to be implemented in phases. It is physically impossible to add the integrated sensing, communication, and analytics required all at once. Even beyond the pilot stage, rolling upgrades will occur with service territories, and utilities will have different criteria for evaluating what parts get smart, and in which order. When the telephone system got smarter consumers didn't have to replace their phone; the transformation happened invisibly in the central offices. Similarly, upgrading the electrical grid needs to proceed without disruptions to consumers. The electric grid is more pervasive, bulkier, more obvious, and more distributed than the telecommunications network, and as such, will take longer to automate.

Making that jump to a twenty-first century electrical system signifies major changes for the electric power industry, but companies need not go it alone. Benchmarks, models and training are available to help companies make the transition. For example, we worked with the American Productivity and Quality Center to produce the Smart Grid Maturity Model, assessing where a company is and where it may want to go in the smart grid circuit. Also, resources from the Grid Wise Alliance Architectural Council and the EPRI IntelliGrid initiative can help power companies transition to a smarter grid.

An intelligent utility network is a major part of the future electric power industry. I would be interested in hearing your views as well. Please feel free to share in the comments below.

Jeffrey S. Katz is the Chief Technology Officer in the Energy and Utilities industry at IBM. Previously he was with ALSTOM Power Plant Labs and before that at ABB Corporate Research. He can be reached at

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