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Archive for September, 2010

maslow-hierarchy-needsCity leaders are typically re-elected based on how well they fulfill basic needs such as making the buses run on time and fighting crime. So how do you get them to pay attention to long-term strategic considerations–especially at a time of economic hardship? That’s a challenge advocates of progress face as they try to convince leaders that strategic investments in the future will help their communities become or remain healthy over the long haul.

At IBM, we believe that taking advantage of advances in instrumentation, interconnectivity, and data analytics is an essential element of any city vitalization plan. One of the IBMers who is wrestling with the priority-setting issue is Rashik Parmar, an IBM distinguished engineer who heads up an initiative aimed at making Smarter Cities projects appealing to government leaders. He and some his colleagues, including distinguished engineer Colin Harrison and corporate strategist Martin Fleming, find that  Mazlow’s hierarchy of needs (graphic above) is a good thinking aid.

Parmar points out that there are three drivers of action in communities that line up pretty well with the elements of Mazlov’s hierarchy. Issues: Fundamental things like crime and transportation that determine the livability of a city correspond with levels one and two. Investment: Government, non-profit, or commercial investments that build and maintain infrastructure line up with levels three and four. Inspiration: The creation of a unifying, shared vision that defines the path to a “better place” corresponds to level five–peak experiences.

The winning argument in favor of strategic investments comes when you can point to long-term improvements in livability that result in part from fulfilling aspirational needs. Academic Richard Florida in his Creative Class writings makes the argument in a general sense: The cities that are most successful are the ones that attract and retain artists, scientists, and other kinds of innovators. Can anybody point to strong data proof points in your city that back up this argument? If  so, please weigh in.

I was struck today by a Thomas Friedman’s column today in the New York Times. He’s writing about the Tea Party and it’s angry demands for less government and lower taxes. I don’t want to get into the politics of the column, but one of his observations about what he sees as a necessity for the United States also applies to cities.  He calls for a plan to revitalize the nation:

“To me, that is a plan that starts by asking: what is America’s core competency and strategic advantage, and how do we nurture it? Answer: It is our ability to attract, develop and unleash creative talent. That means men and women who invent, build and sell more goods and services that make people’s lives more productive, healthy, comfortable, secure and entertained than any other country.”

To me, these are the questions that city leaders ought to be asking themselves, as well. I believe that the bold and smart ones among them will make the plans and investments now that will pay off a decade from now, and pay dividends for many years into the future.

But, easy for me to say…

What do you think? How do city leaders go about asking the right questions? How do they find ways way to make the plans and investments that will result in Smarter Cities?

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September 28th, 2010

Remember how math and physics problems in school often used trains as examples?  That’s because railroads have always generated data.  And today, with RFID and other technologies, they generate more data than ever before.  IBM can use that data to help make railroads more efficient, safer and faster.

Click on the image for a larger view:

Picture Story: How A Smarter Railroad Works

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September 27th, 2010

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In the spirit and style of the Internet of Things video from earlier this year, we have just released this new film, System of Systems. The video features – from IBM – Mike Wing, Irving Wladawsky-Berger and Julia Grace, sharing their personal opinions on what SoS means to them, and how we all might find some new ways of thinking about this important subject.

From the introduction:
“If you look at our planet from space, what you see is something like a neural network with the cities as its nodes, and that is as good an image of the planet as a complex system of systems as one could hope for.

With the emergence of the internet in the mid-90′s, the world became one global commons. In the past, we could understand that there was some mysterious unity to the various dimensions of life but we couldn’t understand its dynamics, we couldn’t observe and measure their interactions. We basically operated like the drunk who looks under the streetlight for his keys because that’s where he can see.”


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September 24th, 2010

I wrote a couple of days ago about IBM’ researcher Mario Monti in a blog posting called Better Decision Making: How Analytics Can Counteract Emotion in Investing. Then along comes word of the impending publication of a new book by Meir Statman, a professor at Santa Clara University who has proved particularly adept over the years at stripping away the mumbo-jumbo from personal investing advice.

In Statman’s book, What Investors Really Want: Know What Drives Investor Behavior and Make Smarter Financial Decisions, he analyzes the role of emotions in poor investing decisions. It turns out that anger, unlike greed and fear, can actually improve an investor’s performance under certain conditions. “Anger can induce risky behavior and undesirable aggression, but anger is not all bad,” Statman writes. “Anger can speed up decisions and prod us to take risk when appropriate.”

He points to the Balloon Analog Risk Task, a computer-based measurement of the willingness to take risks. A participant uses a computer mouse to click on a button that inflates a balloon on a computer screen. The more times they pump, the more money they get. But they lose it all if they explode the balloon. Cautious people invariably quit far short of the breaking point. People who are angry when they take the test tend to inflate the balloon further, accepting on more risk but accumulating more money.

Still, Statman isn’t claiming that members of fringe political parties will make the best investors. He points out that day traders, many of whom are motivated in part by anger at their former stock brokers, haven’t done very well over the long haul. Research shows, he writes, that “Twice as many day traders lost money as made money.”

The lesson here is that investors will do best when they understand their emotions and govern them; and when they rely on knowledge and deep analysis to guide their investment decisions.

Statman’s book won’t be published until Nov. 19. In the meantime, you can check out his blog.

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September 23rd, 2010

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IBM employees are curious. We try to seek out relationships that lead to expanding our knowledge in exciting areas of innovation and thought. When we engage with experts from outside our company, we take the time to listen, the time to think, we ask questions. Sometimes we find ourselves in these situations where – if we approach with respect and an open ear – we afford ourselves the opportunity to collaborate, to further the conversation, to build valuable relationships. We are a global network of experts seeking to further our innovative insight through our innate curiosity, our collaborative nature, and our respect for the work and achievements of others.

As an example of this, a handful of IBMers over the last few years have visited the MIT SENSEable City Laboratory in Cambridge Massachusetts to meet with the students and faculty members there, and to learn about some of the innovative projects they have underway. Just as IBM has been exploring how to make our cities more instrumented, interconnected and intelligent, the folks at MIT have been investigating and testing their own ideas in a number of cities over the last 6 years. Their projects are fascinating.

One project from the SENSEable Cities Lab that has caught the eye of many IBMers over the past few years is called Trash Track. In a nutshell, this project involved attaching RFID tags to everyday garbage items so that the geographic movement of the trash could be tracked for up to a year depending on variables. An Internet of Things project of sorts based on Location Awareness, with mapping, analytics, and ultimately analysis of the tags as attached to their hosts traveling about — glass, metals, plastics, organic waste etc — this project provided unique and surprising lessons for all involved.

In hearing about this project, IBM Fellow John Cohn agreed to take a trip to the MIT campus — his alma mater — to participate in a discussion with SENSEable Cities Associate Director Assaf Biderman to learn more about Trash Track. This video is the result of that trip, and some of the things we learned that day.


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SJP at Gridwise

Energy in America — and the world in general — doesn’t meet the tests of a true system. For one thing, today’s energy landscape is not truly connected.  Second, many of the components and subsystems are not instrumented, or they are instrumented differently from region to region. And, finally, our current energy system is not as adaptable.  This is the gist of the call to action being delivered today at the GridWise Global Forum in Washington by IBM Chairman and CEO Samuel J. Palmisano.

It is a message that cannot be heard and acted on soon enough.  Demand for electricity is forecast to grow by 33% in the next 20 years. In Asia that number soars to 100%. One of the drivers behind this growth is technology innovation such as electric vehicles (EV). Chevrolet, Nissan, Toyota and others are all rolling out electric vehicles for mass-market consumption.  The U.S. government is spending billions to get one million electric or hybrid vehicles on the road by 2015. EVs represent a major step forward in cutting our greenhouse gas emissions, but only if our power grids can keep pace.

The current electric grid is complex, aging and increasingly overextended. Eisenhower-era transformers and moon-shot era meters are connected to outdated communications networks. These are all issues we’ve addressed here on this blog for the past two years. Fortunately, utility companies are already working to transform their systems. Upgrades are being implemented that allow electricity to flow in two directions and accept power produced by businesses and consumers. Part of this transformation is the communication infrastructure. Today we announced new consulting, design and implementation services that combine with network technology from industry partners to help utilities transform their communications networks and make the transition from traditional to “smart” grids.

IBM’s experience with more than 150 smart grid projects was applied to this offering, shaping a portfolio of services that will help companies create secure and scalable infrastructures integrated from the data center all the way to the sensor or smart meter. Part of IBM’s Intelligent Utility Network solution, these services are supported by partners ADVA Optical Networking, Alvarion, Ciena, Cisco, Itron North America, Juniper Networks, Landis & Gyr North America, Motorola, RuggedCom, Sensus and Trilliant.

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Monti_MarcoThe powerful emotions of fear and greed have played havoc with markets throughout history–helping to create bubbles and crashes. Spurred by strong feelings that often trump rationality, individual investors too often buy high and sell low. And, since people also  fall prey to the herd instinct, millions of  individual emotional reactions combine to create massive market phenomena capable of destroying many trillions of dollars in wealth and crippling economies. The global economic crisis of 2008/2009 is a dramatic and still hurtful example of fear and greed at work.

So how can we humans get smarter about investing? Through a combination of analytics and data visualization. Marco Monti, an Italian scientist who was hired by IBM in July, is developing methods that investment advisers can use to help investors make wiser long-term decisions. “Technology will allow us to develop a better understanding of behaviors and the role of emotions like greed and fear,” says Monti. “I hope we’ll be able to help common people who are not experts understand that those emotions should be considered over a long perspective. They shouldn’t be a cause for impulsive action.”

Monti does applied research for IBM’s analytics consulting business. He’s a specialist in cognitive sciences and the psychology of decision making with a Ph.D in economics from Bocconi University, in Milan. Through a pre-IBM project, Cognitive Banking, which he led as a post-doc for the Max Planck Institute in Germany, Monti established that if investment advisors had a better understanding of the needs of different kinds of investors and the most effective ways of communicating with them, they could improve decision making and investment outcomes.

Now he’s combining data visualization techniques with other analytical tools to come up with ways of using visualization to get through to people with different levels of financial sophistication. “You can use a more metaphorical language for people with low skills and more statistical visualization techniques for more sophisticated people,” he says.

It’s interesting–and encouraging–that the the power of vision can be used to overcome the powerful motivators of greed and fear.

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Source:, Wikimedia Commons

Source:, Wikimedia Commons

One of the most important trends of the past decade was the emergence of India, China, Brazil, and Russia–the so-called BRICs–as the major growth engines for the global economy. Sub-Saharan Africa, with the exception of South Africa,  has been left behind. But a major deal involving India’s Bharti Group and IBM, announced on Sept. 17, signals the potential for a major shift in Africa’s economic fortunes. Among other things, it likely will hasten the spread of affordable mobile phone services to millions of people who today can’t easily make or receive a phone call. Bharti has hired IBM to integrate and run IT operations for the mobile phone services in 16 African countries that it bought from Kuwait’s Zain for $9 billion in February. They include operations in Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda, Tanzania and Ghana.

IBM and Bharti have a history together. They established an outsourcing and business transformation relationship in India starting in 2004, and IBM has helped Bharti grow from 6 million subscribers there to more than 150 million–becoming the No. 1 mobile carrier. The arrangement gives Bharti a cost structure that makes it possible to charge among the lowest service rates in the world. “This is a tried and tested platform, and it’s a springboard into Africa,” says Craig Holmes, IBM’s communications sector sales executive for the Middle East and Africa.

Bharti is competing head-to-head with MTN, the African continent’s leading mobile service provider. There are abundant opportunities for both companies to flourish, since the penetration of mobile phones in Africa is less than 40% but is growing at 25% per year, according to a study by Deloitte.

Lower prices will improve affordability, but Bharti is doing much more to hasten adoption. For one thing, it plans on rolling out technology called Spoken Web, which was developed by IBM researchers in India. Spoken Web makes it possible for illiterate people and those who don’t have access to a computer to use the Internet to buy and sell goods and services via voice-enabled Web sites. “One of the reasons for the successful partnership of IBM and Bharti in India was Bharti’s willingness to engage with IBM Research and bring its innovations into practical offerings,” says Holmes.

Holmes also expects Bharti to enable mobile payment and micro-credit services in Africa–which will provide fundamental banking opportunities for many people who don’t have them now.

I’ve been watching Bharti’s efforts to establish a foothold in Africa for the past few years. Now that it’s there, you can expect major changes to come rapidly–and for the better.

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IBM’s @smarterplanet will be hosting a Twitterstorm on Monday, September 20, from 12 – 1 pm PT.

This one-hour conversation will feature Andy Bochman, one of IBM’s smart grid experts and an active blogger on the subject of smart grid, smart grid security and electric vehicles.  Andy will be discussing various topics associated with the smart grid and electric vehicles (EVs) including:

  • What are the top challenges we face with the increased use of electric cars?
  • How will a ‘smarter’ power grid support the growth of the EV industry?
  • What type of infrastructure will we need in our communities to support powering EVs?
  • How do we afford to build our infrastructure when EVs aren’t widely available yet – or sell the cars when the infrastructure to power them doesn’t exist yet?
  • What advances in battery technology will help make EVs a reality? Can EV’s make better use of renewable energy sources like wind and solar?

Join the conversation by following @smarterplanet and tag your tweets #IBMgrid.

Andy Bochman is the energy security lead for IBM’s Rational division, where the focus is on securing the software that runs the Smart Grid.  Andy is a contributor to industry and national security working groups on energy security and cyber security. He lives in Boston, is an active member of the MIT Energy Club, and is the founder of the Smart Grid Security and DOD Energy Blogs.  Follow Andy at @sgsblog.

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September 15th, 2010

Grevy's Zebra

Is it black with white stripes, or white with black stripes?

While that debate continues, what matters the most is that those stripes are like human finger prints, each pattern is unique to the individual. The ability to identify individual zebras when combined with information from herdsman and other environmental data may actually save the Grevy’s zebra from extinction.

Every 20 minutes, the world adds another 3,500 human lives, but loses one or more entire species of animal or plant life — at least 27,000 species per year.

Fewer than 2,500 Grevy’s Zebras, also know as the imperial zebra are left in the wilds of Kenya and Ethiopia. Hunting and destruction of habitat are the two leading causes of the dramatic reduction in numbers over the past decade. The UK’s Marwell Wildlife wants to change those numbers and is turning to a rather unusual partner for zebra conservation –IBM analytics software.

With the numbers of Grevy’s zebra declining rapidly the ability to understand what is happening to the animals in the wild is critical to their long term survival. Marwell Wildlife is conducting an innovative research program that combines the input and insights from herders on animal behavior and environmental conditions, aerial surveys, camera traps and radio collars.

Using predictive analytics, Marwell is able analyze this vast amounts of diverse information collected, spotting trends and patterns as they emerge. The result is a more detailed understanding of the challenges the zebras face and ultimately the ability to identify the threats to the species and make more educated decisions on conservation resources and funding.

Kenya’s northern rangelands are home to an array of endangered and migratory wildlife, including African wild dogs, elephants and the largest contiguous population of Grevy’s zebra in existence, all living alongside human pastoralist communities. This close proximity can pose threats to wildlife as competition for water and grazing resources, habitat degradation and poaching can occur. IBM predictive analytics software is helping Marwell achieve the necessary broad-scale approaches to biodiversity conservation that take into account the needs of people and wildlife alike.

The Marwell Wildlife story is just one example of how organizations around the world are using analytics to unlock the power of their data. During day 8 at the IBM Summit at Start attendees will investigate how we can start to tap into the full potential of information and analytics for projects like Marwell that help build a smarter more sustainable planet.

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