Instrumented Interconnecteds Intelligent

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by Steve O’Donnell, Chairman of Greenbang

As the city of London gets ready to host the 2012 Olympics, citizens around the world will witness great examples of sustainability — examples not just confined to big venues in big communities.

Olympic Stadium, the primary venue for the Games’ 17 days, was built with reclaimed granite coping stones and zero-waste packaging for the seating. To make this type of stadium even possible, its construction adhered to the “reduce, reuse and recycle” approach combined with smart IT and city-scale investments.

Recent advances in technology have made it possible to mine vast quantities of seemingly unrelated data with analytics to obtain valuable insights into behaviors, opportunities to eliminate waste and increase the application of sustainability seen in the building of the Olympic Stadium on smaller scale projects.

For example, the Desert Mountain golf community is teaming with the city of Scottsdale to reduce its water consumption.  Also, the resource recovery company Recology is teaming with the city of San Francisco to further reduce the use of landfill for trash disposal.

Other sustainability initiatives enabled by these data insights are helping to improve traffic flow, fuel economy in cities and cut the energy requirements of our homes and offices.

These sustainability initiatives are a fantastic use of human ingenuity for the good of society that makes me proud to be involved in the technology industry.

The adage “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it” is most relevant in sustainability. Many well-meaning initiatives fail to deliver benefits because of the unintended, or unmanaged, consequences of our behaviors. The use of smart technology involves combining the outputs of countless probes and instruments with other data such as weather forecasts, scheduled times for major usage events, historical usage patterns and other real-time and historical sources to provide immediate, closed-loop controls and enable smart decisions.

A great example is in agriculture, where moisture probes measure and control the exact amount of water to route to a crop and decide not to irrigate if it is raining, perhaps even delaying irrigation if rain is forecast for later in the day. Our use of technology in the past has often led us to relying on over-simplistic automated systems that are unable to deal with exceptions (e.g. irrigating while it is raining).

Sustainable thinking is lean. It drives out waste and unnecessary steps, and drives better business. Research shows that businesses that place sustainability high on the agenda out-perform the competition, have happier, more contented staff and offer a better customer experience.

Sustainability is a grass roots issue. Although we need national government and big business to do their part, there is a significant opportunity for small communities and small and medium businesses to participate and reap the environmental and cost benefits of getting smarter.  For example, buildings are the world’s largest consumer of electricity at 42 percent of total consumption. Most buildings are constructed and occupied by mid-sized business or small communities. It is in this localized segment that the most work needs to be done.

For instance, although there are many transnational logistics firms, most passenger and freight transport is regional. Smaller organizations need to optimize their operations just as much as their larger competitors. Smart IT has a role to play here, monitoring fuel efficiency, driver behavior and performing real-time route optimization.

Not so long ago, the big data tools, the skills, the instrumentation and the analytics used by major league corporate players were well out of reach for smaller communities and mid-scale business. That is no longer true.

These tools and skills have filtered down and are now becoming commonplace, supported by local Managed Service Providers, Systems Integrators and Specialists who can deliver really smart solutions. Small scale trash collection firms, process flow manufacturers, logistics and trucking businesses are leveraging local, independently-managed firms with local skills and smart technology to be sustainable and win against the competition — large, medium or small.

Smarter Planet just went local.

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11 Comments
 
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July 9, 2012
6:04 pm

Hi Steve,

Thankyou for this post – a really interesting and insightful contribution. I should say at this point that I work for IBM, but that the following comments are my own.

I couldn’t agree more with your thought that we have the opportunity – and I would say the imperative – to apply the Smarter principle locally; especially in urban areas, where most of us live at the highest density.

The paradox of urban living is that whilst more and more of us live and work more closely together in physical terms, proximity alone doesn’t necessarily mean that we interact, or are aware of the opportunities for meaningful, local transactions with each other.

Technology provides the opportunity to address that. By instrumenting some of the systems you’ve discussed, the opportunity for local interactions can be identified; social media and similar techologies can then help to carry out those transactions – I blogged about that recently here http://theurbantechnologist.com/2012/04/26/virtualisation-is-bringing-us-back-together/

The other current development that fascinates me in this regard is the emergence of local currencies and trading systems. These provide the opportunity not just to carry out local transactions with the potential for economic, social and environmental optimisation; but to use each such transaction to create the incentive for further, similar transactions. Some thoughts on that and relevant links here: http://theurbantechnologist.com/2012/07/05/could-the-future-of-money-be-city-currencies/

I think the opportunity to combine Smarter Planet and localism has terrific potential to help cities and regions address the challenges they are facing. Thanks again for a great post on the topic.

Cheers,

Rick Robinson, Executive Architect, IBM


Posted by: Rick Robinson
 
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