IBM CEO's challenge: Get smart or get left behind

In an address to business executives in London, IBM CEO Sam Palmisano outlines the real progress being made on smart planet initiatives around the world and challenges companies, communities and countries to start acting smarter.
Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor

IBM CEO Sam Palmisano gave his latest speech on the company's smart planet vision this week during a meeting at the Chatham House in London, which is affiliated with the Royal Institute of International Affairs.

So, I know that he probably spoke for many many minutes, but the crux of his speech is this: with a year of major turmoil, indecision and cost-cutting behind us, it is time to stop talking about how we can be smart and start acting that way.

First off, let me pause and acknowledge the fact that IBM is a major financial supporter of the Smart Planet blog site, although NOT to write about Palmisano's latest vision around smart planet would just be an unforgivable omission. So, I wanted to mention a few highlights, although you can find the full text of Palmisano's remarks here.

Last year, Palmisano told the Chatham House audience that he challenged IBM teams to come up with 300 "smarter solutions" for industries, transportation, utility management -- solutions that would reduce waste, improve efficiency and raise the quality of products and services. IBM actually has 1,200 such pilots or projects going on around the world and it is starting to gather some data about the impact of these and other smart planet "pioneer" projects.

For example, the roughly 439 cities using technology to help address, solve or at least monitor traffic congesting are saving an average of $15 million on delays, gasoline usage and so on. The use of public transportation is up 7 percent in these cities, while carbon dioxide emissions are down by 14 percent. Tell me that your city wouldn't benefit from something to address the traffic? I live in the New York metro area. Nuff said.

Palmisano also reported that a year-long study by the Department of Energy Pacific Northwest Laboratory has found that consumers using smart meter systems cut their power use by an average of 15 percent during peak hours. What utility company wouldn't want consumers to voluntarily cut their usage, rather than having to institute rolling brownouts?

Progressive leaders, whether they are city mayors, governors or business executives, can get smarter by following these Palmisano suggestions:

  • Don't mandate cultural change, inspire it. Work from the top down and from the bottom up.
  • Gather proof. Test your ideas with pilots, present the data and move forward from there.
  • Get used to collaborating. The budgets to PAY for the technology infrastructure driving smart planet solutions won't come from one place, which means you need buy-in across an entire organization, community or supply chain ecosystem.

I'll leave with one final Palmisano thought, which I found particularly refreshing, which I pulled from the text of his prepared remarks:

"Building a smarter planet is realistic precisely because it is so refreshingly non-ideological. Yes, debates will continue to rage on many contentious issues in our society—from energy, to security, to climate change, to healthcare, to the economy. Yes, we will surely continue to deliberate, for some time to come, over the role of government, of the private sector, of the new constituencies emerging across civil society. There are serious and worthy perspectives on all sides of these controversies. But no matter which viewpoint one shares ... the system that results will need to be smarter."

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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