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Icons of Progress

Smarter Planet


In the fall of 2008, in the midst of a global economic crisis, IBM began a conversation with the world about the promise of a smarter planet and a new strategic agenda for progress and growth.

During a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York City on November 6 of that year, IBM Chairman and CEO Sam Palmisano outlined the premise of a smarter planet and the coming of age of a whole new generation of intelligent systems and technologies—more powerful and accessible than ever before.

In the same way that the Hubble Space Telescope changed 400 years of thinking about the physical universe, the infusion of intelligence into society’s systems was changing the way the world works. In his speech, Palmisano painted a picture of a world made up of a trillion connected and intelligent things, and the oceans of data they produce.

IBM’s Smarter Planet vision was driven by three I’s—instrumentation, interconnectedness and intelligence. It showed a way for industries, infrastructures, processes, cities and entire societies to be more productive, efficient and responsive—particularly as many economies around the world were slowing and governments were looking for ways to rebuild their infrastructure.

IBM believed there was an opportunity to address the problems and challenges that were gripping the world. This was a world IBM saw becoming more intelligent before its eyes—from smarter power grids, to smarter food systems, smarter water, smarter healthcare and smarter traffic systems. Computational power was being infused into things no one would recognize as computers—phones, cars, roads, power lines, waterways and food crates. And with more information and data being captured than ever before, sophisticated analytics and algorithms were being developed that could make sense of it all.

Smarter Planet became the overarching framework for IBM’s growth strategy, and it prompted forward-thinking leaders and citizens around the world to consider innovative ideas such as traveler-centric transportation, consumer-centric electric power, and intelligent systems for managing healthcare, water, public safety and food.

Within just a year after IBM’s Smarter Planet initiative was launched, hundreds of IBM clients seized upon new capabilities to build smarter systems, and began achieving measurable benefits for their companies, communities and cities.

In Spain, eight hospitals and 470 primary care clinics implemented smarter healthcare systems across their facilities—and improved clinical results and operational efficiency by up to 10 percent. In a study of 439 cities, those that employed smarter transportation solutions reduced travel delays on average by more than 700,000 hours daily. And four leading retailers reduced supply chain costs by up to 30 percent, reduced inventory levels by up to 25 percent, and increased sales by up to 10 percent by analyzing customer buying behaviors, aligning merchandizing assortments with demand and building end-to-end visibility across their entire supply chain.

In 2009, IBM launched its Smarter Cities campaign, a comprehensive approach to helping cities run more efficiently, save money and resources, and improve the quality of life for citizens. Throughout 2009, IBM held nearly 100 Smarter Cities Forums around the world, attended by thousands of leaders, who gathered to explore ways in which they could transform the complex systems that facilitate life in cities, including making optimal use of all the interconnected information available.

IBM knew that in order to help cities tackle thorny challenges—from traffic congestion, to energy use, to the building of sustainable communities—a new set of skills would be required. So in 2010, it began working with colleges and universities to help give students access to technologies and training to learn new skills and help put them to work in cities around the world.

These collaborations and the strategy are paying off for IBM. In 2010, IBM’s Smarter Planet initiative generated US$3 billion in revenue and double-digit growth from more than 6000 client engagements. And more than 25 percent of work at IBM ® Research was on Smarter Planet projects, which IBM is in the process of doubling to 50 percent, in areas such as mobile web, nanotechnology, stream computing, analytics and cloud.

On January 12, 2010, Sam Palmisano kicked off the new year and decade with a follow-up speech at Chatham House in London, England called “The Decade of Smart,” in which he highlighted dozens of initiatives.

“The questions we are hearing are no longer about whether the technology to build a smarter planet is real,” Palmisano said. “Now, there is an enormous hunger to learn how to get smarter operations up and running.”

And then during 2010, the Smarter Planet initiative evolved into a multiplatform strategy involving marketing and sales channels, research and other disciplines, promoting the way in which IBM technology and know-how helps industry, government, transportation, energy, education, healthcare, cities, and other businesses work smarter and contribute to building a smarter planet.

IBM received several awards for its branding and marketing efforts around Smarter Planet, including a “Gold Global Effie” for the most effective global campaign, and PRWeek’s “Corporate Branding Campaign of the Year.”

In November 2010, leaders from businesses and government joined IBM for a Smarter Industries Symposium in Barcelona, Spain, to share their own stories of building a smarter planet. And IBM began focusing its efforts on helping clients harness the enormous potential from smarter technologies, solutions and business processes in 10 high-growth industries: healthcare; oil and gas; energy and utilities; transportation; telecommunications; retail; banking; government; and electronics.

Then, in 2011, as IBM continued to quantify the outcomes of hundreds of smarter systems—from “smarter buildings” with advanced intelligence for reducing energy use and improving operational efficiency to a “Smart Cape Cod” initiative that applies advanced technologies to help more efficiently manage and protect the region’s natural resources—leaders everywhere were eager for change and the opportunity to try something new.