Skip to main content

Public Engagement

Collaborating for
societal progress

More and more, as IBM pursues its Smarter Planet agenda, we are finding that technology, for all its power and sophistication, is the easy part. The greater challenges lie in the realms of society and public policy.


In seeking to build and transform the business and societal systems by which our planet works, IBM is deeply engaged with many of the most urgent issues facing the world today. In this, we are necessarily drawn into deep collaboration across civil society—working with lawmakers, regulators, public officials and civic leaders and contributing our expertise, experience and perspective.

As we do so, we have learned that none of the enormous potential of a smarter planet for growth and progress will be realized if its systems do not improve the vibrancy of communities and the lives of individual citizens. Indeed, from traveler-centric transportation, to consumer-centric electric power, to student-centric education… to the systems by which we manage food, water, shelter and public safety… the individual is the key design point for optimizing a smarter system.

Forward-thinking leaders understand this, and are pursuing it in cities, governments and enterprises around the world. Three key dimensions of IBM’s engagement with these leaders are described in this section: developing patient-centric healthcare; helping to build privacy and security into the critical systems of the planet, by design; and shaping smarter, citizen-centric cities for the 21st century.



IBM takes an active interest in the future of healthcare for a number of reasons. We do nearly $4 billion in healthcare business every year. We also employ physicians, nurses, industrial hygienists, safety and health benefit professionals whose primary focus is the health, safety and well-being of IBM employees worldwide. But most importantly, we understand that healthy, productive people are good for society and good for the economy.

For the last two years, IBM has been actively promoting its vision of smarter healthcare, in which information technology is used to help increase efficiency, reduce costs, and improve outcomes. We believe modernization of this kind is a critical step toward better healthcare. IBMers have appeared before government committees studying the future of healthcare, demonstrating smarter healthcare success stories, explaining our approach to providing employee health plans, and advocating the concept of the patient-centered medical home, which strengthens the role of the primary care physician as a coordinator of care.

But our involvement in healthcare policy extends well beyond these more visible issues. For example, over the last year a leading IBM physician scientist has been participating in a study committee of the Institute of Medicine (IOM), the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences, to examine ways in which the public health system in the United States can be strengthened. The committee will produce three consensus reports over the next three years, and will develop recommendations on funding mechanisms, legal and regulatory authority, and quantitative assessment approaches.

In addition, an IBMer worked with the IOM on a recently completed comprehensive study of hepatitis and liver cancer. And IBM endeavors to share our learning and best practices as widely as possible. For example, IBM was the only private enterprise invited to a conference at the China Europe International Business School in Shanghai to present our position on the importance of primary care in healthcare reform in China.

Electron Micrograph of Hepatitis Virions*
5.3 million

people are living with chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) or hepatitis C virus (HCV) infections. Chronic viral hepatitis infections are three to five times more frequent than HIV in the United States.**


Privacy and Security

The vision of a smarter planet—one with systems that are instrumented, interconnected and intelligent—is fast becoming a reality. Already we see dynamic transportation systems that can monitor traffic patterns and adjust accordingly. We see electricity grids that can measure supply and demand and balance loads. And we see public safety systems that scan video feeds for potentially dangerous activity and alert authorities.

These developments represent the kind of progress that will improve life on this planet. But this progress does not come without the challenges that accompany other major technology-enabled transformations. One set of these challenges is privacy and security; the responsible handling of personal information and the protection of our planet’s critical infrastructure.

One way we advanced the security and privacy conversation was through IBM’s online collaborative brainstorming technology platform, including a global privacy risk program for process leaders that is supported by an on-demand self-assessment tool and database. In February 2010, we collaborated with Security & Defense Agenda, a U.K.-based nonprofit, to organize and host Security Jam, an international insight-gathering exercise that brought together experts in security and privacy to discuss everything from how security can be improved in an increasingly digital world, to how to define the reasonable expectations of privacy in the 21st century. The four-day session drew some of the most influential thinkers on the subject, from Admiral James Stavridis, NATO Supreme Allied Commander of Europe, to former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

And in March 2010, we announced the formation of an Institute for Advanced Security, which will help clients, academics, partners and other businesses understand, address and mitigate the complex, multidisciplinary issues associated with securing cyberspace. Based in Washington, D.C., the Institute will provide a collaborative environment for public and private sector officials worldwide to tap IBM’s vast security expertise to help them more efficiently and effectively secure and protect critical business information threatened by increasingly malicious and costly cyberthreats. Experts from across IBM will come together within the Institute to help clients address existing and emerging cybersecurity challenges by using analytics and other advanced technologies, services and solutions that can help anticipate, prevent and mitigate the growing risk and potential economic impact of cyberattacks.

Smarter Cybersecurity

For decades IBMers have drawn upon their technology and business expertise to inform and support progress on security issues. Most recently we have intensified our engagement with government and other leaders on the challenge of helping with security for critical infrastructures. We are responding to increased market demand for more secure technology and for security-enabling solutions. We have innovated new ways to help protect privacy even while extracting value out of growing amounts of data. And we are offering our counsel and expertise to legislators, regulators and colleagues in the industry concerned about the protection of citizens and national assets in the context of social values such as privacy and civil liberties; for example via IBMer participation in the United States Commission on Cybersecurity for the 44th Presidency.



The popularity of cities has never been greater than it is today. For the first time ever, more than half of the global population lives in cities. By 2050, that urban population will double. We are adding the equivalent of seven New York Cities to the planet every year. And this urbanization is putting terrific strain on the systems that facilitate life in our cities.

Last year 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, we held nearly 100 Smarter Cities Forums, attended by more than 2,000 leaders, to build collaboration among all urban stakeholders. Included in these were two regional forums—in Berlin in June and New York City in October.

In Berlin, IBM brought together more than 340 high-level clients from across 130 cities and 30 different countries to discuss how to make our cities more instrumented, interconnected and intelligent. Speakers from 13 countries shared 28 case studies on how they are setting new standards, pioneering new innovations and transforming the complex systems that make up our cities.


City Forward

A unique online destination that brings together all of the key stakeholders in different cities, presents meaningful urban data, and invites open discussion.

Citites, Corporations, Citizens, Data and content providers, Nonprofits, Subject matter experts, Media, Governmental agencies

In New York, in collaboration with leaders from The Partnership for New York City, the City University of New York, the Brookings Institution, and other organizations from the public, private and voluntary sectors, IBM convened 550 high-level executives from more than 185 cities in 25 countries. More than 60 speakers and breakout leaders presented 28 case studies on different aspects of how the global economy is shaping up as a competition among the world’s cities, regardless of their location, for talent, investment, and influence.

IBM plans to continue these dialogues in 2010, including another Smarter Cities regional forum in June in Shanghai held in conjunction with that city’s Expo.

In October 2009, IBM brought together hundreds of leaders from around the world for Smarter Cities, New York, to discuss how our cities work, and how to make them work better.

To further these dialogues, IBM is building City Forward, an online space for long-term discussion among city officials, citizens, and subject matter experts that can use a free, public tool for visualizing and analyzing city data.

Recent efforts by cities worldwide to make their data public have created an unprecedented opportunity to derive new insight into how cities work—and how they might work better. City Forward is a suite of advanced IBM data tools, running as a cloud service, that permits easy comparison and analysis of these public sets of information.

Naturally, insights into how cities work generate conversation; conversation that can lead to collaboration. City Forward is also a community space where leaders and citizens can interact and determine steps toward transforming their cities—all informed by the underlying data.

City Forward is a donation of technology and services to city residents worldwide. It can be found at

Smarter Cities New York

In October 2009, IBM brought together hundreds of leaders from around the world to discuss how our cities work, and how to make them work better.

“The 2010s will be a decade of reckoning for American cities and metropolitan areas. Given the lessons of the Great Recession, they will need to build economies that are export-oriented, low-carbon, innovation-fueled and opportunity-rich. They must address the challenges of a nation that is simultaneously growing, aging and diversifying. And the geography of economic, social and environmental realities will require new ways to govern across traditional city and suburban borders and specialized disciplines. To thrive, cities and metros will need federal and state governments to lead where they must. But the hard work will be done at home, through new kinds of partnerships among the public, corporate, university and civic sectors. To this end, the potential of data and technology to drive smart decisions—on transport, energy, public safety and growth generally—is limitless and largely untapped. The next decade is a time to ‘get smart.’”
Bruce Katz VP & Director, Metropolitan
Policy Program, the Brookings Institution
New York, New York
Next Section: Letter from the Chairman