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IBM's brave new mission

Warren Wilson | Oct. 9, 2009
As overpopulation, resource scarcity and climate change spark conflict around the globe, IBMs exercise in thought leadership could well position it as the go-to company for solutions that turn the solving of social problems into a multi-billion-dollar business.

To do that, a gap in standards must be filled so that these disparate systems can interoperate. The topic is too broad and complex to be addressed in any detail in such a short conference. Still, it would have added a great deal of value if the agenda had included a panel representing the major industries, their standards bodies and key government agencies to at least sketch the landscape and identify the most important areas for early action. Various speakers acknowledged the role of government in filling the standards gap, but that was as far as the discussion went. IBM shouldnt just add this to the next conference agenda, it should take the initiative to launch and guide this standards-development process.

IBM is motivated by opportunity, not merely by altruism

On one level, the Smarter Cities and Smarter Planet initiatives amount to no more than putting a common label on scores of projects already on IBMs business agenda. But its more than that. By helping to identify the problems and by articulating ITs role in solving them, IBM is accelerating the growth of a broad, diverse, and lucrative emerging market. Its a market that IBM is well positioned to lead few if any other companies have IBMs combination of product and services skills across both technology and multiple business sectors but that doesnt mean it can, or wants to, go it alone.

Far from it. Ultimately, tens of thousands of private- and public-sector organizations representing hundreds of industries will participate: energy companies, healthcare companies, educational institutions, vehicle manufacturers, construction and engineering firms, and more. What IBM has recognized and the message it is evangelizing on behalf of all IT companies, not just itself is that IT has a critical role to play in optimizing the operation of each of these systems, and is the glue required to link all of them together. The glue market will be far too large for any single IT company to dominate, and will prove lucrative for many. IBM simply wants to be the tide that lifts all boats including its own, as the flagship of the fleet.

Warren Wilson is Research Director, Ovum Summit.


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