Global CIO: IBM CEO Palmisano Challenges IT Industry Via Smarter Planet 2

Palmisano raises the bar for IT companies by pushing the intelligent potential of IT far beyond products and services.
"As Terry's experience shows, when it comes to culture, you need to work both from the top down and the bottom up," Palmisano said in setting up this anecdote. "That's also what Patricia Graham, CIO of CenterPoint Energy in Houston, did. She understood that many roles throughout CenterPoint were going to change—and many employees had no idea what automated metering was. So she didn't just issue a mandate from on high. She began interacting with the workers in the field—"the guys who own the meters," as she put it—engaging them in the proof of concept, in brainstorming and in focus groups. Today, CenterPoint is reading its meters every 15 minutes, as opposed to once a month."

Question: Make a list of five intractable obstacles your company faces in acquiring and acting upon better and more-timely information. Propose what outcome you'd like to have and tell your IT suppliers you need them to come up with a strong solution. If they say they can't, then isn't it time to find some new key suppliers? Isn't it time to pump up the intelligence?

Palmisano also emphasized that whatever our data-volume challenges might be today, the rise of these trillions of computational devices means that those challenges are only going to intensify—so the need for applying more intelligence is paramount.

"It's logical, isn't it?" asked Palmisano. "All of this pervasive instrumentation enhances our ability to sense and capture what is actually happening in any given system. Where we once inferred, we now know. Where we once interpolated and extrapolated, we can now determine. The historical is giving way to the real-time. "We are amassing an unimaginable amount of data in the world. In just three years, IP traffic is expected to total more than half a zettabyte. (That's a trillion gigabytes—or a 1 followed by 21 zeroes.)"

And to be sure, in such a world stuffed with ubiquitous intelligent devices snatching unfathomable volumes of data being crunced by phenomenally powerful analytical engines, our sense of privacy will come under assault. Palmisano put it this way:

"But with that promise come some disquieting implications. That's the final learning of the past year. Consider two of the more obvious ones: privacy and security. Cameras here in London and in Chicago can help alert police and other first responders to emergencies far faster and more precisely than ever before. That saves lives. But, as you know, some citizens have expressed discomfort at living in… not a safer society, but a 'surveillance society.'

"You may have read an article a few years ago that reported that the London flat in which George Orwell wrote "1984"—and introduced all of us to Big Brother—has 32 closed-circuit cameras within 200 yards, scanning every move. They weren't there to watch his flat, of course. They're scanning traffic and providing security for businesses. Stil, the irony—and the potential concern—are self-evident.

"Yes, people like lower crime—less traffic, shorter queues, better health and all the other benefits of smarter systems. But they may be increasingly uncomfortable having so much information known about them. Who has all this data? What will they do with it? Do I trust them? Is it secure?"

Good questions. Let's make sure we all come up with intelligent answers.


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Link to text and video of Palmisano's speech

GlobalCIO Bob Evans is senior VP and director of InformationWeek's Global CIO unit.

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