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IBM CEO Sam Palmisano Talks With Global CIO

In a rare and exclusive interview, the man who transformed IBM speaks out on business analytics, cloud computing, and the emerging Smarter Planet.
First, our world is becoming instrumented: The transistor, invented 60 years ago, is the basic building block of the digital age. Now, consider a world in which there are a billion transistors per human, each one costing one ten-millionth of a cent. We'll have that by 2010. There will likely be 4 billion mobile phone subscribers by the end of this year… and 30 billion Radio Frequency Identification tags produced globally within two years. Sensors are being embedded across entire ecosystems—supply-chains, healthcare networks, cities… even natural systems like rivers.

Second, our world is becoming interconnected: Very soon there will be 2 billion people on the Internet. But in an instrumented world, systems and objects can now "speak" to one another, too. Think about the prospect of a trillion connected and intelligent things—cars, appliances, cameras, roadways, pipelines… even pharmaceuticals and livestock. The amount of information produced by the interaction of all those things will be unprecedented.

Third, all things are becoming intelligent: New computing models can handle the proliferation of end-user devices, sensors and actuators and connect them with back-end systems. Combined with advanced analytics, those supercomputers can turn mountains of data into intelligence that can be translated into action, making our systems, processes and infrastructures more efficient, more productive and responsive—in a word, smarter.

Armed with those capabilities, IBM is competing for opportunities set forth in the federal stimulus plan that total about $28 billion in health care IT, smart grids, and broadband—opportunities that Palmisano said have the potential to create between 1 million and 1.2 million jobs in this country in those three broad industries.

"The strategy's working," he said in Armonk last week. "We have hundreds of reference customers around Smarter Planet. And the stimulus is helping as well," he added, underscoring his comment about the potential to boost employment for up to 1.2 million workers by saying, "You can count the jobs. It's very defensible."

As I reflected on the rapid-fire flow of Palmisano's ideas during the interview regarding where IBM has been and where he intends to take it, I looked back again to the speech he gave one year ago tomorrow and in particular to a couple of excerpts that capture the essence of the strategy Palmisano has woven out of a vision where the world is headed, a clear sense of what services and products will be needed to get there, and his own sense of the profound changes that our technologically driven world is already coping with.

So in closing, whether you're a CIO or a CEO or a plumber or a teacher, these next few paragraphs from Palmisano's year-ago speech to the Council on Foreign Relations should give you plenty to think about as we all move forward into the more-intelligent world we're creating; as our companies compete and strive for competitive advantage in a challenging global economy; and as we consider that the future we're creating and the decisions we're making today will no doubt result in lots of unexpected consequences:

What this means is that the digital and physical infrastructures of the world are converging. Computational power is being put into things we wouldn't recognize as computers. Indeed, almost anything—any person, any object, any process or any service, for any organization, large or small—can become digitally aware and networked.

With so much technology and networking abundantly available at such low cost, what wouldn't you enhance? What service wouldn't you provide a customer, citizen, student or patient? What wouldn't you connect? What information wouldn't you mine for insight?

The answer is, you or your competitor—another company, or another city or nation—will do all of that. You will do it because you can—the technology is available and affordable. . . .

There is much serious work ahead of us, as leaders and as citizens. Together, we have to consciously infuse intelligence into our decision-making and management systems… not just infuse our processes with more speed and capacity.

But I think one thing is clear: The world will continue to become smaller, flatter… and smarter. We are moving into the age of the globally integrated and intelligent economy, society and planet. The question is, what will we do with that?

Recommended Reading:

Global CIO: Sam Palmisano's Grand Strategy For IBM

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

To find out more about Bob Evans, please visit his page.

For more Global CIO perspectives, check out Global CIO,
or write to Bob at [email protected].

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