IBM to city municipals: we’re experienced SIs

July 5th, 2010 | by Chan Chi-Loong

In the past, when I went to one of IBM’s Smarter Planet events I found it hard to write something and distill the message for readers.

At the back of my brain was always this burning question: Just what is IBM selling here? I have difficulty connecting their really big picture green IT story to what they do as a technology company.

Let me set the context and take a short detour to explain why. I’m better known as a technology journalist-blogger hybrid, but I worked for a very brief time at the Centre for Liveable Cities in Singapore. In that short stint I gained an appreciation of the complex problems facing cities.

Different cities face different problems, depending on how developed a city is. A developed megalopolis like New York or Tokyo will face vastly different challenges than say, Hanoi, Vietnam or Sao Paulo, Brazil. And this is only one one aspect of a city. Culturally, economically, politically, every city is different and will have different issues.

For IBM to say that they have a technology solution — which is about intelligent instrumentation — to almost all the myriad problems facing a host of different cities is too broad for me to swallow.

Governments cannot even agree on how to tackle which problems first, and the message is that a technology company like IBM knows how to tackle them, across so many areas in all geographies? I don’t buy this message.

I am a neophyte in city sustainability issues, but I have been exposed to various forums and events and met city municipals from US, India and Vietnam, and their challenges are all different. For example, slum management in Delhi is a world away from transport issues in New York.

The experts are local city municipals, then the multi-national forums. Examples include ICLEI (International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives), CDIA (City Development Initiative of Asia) and UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme), just to name a few. These folks are the true experts.

So when I went for their recent IBM Smarter Planet media roundtable at the World Cities Summit 2010 in Singapore last week, I angled for a sharper message — basically my job as a writer — and this is what I got.

Basically, IBM is an experienced SI that have done much consulting with governments, and thus they can help with city problems. Key areas include transport, healthcare and public safety.

And they do this through consulting and some of their product lines which offer smart instrumentation and analysis — e.g. business intelligence tool Cognos. Their huge global business services division, plus their big research capabilities, are huge assets for governments to consider.

An example of a solution in Asia is their work with Singapore’s Land Transport Authority on traffic congestion. IBM’s solution was built with IBM software (e.g. WebSphere for transaction messaging), hardware (e.g. IBM Power 570 and 520 servers), and of course IBM consultancy.

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