Can the world’s largest information technology company, IBM, stay innovative and agile in the fastest of fast-moving sectors? My gut reaction is no, but Big Blue keeps proving me wrong. Take for instance the huge Innovation Jams run by the company that bring 150,000 employees, clients, and partners online to brainstorm the next best ideas. The latest Jam wrapped up in September, and CEO Samuel Palmisano has allocated $100 million to fund the 10 best ideas (out of an initial 46,000). A quick survey of the list demonstrates how IBM has remained an industry leader for 90-plus years; if even half of these new ideas succeed, they’ll be a leader for longer still:
• "Big Green" Innovations: Launching a new business unit in IBM that will focus on applying the company’s advanced expertise and technologies to emerging environmental opportunities, such as advanced water modeling, water filtration via nanotechnology and efficient solar power systems. My take: The biggest, most practical of idea of them all – put people, money, and managerial leeway into greening up sectors in which IBM has a stake. This is similar to GE’s Ecomagination strategy, and seems to be emerging as a model for what big, established firms can do to change the world – and make money doing it.
• Intelligent Utility Networks: Increasing the reliability and manageability of the world’s power grids by building in "intelligence" in the form of real-time monitoring, control, analysis, simulation and optimization. My take: This is one of the more near-term solutions that IBM has decided to support. It is a well-known fact that the United States’ electricity grid is hopelessly in need of improvements; the 2003 North America blackout was a stark reminder. Concentrating on grid management could not only reduce the risk of further blackouts but also open up grids for demand-response consumption and other green power sources.
• Branchless Banking for the Masses: Enabling existing and new financial institutions to profitably provide basic banking services (checking, savings, payments, microlending) to often remote, inaccessible populations in fast-growing emerging markets. My take: IBM is already behind the ball on this one, as the big banking firms are hard at work developing hardware and software to bring banking down market to the base of the pyramid. That said, it will be interesting to see if IBM can develop an industry standard that will allow ATMs and cell phones to interact (for example); my hunch is that mobile phones will be the banking platform of choice for the next billion customers.
• Integrated Mass Transit Information System: Establishing on-demand systems for integrating, managing and disseminating real-time data for all of a municipality’s or region’s transit systems, optimizing buses, rail, highways, waterways and airlines. My take: If they succeed, IBM could make public transit even easier to use. Think Google Transit on a much larger scale. Such an integrated system could enable cities to grow up, instead of out.
• Smart Healthcare Payment Systems: Overhauling healthcare payment and management systems through the use of small personal devices (such as smart cards) that will automatically trigger financial transactions, the processing of insurance claims and the updating of electronic health records. My take: The United States has one of the most inefficient health care systems in the world; administration eats up a huge chunk of money that could be put towards patient care and research instead. Don’t believe me? Then why do medical offices often have as many support staff as medical staff – processing hundreds of different types of insurance takes time and resources. This could cut fat without nationalizing the system.
• Real-time Translation Services: Offering advanced, real-time translation capabilities across major languages as a service for high-potential applications, industries and environments, such as healthcare, government and travel and transportation. My take: This reminds me of the universal translator from Star Trek: improbable, requiring suspension of disbelief, and potentially worldchanging.
HT: The Next Net
Just discovered more information on the IBM InnovationJam at http://www.globalinnovationjam.com/get_started2006/intro/index.shtml.