How Much Smarter? IBM’s Strategy for a Smarter Planet?

“What is the sound of the planet talking? A century ago, the answer was simple: people conversing in person or over wired networks. Today, it’s not just everyone, but also everything talking to every other thing, in constant motion.”

Last year, at the Digital Africa Summit, I sat down with the Chief Technical Officer at IBM Sub-Sahara, Clifford Forster and in what would be an eye-opening conversation; he explained what IBM was thinking.

A smarter planet; something he called “the internet of things.” The idea behind what was thought to be the next stage in innovation and technological advancement. The idea that all the main areas of our lives were connected and that at no time in history than today were we able to allow all these things to “talk”. Energy, infrastructure, traffic, food, banking, telecommunications, intelligence, cities, etc; all these functions and elements today are connected and monitored and IBM is looking at ways of making a smart planet: enabling sustainable businesses and systems for a sustainable planet.

This year in his presentation, Walter Mhlongo, took this conversation to the next level with “Smarter Telecommunications”. Africa has only about 1% of its information online and so has to download about 99% of its information from the rest of the world. Challenged by language barriers despite inter-connectivity and facing similar problems, he explained that IBM’s commitment to a smarter planet had led it to develop “spokenweb” (IBM’s leading automated translation technologies) in areas like health care, trade and travel bringing to life real-time automated translation solutions all available on the internet.

It is estimated 2 billion people will be on the Web by 2011 – and they’ll be doing more than talking. Video on demand, IP television and internet TV will account for nearly 90% of consumer IP traffic by 2012. When people talk, it will be to many more people – via social networking sites, whose memberships will top 500 million in the next three years. Figures that are not only indicative of the future, but also of the countless opportunities that will arise for companies to innovate, collaborate and to feed into and re-define their world in order to continue delivering top notch services to their clients.

As I wandered across the conference corridors, I ran into Walter’s colleague, Dr. Shiyghan Narti, IBM’s Strategy and Marketing Executive. He reaffirmed IBM’s commitment to the continent, indicating that the company was investing over $100 million in expanding its presence in Sub-Saharan Africa. With this investment, IBM is better placed to enable its’ clients to take advantage of the opportunities presented by gaining new insights in ways previously not possible.

“Over the next few years, you will see IBM playing a critical role as an innovator, providing inspired solutions to local issues and creating high valued products that matter to the communities and clients it serves”, he confidently states. “We will continue to leverage industry leading forums like the Digital Africa Summit to engage in meaningful conversation with our clients and partners across Africa.”

In just three years, IP traffic is expected to total more than half a Zettabyte (a Zettabyte is a trillion gigabytes or – 1 followed by 21 zeros). The need for this information to reach the last half of Africa, triggering access to massive amounts of information and thus allowing informed decision making, better sustainable practices and an interconnected system of performance to deliver our planet to the next level has never been greater.

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