Will technology drive global recovery?

On November 6, Sam Palmisano, chairman, president & CEO of IBM, made an important speech entitled "The Smart Planet: The Next Leadership Agenda" at the Council of Foreign Relations in New York City. That speech is only now getting public press attention.

To emphasize the significance of Palmisano's speech, IBM took two-page ads out in numerous newspapers, such as the New York Times and Washington Post, throughout the world. This can be seen as public relations, self-promotion or the simple realization that the way out of this global financial mess requires a refocus of technology not on the consumer, but on corporate business.

Palmisano's argument is that technology has permeated our daily lives to an extent beyond what prior generations could ever imagine. Here are some key points from this speech.

"The world is becoming instrumented." A vast array of sensors perform telemetry tasks in every industry that affects our personal as well as business lives. From RFID tags in retail stores to red-light/speed cameras to security systems to hospital instrumentation technology. No matter how mundane, these are now integral parts of our lives.

"Our world is becoming interconnected." From almost 2 billion people on an ever-growing Internet to the untethered virtual workplace, individuals have accessibility and mobility to time-shift and increase their productivity on a global basis. Add to that the non-human communication of telemetry devices and human to machine interaction, communication technology and services become a necessity for survival, not a luxury.

"All things are becoming intelligent." The PC and mobile phone are just the "tip of the iceberg." Everything from our cars to our cameras to our clothing will be smart. The real advances in computer technology, information science and advanced analytics software are just in their infancy. As with any child, we are experiencing growing pains. We live in an information age where we have let information, be it an e-mail or a video, consume us rather than allowing technology to process the details and we as humans to process the exceptions.

"Digital and physical infrastructures of the world are converging." Everything large or small contains or will soon contain a computational engine that can network and communicate. This is a subtle statement that from hindsight caught everyone by surprise. Another definition of "convergence" or a realization that we missed "seeing the trees because we were looking at the forest?"

Developing technology for technology's sake (feed the consumer and they will feed the ad revenue-based Web sites) and business processes to increase profitability/revenue (make the quarter numbers to meet financial analyst expectations not long-term growth) were myopic goals while the "system was running on all cylinders."

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