This is the third in a series of brainstorms about combos of smart companies and great dreams for the technology enabled future. In a rapidly consolidating cleantech sector great combos well executing could lead the way into a new American century of technology leadership and growth. Beyond just smart grid’s focus on the electric power industry this team has broader ambitions, roots in great rivalries that made them stronger, and no legacy baggage to hold them back.
The foundation of this dream team #3 is Big Blue. IBM’s influence on the evolution of IT is profound but from its hardware roots, Big Blue has morphed into a services giant focused on using that technology prowess to push forward. It takes guts to emancipate your children but Big Blue pushed the personal computer and other technologies out the door when they became ubiquitous and thus commodities. That ability to change and see the world as a vast database waiting for someone smart to come along and extract the insight is the DNA of the place.
Recently, IBM is focused on a strategy of optimizing the use of data and the convergence of information technology and operational technology to make better decisions. Few firms have the big picture focus, scalability and industrial strength track record to tackle such challenges. IBM is one of them.
Google tells us its ambition is to organize the world’s data and make it available, but IBM is focused on helping the enterprise operations of the world run more efficiently, perform more effectively for their customers, and make better decisions. The difference between Google’s audacity and IBM’s vision is experience and the ability to execute the vision.
If smart grid is only about meters and the data they produce then Google and a few others can organize the world’s meter data fine. But the promise of smart grid it an improved world, a cleaner planet, a marketplace of achievable business ideas that use technology to competitive advantage rather than being constrained by it—it’s going to take more than Google Energy to achieve that promise. To live into the true promise of smart grid industry leaders with a vision are required.
IBM is a brand we know and trust. Its own brand promise is to bring the best technology in the world to bear on making faster, cheaper, more informed business decisions.
But to scale and deepen the focus on smart grid, Big Blue needs more than geeks, its needs expertise in the energy, economics, engineering, networks and insight markets beyond its current reach.
That is why I would team it up with an equally large strategic thinker. SAIC is one of those heavy lifting advanced analytics firms that the Government and major business and institutional clients call upon to help their analyze their most difficult policy, business or technology problems. SAIC is a big federal government research contractor but we will forgive it its affection for bureaucracy because it seems smart enough to focus its core competencies in energy, infrastructure, healthcare, national security and environment. Its recent acquisition of RW Beck strengthened its energy and engineering capacity. Combining SAICs substantive domain knowledge in all the domains that IBMs geeks want to optimize seems like a good fit.
To this SAIC faculty and laboratory full of geeks I would add Juniper Networks and Brocade for their network, data center, data storage and data management skills. These players have been fire tested at the front lines of Silicon Valley and are on everybody’s short list of capable partners. Juniper is a rival of CSCO so since I included CSCO in my dream team #2 I needed another network maestro eager to take on the CISCO geek squad head on. Together with Brocade the IBM-led team is worthy of any adversary.
But what should we expect of it?
The same kind of fantasy we get from Disney or Pixar about a magic universe applied, in this case, to the enterprise operations that control our lives like energy, water, transport, mange our health, safety and security and efficiently make the things we cannot live without. A world optimized is a lot better for us than one that mere categorizes the endless data available so we can surf Google to get an answer.
We want our businesses to mass customize our experience. We want the DMV to work as well as the Apple Store. We want the IRS to actually be friendly and efficient. We want our water clean, our air safe to breathe, or road free of traffic congestion.
No! I have not been drinking as I write this—an optimized world of enterprise businesses is an audacious goal. Scraping the inefficiencies out of business operations can save a lot of money, a lot of wasted energy, and a lot of aggravation.
This is a brand promise that calls to us, but it is so difficult to deliver. It will take a play like IBM to pull of such business miracles. But if they can, the opportunity is worth the keys to the Magic Kingdom!