IBM’s Smarter Planet is a mass marketing of System Engineering

I just spent 2 full days at IBM’s Pulse 2010 conference, and got a chance to meet some interesting people.  The one piece of irony I realized is when I graduated from college I had a choice of working for IBM or HP as an Industrial Engineer.  I chose HP 30 years ago.  I wonder what my life would be like if I had chosen IBM? 

Although I probably wouldn’t have lasted too long at IBM and actually helped an IBM engineer leave to join Apple.  Why is it relevant to talk about an engineers?  Because part of what I figured out is IBM’s Smarter Planet is a rebranding and positioning of system engineering.

So what is a Systems Engineer?  I found this post by Univ of Arizona.

Systems Engineering is an interdisciplinary process that ensures that the customer's needs are satisfied throughout a system's entire life cycle. This process is comprised of the following seven tasks.

  1. State the problem. Stating the problem is the most important systems engineering task. It entails identifying customers, understanding customer needs, establishing the need for change, discovering requirements and defining system functions.
  2. Investigate alternatives. Alternatives are investigated and evaluated based on performance, cost and risk.
  3. Model the system. Running models clarifies requirements, reveals bottlenecks and fragmented activities, reduces cost and exposes duplication of efforts.
  4. Integrate. Integration means designing interfaces and bringing system elements together so they work as a whole. This requires extensive communication and coordination.
  5. Launch the system. Launching the system means running the system and producing outputs -- making the system do what it was intended to do.
  6. Assess performance. Performance is assessed using evaluation criteria, technical performance measures and measures -- measurement is the key. If you cannot measure it, you cannot control it. If you cannot control it, you cannot improve it.
  7. Re-evaluation. Re-evaluation should be a continual and iterative process with many parallel loops.

The seven steps are too complex for most, and IBM has done an excellent job to simplify the seven steps for the IT executives – Instrument, Interconnect, and Make them intelligent.  Now I would potentially argue IBM’s approach is too simple, but marketing messages need to be simple and contain at most three points.

Start here. Three big ideas. 1. Instrument the world's systems. 2. Interconnect them. 3. Make them intelligent. Introduce yourself to a smarter planet.

This idea clicked when I was interviewing District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority CIO, Mujib Lodhi and listened to him describe his approach to manage the Water and Sewer infrastructure as a system using IBM’s asset management tools.  In the short term I had with Mujib he described what a system engineer would do to manage an aging water infrastructure.

IBM has an excellent section on smarter water management.  Which is good if you are a Tivoli user.  If not, there are many other vendors that have been in the water management business for decades.


In other conversations with IBM technical staff, I  kept on hearing the reoccurring methods of system engineers.

Here are slides from presentations.


Alcatel Lucent threw this slide up.


The system needs to be designed to be lean, mean, and green.