Smarter planet, smarter India

IBM has taken Smarter Planet initiative to over 2000 cities globally to use resources better. Vanitha Narayanan, MD, IBM India, talks about Indian projects that have successfully used technology for the larger good

e4m by Simran Sabherwal
Updated: Jun 3, 2014 8:04 AM
Smarter planet, smarter India

Smarter Planet – a key initiative of IBM has helped the company take technology and processes from one field and applied in another to innovative results says Vanitha Narayanan of IBM India

‘What will we make of this moment’ was the topic of discussion for Vanitha Narayanan, Managing Director, IBM India, at Goafest. This topic gains significance particularly with a new government, “with a monumental mandate” in place at the center. Narayanan started her session with a reference to Prof CK Prahlad’s Vision of India@75, which is supported by IBM, which sees India as an inclusive, developed and sustainable and says that a graduate pool of over 200 million and 500 million skilled labour and a demographic age dividend will allow India to become a clear player in a booming economy. However, inclusiveness and sustainability are the priorities that take precedence saying, “Beliefs and values become equally important when you envision something and want to make it a reality.”

As a company IBM has successfully reinvented itself over the years and continues to be relevant and in the last decade IBM has focused its initiatives to see how technology can be used to serve the world better with the belief that what was done in the corporate world was equally equitable in the communal sense and be beneficial to society at large. This was the origin of the basis for IBM’s ‘Smarter Planet”. Narayanan said, “In India the demand –supply equation will always be skewed in favour of demand for the foreseeable future especially for resources that are finite like energy. In order to build this bridge, we will have to look at how to be smarter. This was the concept of Smarter Planet.” IBM today has taken this concept to over 2000 cities globally to use resources better. She added, “In the 21st century we believe that data is the new natural resource and India has an abundance of this natural resource and our scale is phenomenal.” On Digital, Narayanan says that Digital has changed all businesses and brought about a confluence of industries and overlap of capabilities that will redefine new businesses. Capabilities in one area can be reapplied in a different area to get outcomes that matter and this presents an opportunity.

Presenting an example, Narayanan spoke of IBM’s work on the Smarter Rio Initiative to bring the resources together and make it a smarter city in time for the FIFA World Cup and the Olympics. All city services were brought together and integrated, processes were changed in terms of decision making, command-in- control and handing things at the right time so that the result would show better citizenship and emergency services. Being a low lying area prone to floods and mudslides, the platform helped use data to make better decisions by improving emergency management and weather prediction. However, in India cities are not empowered and have many chains of command that means you can work on small micro-segments of addressing the issue. Looking ahead, Narayanan believes that with rapid urbanization, nothing prevents the formation of smarter cities all over India.

For one of its projects in India, IBM collaborated with Bharat Light & Power (BLP), a renewable energy producer, to look at how smarter energy systems can be built. With the aid of technology such as cloud analytics, mobile technologies and better planning and management of wind-farm data (weather related information), wind energy is harnessed and within 100 days, BLP was able to realize benefits in their wind farms in Gujarat. “Nothing stops us from applying some of the analytics and smart network by taking a different approach so that we can make energy self sufficiency sooner rather than later. Most importantly, why waste resources and not make something of it,” says Narayanan.

Citing another example, Narayanan showcased a virtual showcase designed by IBM for Jaguar in London which allowed people to interact with the car based on hand movements and gestures. This same technology was reapplied in India for a project called Chetna. Sponsored by the National Health Association of Assam, IIT- Guwahati  and IBM India Research Labs came together to use this technology to improve pre-natal maternal health in rural Assam. Due to lack of access and cultural issues (doctors are primarily male), a system was created that used of gestures and basic television that helped women interact and relay their symptoms. Narayanan says, “Coming together of government, educational institutions and corporate helps us do that.”

On the potential of IBM Watson Supercomputer,( a system that is learning to cure cancer and responds to speech) Narayanan says that Watson could be accessed by every little hospital in India via cloud besides being reapplied in other fields. The emergence of 4G also provides a platform that helps deliver services conveniently. Narayanan adds that thinking disruptively and innovatively is the need of the hour, “We need sachet style innovation, which increased reach and consumerabilty, across the board from different places and these innovations will be taking technological processes, and applying them in three different contexts for a great result,” she said.

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