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11/12/2009
01:45 PM
Rob Preston
Rob Preston
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Down To Smarter Business: People Want Technology Focused On Results, Not ''Solutions''

Sensors, wireless, cloud computing, machine-to-machine networks--they're all coming together to change how people get their jobs done.

Farms and financial institutions and police departments and hospitals and the people who run them aren't really interested in hardware, software, services, or even "solutions." They're interested in producing outcomes--higher crop yields, lower risks, fewer crimes, better care. And they want--no, need--to do it more cost effectively, brutal economy or not.

No one understands this reality better than InformationWeek, whose magazine tagline and guiding principle is "The Business Value Of Technology." In creating this special Smarter Business issue, we set out to shine a klieg light on the industries, organizations, and people leveraging information technology to fundamentally transform what they do and how they do it, warts and all.

OK, we're not going to pretend that Smarter Business doesn't jibe with the Smarter Planet strategy and messaging of IBM, sole sponsor of this issue. But before you start wondering about the editorial integrity of the in-depth features that follow, let me be clear: IBM had no (as in zero) say in the planning and contents of this special issue. Writing about smarter business is what we do. For this issue, we tapped some of the industry's most expert journalists to assess how information technology is producing or is poised to produce dramatically improved outcomes in nine areas: executive decision making, financial risk management, RFID tracking, healthcare, agriculture irrigation, cars, crime prevention, buildings, and the energy grid.

Certain technologies are on the cutting edge of making businesses smarter. Sensors and tracking devices pull information from a vast array of sources--farm fields, packages, appliances, water supplies, infrastructure, bracelets, and more--and relay that information in real time over increasingly sophisticated wireless and wireline networks to the people ready to act on it. Sophisticated analytics enable those decision makers to take even more insightful, sometimes foresightful, action. Clinical trials, for instance, could be made far more reliable and conclusive if patient information in disconnected hospital records were pooled so that the sample sizes that are analyzed truly represented the population.

Increasingly, information networks connect machines with machines for automated decision making. Cloud computing and highly virtualized data centers stand to improve the economics of information storage, access, delivery, and ultimately analysis.

Smarter business isn't a tech nirvana, however. As organizations gather and keep more information and make more decisions based on it, all kinds of privacy (will that clinical data be kept anonymous? who can look at your car's "black box?") and security issues raise their ugly head. Not all data-based decisions are wise decisions, especially when they're based on outdated or incomplete information, as was partly the case in the recent financial crisis. And at what point do attempts to marshal data to transform business and change the world cross into overbearing control? Still, the upside is far, far greater than the downside.

Let us know what you think about the best practices we chronicle here. With this special issue, we're also launching multimedia executive summaries of select stories, called Media Snaps, which you can view on your computer or smartphone. Check them out and sign up for e-mail delivery at informationweek.com/smartbiz.

Rob Preston,
VP and Editor in Chief, InformationWeek
rpreston@techweb.com

To find out more about Rob Preston, please visit his page.

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