Government // Enterprise Architecture
Commentary
5/5/2010
12:15 PM
Bob Evans
Bob Evans
Commentary
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Global CIO: IBM CEO Palmisano Calls For Transportation Transformation

Palmisano's speech shows the power of intelligently applied technology, even in sectors that today seem hopelessly stuck in the past.

IBM CEO Sam Palmisano says American transportation systems are fragmented, wasteful and inefficient and must become "traveler-centric—whether that 'traveler' is a person or a package" to help the U.S. become more competitive in our massively interconnected global economy.

Since IBM's "Smarter Planet" initiative includes a major platform for smarter transportation, it's not exactly surprising that IBM's chief executive was calling for increased investment in and increased emphasis on the development of intelligent systems across all facets of transportation infrastructure.

In fact, in a speech this morning, Palmisano starkly outlined what he believes are the risks stemming from this country's transportation "underinvestment," which he said "creates strains on our transportation system that put our citizens and businesses at risk of deteriorating safety conditions, competitiveness and quality of life, not to mention the waste of precious resources and productivity."

Those commercial interests aside, Palmisano's speech to the Intelligent Transportation Society of America offered a compelling view of what's possible if we can summon the will and foster the collaboration necessary to do for the far-flung world of transportation what applied intelligence has been doing for businesses for the past 40 years: wring out costs, optimize results, create opportunities, and, per Palmisano's visionary comment above, put the customer at the center of the effort instead of on the fringes.

The outcomes of such thinking will be significant and wide-ranging, said Palmisano in a copy of the speech provided by IBM:

"That's what both passengers and shippers want today—the ability to control their own journeys, across multiple modes of transportation, in real time. . . . The idea is simple: The traveler's time, safety and experience should be the initial design point. And a system's design point matters. What you optimize it for—the way you envision its end state—will determine the value it ultimately delivers."

That sounds so simple and so obvious—but consider your last few airline trips: do you feel that the airlines crafted their "initial design point" around your "time, safety and experience"? I'll concede to all airlines that they do a great job with safety—but when it comes to their passengers' time and experiences, I don't think those factors crack the airlines' top 10 concerns, let alone form the initial basis for their strategy.

"Clearly," Palmisano said, "transportation in America today fails this key test of a well-functioning system."

The two key steps that will allow American transportation to improve that failing grade, Palmisano said, are interconnecting the systems and then analyzing and acting upon the data those systems produce. First, the interconnections:

"So, a true transportation system would need to connect the vehicles, pathways and terminals I mentioned before, and the government agencies and regulators, and the freight and logistics carriers, and the vehicle and infrastructure manufacturers, and the travel-service providers," he said.

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"It would also need to connect the travelers themselves—people, packages, and containers that are providing a steady stream of data on their journeys, condition and location. And it would do so across all modes of transportation."

And then comes the real game-changer, Palmisano said—the data (and yes, I know, IBM is deeply vested in data management and analytics):

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