IBM Software Powers Smart Utilities And Buildings - InformationWeek

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IBM Software Powers Smart Utilities And Buildings

Blending real-time network monitoring, asset management and analytics capabilities, Big Blue pursues huge opportunities for maintenance and energy efficiency.

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Imagine all the major commercial property owners, universities, manufacturers and governments in the world. Now add to that all the utilities that serve them with gas, electricity, water and waste management services. How's that for a target market?

In another of its big bets, IBM on Monday announced a battery of new software and a slew of new customers said to be proving the value of taking a smarter approach. For organizations managing lots of big buildings, smarter means heating and cooling with optimum efficiency and handling maintenance in a preemptive fashion that minimizes cost and disruption.

For utilities, IBM says the smarter approach is using state-of-the-art sensors and meters to monitor vast networks and take advantage of the same sort of maintenance and energy efficiency insight.

The new software announced on Monday, which also includes a Real-Time Asset Locator system for Healthcare, cuts across IBM's portfolio.

"We've templetized solutions for key industries that combine software including Tivoli Netcool/OMNIbus, Tivoli Maximo, the SPSS analytics and business rules platform and Cognos capabilites for reporting and dashboarding," explains Dave Bartlett, vice president of worldwide industry solutions at IBM.

IBM Tivoli Netcool/OMNIbus is event monitoring, visualization and correlation software that can be used to monitor everything from escalators and air conditioners across a collection of buildings to refrigerators and freezers across a chain of grocery stores. Tivoli Maximo is asset management software used for long- and short-term maintenance planning in both preventive and reactive scenarios.

Used in combination, and enhanced with analytic and reporting capabilities drawn from SPSS and Cognos, the Tivoli software has enabled utility customers such as the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority (DC Water) to detect problems and preemptively maintain their networks at lower cost.

If, for example, the Netcool/OMNIbus software detects that a particular pump is emitting vibrations, Tivoli Maximo software can review the maintenance history and suggest the most likely parts -- in this case bearings -- that need replacement. This insight helps a utility send the right parts and crews with the right skills to a job site.

But that's just a start. Once you're sending a crew to a particular location, the software can identify other maintenance tasks that are either in the queue soon to be required in that same area that can be taken care of at the same time.

"We've helped DC Water streamline their truck rolls and minimize the number of times they have to dig up streets," Bartlett says. "In fact, they’ve increased the time their trucks are in the field [rather than returning for parts or handing off jobs to specialized crews] by 20% by doing these types of analytics."

IBM says utilities of all types are expected to install some 300 million smart meters and sensors over the next few years, presenting a huge opportunity to improve the efficiency of network, grid and infrastructure maintenance as well as response to dynamic gas, electricity and water requirements.

Maintenance and efficiency software is also a growing market in the commercial building arena. In fact, IDC says it's a $3.9 billion market in 2011 and is growing 25% per year.

IBM said commercial property owners can use its new solutions to monitor buildings and ever-changing weather conditions to maximize energy efficiency. For example, in temperate climates such as the U.S., Canada and Europe, it's possible to rely on free air cooling when temperature and humidity are within a certain range.

"That can bring an immediate savings on the order 50% as opposed to running cooling towers or air conditioners continuously," Bartlett says.

One of the smart-building customers IBM announced on Monday is Ontario, Canada's McMaster University, which will assess, simulate and forecast energy consumption across 60 campus buildings and a university hospital. The software will help McMaster analyze heating, cooling, hot water, lighting, use of equipment and other factors impacting energy consumption, according to IBM.

ABI Research estimates that the market for building automation systems will reach $36 billion by 2015 and is growing 3% per year.

IBM has competitors on multiple fronts across the software categories behind its smart utility and smart building offerings. For example, HP, BMC, Microsoft and NetIQ all have event correlation and analysis software used mainly for IT and telecommunications network management and security operations. These are competitors to the IBM's Tivoli products. More market-specific competitors include Schneider Electric and Siemens Building Technologies in the smart building arena.

But none of these competitors appear to match the breadth of technologies IBM is bringing to bear in two big and promising markets. Other customers listed among those using IBM's smart utility and building software include the Cape Fear (NC) Public Utility Authority, the City of Waterloo, Ontario, Swiss Federal Railways, and Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport.

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