New business model helps serve sustainability needs

*** The below case study is an extract from the 62-page intelligence report  How to Embed Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability into Management Processes ***

9.1 Fast Facts

Company name: International Business Machines Corporation

Industry: Computer hardware, software, IT services and consulting

Country: United States

Operating income (2011): $20.3bn

Employees: 433,000

From the days when Big Blue was known worldwide for their punch-card calculator systems and warehouse-sized mainframe computers, IBM has made a radical shift in its product and service lineup, one that has taken it out of such industries as personal computers altogether.

Instead, via the 2002 acquisition of PwC Consulting and a series of innovation initiatives in the ensuing years, IBM has repositioned itself as an intelligent problem solver, primarily to business. IBM’s Smarter Planet initiative exemplifies this transition.

Smarter Planet is IBM’s strapline for a range of services intended to help companies and systems become much more efficient, intelligent, resilient and reliable. These are based on what the company views as six “imperatives for a smarter planet”.

  • Turn information into insights.
  • Drive enterprise operations’ effectiveness and efficiency.
  • Increase agility.
  • Connect and empower people.
  • Enable business service and product innovation.
  • Manage risk, security and compliance.

By investing heavily in long-term R&D, and creating a constant interface between R&D and marketing, IBM has worked to mine the potential of their 4,000 patents filed annually to deliver solutions such as smart traffic management, electricity grid, water and supply chains.

9.2 Smarter Planet Results

Flagship examples of Smarter Planet projects with solid sustainability results include:

*** Working with the Stockholm city authorities to design and implement a congestion-management system that has substantially reduced traffic congestion at peak- and non-peak times, vehicle emissions and driver delays; and increased use of public transportation, all within a short four-year period.

The programme was intended to cut congestion by 10%, but has delivered a sustained 22% reduction, with an improved quality of life and successful operation such that Swedish voters agreed to continue the programme in a referendum. 

*** Development of Syracuse University’s Green Data Centre (GDC), to use advanced techniques in buildings design and management, energy generation, cooling technologies and IT system management. The GDC delivers world-class performance while using around half the energy requirements of a standard data centre.

Key advancements include simultaneous generation of electricity, heating and cooling from natural gas-powered microturbines, as well as the use of cooling systems that operate using chilled water rather than room-cooling air systems. Sensors throughout the various systems will allow the technologies to be tracked and adjusted in use, to ensure their optimal performance. The university intends to use the lessons learned to help further develop such systems for use in buildings generally. 

*** A telemedicine initiative to provide advanced healthcare to patients in rural Louisiana, whose access to healthcare services has been limited. Together with a portal service that allows doctors and specialists to view disparate data such as test results and vital signs that may have been recorded in many different locations by different healthcare providers – in real time – the remote-medicine programme allows doctors to make faster and more accurate diagnoses and determine care programmes for many previously excluded patients.

The programme is said to have reduced duplicate testing by 93%, reduced specialist consultation times from weeks or months down to days, and required no special investment in new systems. The solution also bypassed the need for centralised storage of data, thus avoiding problems related to privacy, security and data ownership.

Smarter Planet has worked to demonstrate simultaneously the business case and the sustainability case for improving systems to become more sensitive, collaborative and responsive, and to introduce the benefits of innovation rapidly and at scale


Karen Butner, IBM Institute for Business Value, Executive Report: Driving performance through sustainability, 2011.

Innovative health information exchange brings world-class healthcare to rural Louisiana, IBM, 2010.

*** The above is an extract case study taken from our new strategy management report. Visit here to get further information about the report and other featured case studies. ***

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