How Business Innovates in the Built Environment


[Editor's Note: One of the most important things companies need when determining how to become more sustainable and energy efficient is information. Only once they have facts on what materials they use to produce their products, how much fuel their fleets consume, and how energy efficient their buildings are can they create smart, sustainable strategies.

David Bartlett, IBM's VP of Smarter Physical Infrastructure, will discuss how IBM used technology and energy efficiency to boost the company’s bottom line at an upcoming BCLC webinar. The webinar, which is part of a series focused on the Evolution of Environmental Innovation, will be taking place from 1:00 - 2:00 p.m. EST on Thursday, February 21st. Register for the webinar.]

As the world becomes more instrumented, interconnected, and intelligent, an incredible opportunity for business is presenting itself. Savvy companies are turning the explosion of data into new insights for better decisions, new ways of transforming business models for unprecedented rewards, and new means of removing the walls that separate them from their customers.

Technology today plays a key role in organizations achieving success. In fact, in IBM’s latest CEO survey, technology was cited as the number one external factor affecting organizations. Examples of transforming technologies are those that manage smarter physical infrastructure. The world’s physical infrastructures continue to be transformed from traditional “dumb” assets to smarter physical infrastructures with embedded intelligence. Today, more than 20 billion machine-centric intelligent devices are deployed in the world, not including IT-centric devices. Assets are generating tremendous amounts of data, with 2.7 zetabytes of digital content in 2012—an increase of 50% in one year.

The business sector should embrace technology for the built environment much as it has in the past for the IT environment. Understandably, IT-centric services within businesses such as banking, online retail, and advertising have done the best job of leveraging technologies to minimize cost and provide greater flexibility, accessibility, and access to their clients. This has literally transformed the competitive landscape. The obvious area for business improvement is around managing non-IT assets and services. With the advent of smarter physical infrastructure or the “Internet of things,” we have a significant opportunity before us. Smart sensor and digital control technology is available and producing data, but these data need to be captured, analyzed, and used. Business focus, experience, and innovation must be added to prioritize how we leverage such technology to drive the most value.

An example is smarter buildings. Real estate and its associated services typically are the second-largest expense for companies after payroll. They are also among the biggest users of energy and contributors to GHG. Monitoring the health of smarter infrastructures can yield significant savings and provide new insight into workforce dynamics.

This in turn can optimize workflow across business and IT operations and help companies to understand the impact of problems on service.

The city of Dubuque, Iowa, is transforming its utilities and buildings with IBM smarter physical infrastructure solutions that have already increased water leak detection eightfold for participating citizens and decreased water utilization 6.6%.

Bharti Infratel, a leading telecom provider in India, has improved its reliability, visibility, and revenue, using IBM to instrument, monitor, and optimize 32,000 communication control building towers, including AC/DC energy meters, batteries, remote terminal units, power interface units, diesel generator sets, and air conditioners. The solution was so transformative that it earned the PCQuest Magazine award for “Best IT Implementation of The Year 2011 - Project with Maximum Business Impact,” saving Rs.55 million per year by negating unnecessary diesel generator run hours, while also reducing approximately 4.08 million kilograms of CO2 emissions per year.

In addition, the U.S. Air Force has just selected IBM smarter buildings software to maximize energy efficiency and automate physical infrastructure from buildings to vehicles to runways. This includes more than 600 million square feet of real estate, 100 million square yards of runways, and 10 million acres of property.

Every business has the same opportunity to improve its bottom line and customer service while at the same time doing a more responsible job of managing assets, energy, and carbon footprint. It is not only good for the planet; it makes good business sense!

This article is written by IBM's Dave Bartlett as part of the 2012 Role of Business in Environmental Innovation publication.


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