Atlantic Council Awards Dinner
Speaker: Samuel Palmisano, President and CEO, IBM
Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Prepared Remarks:

Good evening, everyone. Thank you, General Scowcroft. And thank you to Fred Kempe, Senator Hagel and the Atlantic Council for this award.

It is a pleasure and an honor to be here tonight in this distinguished assembly, and among some of the extraordinary leaders of our age.  President Bush, Chancellor Kohl, General Petraeus and Thomas Hampson have dedicated their entire lives to noble causes… from the pursuit of freedom and democracy to excellence in musical expression. Congratulations to all.

I think all of us here tonight know that we have arrived at a defining moment in history. We’ve faced a series of wake-up calls in this first decade of the 21st century – 9/11, climate change, oil, global supply chains, the global movement of work, and now the global financial crisis.

Unrelated developments? I would suggest that all of these are actually about the same subject – the reality of global integration.

We now understand that simply connecting things isn’t enough. If we don’t make our economic, technological and social systems truly systems – and by that I mean they are reliable, transparent, trustworthy and secure – then they will not be sustainable. Worse, societies may react to their disruption in short-sighted, self-defeating ways. They will recede from global trade and dialogue. They will call for protectionism. They will re-erect walls.

Some of the people here tonight know about walls. President Bush and Chancellor Kohl led the world 20 years ago in bringing down the Berlin Wall, whose anniversary we celebrate tonight. Centuries from now, that bold act of leadership will be seen as having not only reunified a nation, but ushered in a new era of global progress.

Today, the need for such expansive leadership is even more acute. Fortunately, we have some promising indications of the path forward. We have the means to make our systems smarter – the infrastructure and processes that enable physical goods to be developed, manufactured, bought and sold… services to be delivered… everything from people and money to oil, water and electrons to move… and billions of people to work and live.

Why is this happening? You will forgive me if the IBMer in me shows for a moment:

  • There’s no question that a lot of this is driven by the historic advances in technology. Enormous computational power can be delivered in forms so small, abundant and inexpensive that it is being put into things no one would recognize as computers: phones, cars, appliances, roadways, power lines, clothes – and even natural systems, such as livestock, rivers, even people.
  • All of these digital devices – soon to number in the trillions – are being connected through the Internet.
  • And all of that data – the knowledge of the world, the flow of markets, the pulse of societies – can be turned into intelligence… because we now have the computing power and advanced analytics to make sense of it all.

Today, around the world, we see the infusion of intelligence into companies and entire industries, which is why you may have been hearing about “smart power grids,” “smart healthcare,” “smart supply chains” and the like.

And soon we will all be hearing about – and, I hope, living in – “smart cities.” Because these same capabilities are being applied to change the way our cities work.

In June, in Berlin, the same city that brought down the wall and rebuilt itself into a key European hub, IBM will convene a “smart cities” summit. We’ve invited hundreds of leaders from the world’s most innovative cities to share ideas and learn how we can make our cities smarter.

Why cities?

Well, to state the obvious – that’s where the people are. By 2050, 70 percent of people on Earth will live in cities. Which means that cities… more than states, provinces or perhaps even nations… are increasingly the central arena for success or failure.

And a city is a system – indeed, a city is a complex system of systems. All the ways in which the world works – from transportation, to energy, to healthcare, to commerce, to education, to security, to food and water and beyond – come together in our cities.

Which makes them a unique crucible for making our planet smarter. We have the potential – both technological and political – to make our cities more productive, more efficient, safer, more vibrant and more responsive. And it isn’t theoretical. We see aspects of smarter cities all around us. Smarter traffic in Singapore, Stockholm and Brisbane… smart grids in Houston and Malta…. smart buildings in Shanghai and Boulder…. smart public safety in New York and Chicago…. a smart bay in Galway… smart healthcare in Paris… smart food tracking in Norway.

Across the globe… in city halls, agency offices, national capitals and boardrooms… leaders are working furiously to rethink our urban ecosystems. The key, as I said, is leadership. If we are really going to drive meaningful change, we need to get smarter about how we work together.

We will have to be far more collaborative. This is not just the familiar “public and private sector” formula. It’s multi-directional, multi-stakeholder, truly global. Think about it – none of the systems I’ve mentioned is the responsibility of any one entity or decision maker. They all involve business, government, communities, all of civil society.

We also need to ensure that our regulations, policies and institutions encourage greater openness and innovation, not hinder it. We mustn’t retreat into our shells, or adopt protectionist policies. That would be to race toward the past, not toward an interconnected, intelligent future.

Both of these imperatives are things the Atlantic Council has long understood, and led. And IBM is committed to doing our part… by channeling our best thinking and technological breakthroughs to make our cities – and our companies, our industries and our planet – work better.

The world now beckoning to us is one of enormous promise. And I believe it is one that we can build – if we open our minds and let ourselves think about all that a smarter planet could be.

Thank you very much.