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Do we Need a Smarter Planet, or Smarter People?

by Daryl Plummer  |  April 23, 2009  |  5 Comments

I just finished the 5th conversation in a month with clients asking me to do a technical overview of IBM’s Smarter Planet. It is a marketing campaign that basically says we can use technology to inject more “smartness” into everything we do from infrastructure to work to become more effective. The interesting thing about this is that every one of these conversations with the clients was focused on the pieces of technology that could enable a smarter planet and none of them was focused on how people will make the ultimate difference.

There is a growing impact our use of technology is having on the world. We often see this as a “green” issue (too much global warming) or a “lifestyle” issue (never stop working, even on the train), or even a “child-rearing” issue (too many video games). Our response has often been to ask – “what technology can we use to get us out of the trouble technology helped us get into?”  But technology is neither a silver bullet nor an ultimate evil. What we seem to miss more than get is that we have to change behavior.

With Earth Day hovering about, it seemed like the time was right for people to become smarter about the way they work – which is part of IBM’s Smarter Planet campaign. But still, as in oh so many interactions, the focus of these inquiries from clients kept returning to technology implementations with little or no interest in how work is done. We all know that changing ourselves is the hardest thing to do. And, unfortunately, lack of change in ourselves often thwarts any true change we want to make in our approaches. What IBM wants to do with Smarter Planet is to begin a dialog about how technology ultimately must be put to work in different ways, not just how technology should keep changing and growing. Not a new idea, but a worthy one to pursue. I just wish more people would call saying “I get it!”

So, with the not unexpected revelation that IT people often care more for the pieces they can buy than the outcomes they enable, I began to wonder how smart IBM would be about its Smarter Planet campaign in the long run. Will they increase focus on “smarter work” as a percentage of the overall smarter planet campaign? It is, in my mind, the most important piece. Will they begin to de-emphasize how their technology works in favor of emphasizing how it can be embedded in solutions that just work? IBM has a lot of technologies and one can get lost in the weeds. Will they really begin to generate a movement by people instead of IT groups to create a sister to “Earth day” – call it “Smart Day?”

All of these would be things that elevate what people do with Smarter Planet instead of leaving them to stare at the technologies while scratching their heads and mumbling – “huh?”

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Category: cloud  emerging-phenomena  emerging-trends  service-orientation  

Tags: cloud-computing  earth-day  ibm  planet  smart  smarter  smarter-planet  technology  

Daryl C. Plummer
Managing VP & Gartner Fellow
18 years at Gartner
35 years IT industry

Daryl Plummer is vice president, chief of Research and chief Gartner Fellow. Mr. Plummer manages the Gartner Fellows Program, which is designed to allow senior analysts the opportunity to explore new research ideas and to elevate… Read Full Bio

Thoughts on Do we Need a Smarter Planet, or Smarter People?

  1. ben breeland says:


    First, if we had a smarter planet, the planet would have figured out how to exterminate many of us.

    Secondly, IBM’s goal is to sell it technology – no fault there. The real fault lies in the lack of education for business folks and IT folks. I recall a completely new industry, patch management, to address what was a “change management” issue. Since no one knew what change management was, vendors jumped in with some technology that we could buy and feel good that we addressed the problem. Soon, the same old guys who sold the same old software acquired all of the patch management vendors and now it is back to simple change management (in addition to Tuesday updates that address 80% of the issue) around some best practices called ITIL. Let find a way to become smarter people – please!

  2. Mark Raskino says:

    Perhaps the call for ‘smarter’ is just another way of saying ‘think’. That would be core value consistent for IBM .. – though perhaps more of link to the old-school values rather than the new ones launched a few years back ( ).
    The severity of this recession will cause many brands to reference their long historys, and enduring values – sometimes explicitly and sometimes in the background. For example, another company I visited recently is gently reasserting that it was established in 1872. Customers need solidity and reassurance in a world of volatility and fear. So with the ‘smarter’ message – IBM creates both forward looking and history echoing sentiments. Clever.

  3. Debbie Rosen says:

    Daryl is right. It is about changing behavior. And no technology will change behavior if the human using it doesn’t want their behavior to change. This brings up another point. Can technology actually inspire us to change behavior? What if software could encourage us to share more information? To inspire us to improve quality? To incent us to increase productivity? Until software focuses on motivating humans to change behavior, we won’t get much smarter at all. Let’s inject more smartness in to “changing how work gets done”.

  4. Don says:

    Not that I’m saying Daryl is prophetic, but in May, IBM did shift the Smarter Planet focus onto people and how their interactions with each other, and with the information and processes provided by IT technology, can be more effective. This focus included a full-page spread in the WSJ and an updated Smarter Planet Web site, specific to how people can work smarter together at

  5. James Taylor says:

    Someone once said that the only kind of error was a human error – it’s just a matter of figuring out which human. When it comes to the Smarter Planet idea we have the same problem – in the end only people can make it smarter, the question is which people? Smart Work is aimed directly and helping people be smarter. Some of the other ideas are more about technology but if technology let’s the smarts of one person improve the life or effectiveness of another, that helps too. Systems that make it easier for more people to get smart answers, for instance, leverage human capabilities more widely and more effectively. That counts too.

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