Coevolving Innovations

… in Business Organizations and Information Technologies



Lifelong education on service systems: a perspective for STEM learners 1

Posted on January 12, 2010 by daviding

One of the benefits of the IBM’s Smarter Planet vision(s) is its encouragement to think about the 21st century world from a fresh perspective.  The rise of the service economy — which is not the same as the service sector — calls for the nurturing of talents with different emphases.  While curricula typically have a strong grasp of agricultural systems (developed since, say, 1600 A,.D.), and industrial systems (since, say, 1850 A.D.), the science of service systems is still emerging.

A study on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education by a 2007 National Academies committee published recommendations in 2008 for professional science master’s education that is interdisciplinary in character.  Such an investment in curriculum change has been proposed as a good use of stimulus funding in the U.S. In concert, 8 of 10 students expressed a wish for universities to revamp their traditional learning environments in the Smarter Planet University Jam conducted in spring 2009 .

In 2008 and 2009, the focus has shifted to primary and secondary school education, convening another National Academies committee centered on K-12, with a report due in 2010.  Jim Spohrer — formerly the Director of Almaden Services Research, and now the Director of IBM Global University Programs — updated me on his current thinking about a potential design for education on Smarter Planet Service Systems.

Systems that move, store, harvest, process Kindergarten Transportation
1 Water and waste management
2 Food and global supply chain
3 Energy and energy grid
4 Information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure
Systems that enable healthy, wealthy and wise people 5 Building and construction
6 Banking and finance
7 Retail and hospitality
8 Healthcare
9 Education (including universities)
Systems that govern 10 Government (cities)
11 Government (regions / states)
12 Government (nations)
Higher education Specific service systems
Professional life Specific service systems

Jim is following confirmation of the effectiveness of a Challenge-Based Learning approach by the New Media Consortium as “a strategy to engage kids in any class by giving them the opportunity to work on significant problems that have real-world implications”.  I liked his ordering of systems into three levels:

Converging digital and physical infrastructures: instrumented, interconnected, intelligent 1

Posted on December 30, 2008 by daviding

I was listening to Sam Palmisano’s talk on “A Smarter Planet” as part of the Technology and Foreign Policy discussion at the Council for Foreign Relations — the audio version, because I prefer to not sit at my computer to watch the video. He said that as the world gets “flatter”, smaller and more interconnected, the planet is becoming smarter. Smarter means that …

… digital and physical infrastructures of the world are converging.

Three advances in technology are driving this change.

  • The world is becoming instrumented: transistor technology is embedded in the mobile phones of 4 billion mobile subscribers today, and there will be 30 million RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) tags within 2 years.
  • The world is becoming interconnected: the Internet not only means 2 billion people connected person-to-person, but also the ability for instruments / devices to connect machine-to-machine.
  • Things are becoming more intelligent: since instrumented devices generate data that can be stored and analyzed, advanced analytics enables intelligence that can be translated into action — with nearly-continual real-time updates streaming from supercomputers.

The talk continued with a discussion about how much waste — in energy, gridlocked traffic, supply chain inefficiencies, unsystemic healthcare, and water usage — in the physical world might be reduced through acting smarter. In the pure information world, financial institutions were able to spread risk, but not track risk, which undermined confidence in the markets.

I follow the ideas coming from IBM more closely than most people. I’ve also had the benefit of studying businesses for three decades(!) in various academic contexts. This has led me to reflect on the conjoined ideas on technology and business that have coevolved with me over the past decade. Some significant themes have included:

  • 1. e-business (1997) and sense-and-respond organizations
  • 2. On demand business (2003 – 2004) and inter-organizational governance
  • 3. Innovation that matters and complex systems (2006) and the science of service systems
  • 4. Converging digital and physical infrastructures (2008) and systems modeling language

Formal, historical records of IBM’s directions are clearly documented in annual reports. I’m not an IBM executive, so my academic research is unlikely to impact corporate reports. However, it’s undeniable that my continuing on-the-ground engagements with clients and ongoing conversations with key thinkers inside IBM have shaped the way I see the world. From an academic perspective, I’ve moved closer to Normann (2001) in the view that economic progress is related to technological progress.

The effect of technology is — and always has been — to loosen constraints. As a result of technological development, what was not possible becomes possible. Or what was not economically feasible becomes so. [p. 27]

Each of the four themes are described below. Three themes are historical perspectives. The fourth continues to emerge with my current ongoing research.



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