Ideas sharing leads IBM to invest $US100m in new areas

IBM polled its staff, partners and customers for ideas and now plans to pump US$100 million into the best 10 submissions

IBM will invest $US100 million over the next two years in 10 potential new business opportunities after conducting a massive trawl for ideas among its staff, partners, customers and academic institutions.

IBM's chairman and CEO, Sam Palmisano, made the commitment during a trip to China, this week.

IBM conducted InnovationJam, two 72-hour online brainstorming sessions in July and September involving more than 150,000 people drawn from 104 countries who came up with 46,000-plus ideas after checking out IBM's high-level research projects.

It whittled the thousands of ideas down to a top 10 that the vendor plans to work on over the near to long term.

One idea suggests setting up health-care systems based on smart cards or small personal devices to simplify payment for care, insurance claims processing and updating medical records. Another idea looks to establish intelligent power grids capable of real-time self-monitoring and analysis to improve system reliability and make it simpler to manage utility networks.

Other ideas include more work on real-time translation services, the creation of a 3D Internet to take advantage of what's already been learned in today's virtual worlds and gaming environments, and a way to provide better information about mass transit systems to both operators and the public.

One suggestion IBM has taken to heart is to significantly accelerate its greenactivities. The vendor is launching a business unit to apply its research skills to issues such as water filtration via nanotechnology and how to build more efficient systems based on solar power.

IBM plans to work on the top 10 ideas in collaboration with academia and its customers.

The vendor first embarked upon regular employee brainstorming sessions back in 2001. More recently, IBM set aside a piece of its internal staff portal as ThinkPlace, an ideas forum.

While in China, Palmisano also launched an initiative for IBM to work with local ministries and universities to develop more IT services skills.

Fifty Chinese universities will begin offering a new discipline within the next few years that IBM dubs services science to train students with the skills needed in services operations, notably around the reuse of assets. China's Ministry of Health will work with IBM over a four-year period to set up a common IT system based on SOA (service-oriented architecture) to enable more collaboration between regional health-care providers.

In recent years, IBM has focused on emerging markets, particularly on five nations it dubs the BRICK countries -- Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Korea.

Last month, the vendor moved its global procurement headquarters from Somers, New York, to Shenzhen, China. The move was largely symbolic since it only involved relocating the head of the business unit, but was yet another signal of IBM's desire to sharpen its focus on China.