For several years now, IBM has used a Web 2.0 collaborative approach to exploration and problem solving called Jams. Jams help discover new solutions to broad, complex problems by bringing together a wide variety of minds and perspectives. They are essentially massive online discussions, where people contribute their own ideas, as well as build on each other's ideas in a kind of structured conversation, under the guidance of subject-matter experts and moderators. A Jam typically lasts around three days, and after it is completed, extensive analysis is used to extract insights from the perceptions and comments of the Jam participants, and to develop plans to put the insights into action.
In 2003, a Values Jam involving more than 300,000 IBM employees around the world was used to redefine the core IBM values for the 21st century. Two years later, the Government of Canada, UN-Habitat and IBM hosted Habitat Jam. Over three days, tens of thousands of participants from over 150 countries, including urban specialists, government leaders, and residents from cities around the world, discussed issues of urban sustainability. Their ideas shaped the agenda for the UN World Urban Forum, held in Vancouver in June of 2006.
Then in 2006, an Innovation Jam brought together more than 150,00 people from over one hundred countries, including IBM employees, clients and partners, to help identify the ten most innovative new ideas in which to invest $100 million. IBM’s virtual worlds initiative was one of the recommendations coming out of the Jam. So were a number of projects, including intelligent utility networks, integrated transportation systems, smart healthcare payments, and Big Green innovations that helped form the core of IBM’s Smarter Planet initiative launched in November of 2008.
Smarter Planet is one of the most sophisticated initiatives ever undertaken by any institution. The reason it is now possible to talk seriously about making the planet smarter is that the digital and physical infrastructures of the world are converging. Just about everything can be instrumented. Moreover, because the world is becoming increasingly interconnected, these instrumented things can now interact with each other, much as they do in the physical world.
We can therefore now measure entire ecosystems - whole supply chains, business processes, cities, healthcare networks, even natural systems like forests and rivers, as well as gather huge amounts of real-time information about the state of these systems. We can then make all of their components and processes much more intelligent by turning these mountains of information into real insights through sophisticated analysis, which we can then use to optimize the overall system. This kind of information-based intelligence will help us make companies, industries, organizations and economies more efficient, productive and responsive.
One can only make progress in such a complex and broad initiative by reaching out to the best and brightest in the world. So last April 21-24, IBM held a Smarter Planet University Jam involving nearly 2,000 students and faculty from more than 200 universities in forty countries, along with top IBM experts, clients and business partners.
The University Jam was structured around five main topics: skills and education; water management and green planet; healthcare; energy grids; and smart cities. The results of the Jam were released at the end of July along with this report. Let me briefly discuss some of the key findings.
Not surprisingly, given that 75% of Jam participants students and faculty members, the skills and education forum was the most active. There was considerable discussion of the need to better prepare students for 21st century jobs. Given that the marketplace is increasingly based on services, human interactions and global virtual teams, universities need to do a much better job in providing the kind of inter-disciplinary education that is needed to create T-shaped graduates, - that is, people who have deep knowledge in one discipline and broader knowledge in others.
Most universities continue to prepare students who are deep in a specific discipline, following the organization of the university itself, which is typically composed of relatively deep but siloed departments. Yet companies are clamoring for graduates who come prepared with the kind of broader education that is needed to address market-facing problems, which generally require a mix of technical, business and social skills. Companies also want individuals who are comfortable working in project-based teams.
Moreover, the education these students are getting is not keeping up with the pace of technology changes in the marketplace. A number of universities are not able to satisfy the needs of industry due to insufficient resources and an inability to innovate and adapt to changing market requirements. Jam participants felt that closer collaboration between industry and academia was needed to help students acquire T-shaped skills, keep the curricula content fresh and relevant, and help students begin to build relationships with potential employers.
Overall, eight of ten students felt that universities need to significantly revamp their traditional learning environments. In particular, they questioned the traditional role of universities in the Internet age. They felt that a new model of university education should emerge including smarter campuses which are interconnected to and enriched by the vast amounts of knowledge being developed in the wider, outside world. Learning methods should embrace new social networking approaches, with students collaborating with each other in their own education and professors playing the role of mentor or coaches.
Universities should incorporate a broader use of videoconferencing and virtual environments as a means to accomplish distance learning without sacrificing human interaction. In a poll conducted during the Jam, over eighty percent of those polled felt that virtual worlds would play a valuable role in learning new skills.
The smart cities forum was the second most active. Jammers generally agreed that smart cities are ones that are flexible and adaptable, encourage people to participate in planning and operations, and provide lots of real-time information to enable people to respond dynamically to whatever is going on and needs to be dealt with. Virtual world capabilities are among the best potential tools for involving citizens in planning the future of their cities. Overall, there was a consensus on the huge potential for leveraging technology innovations to help build better, smarter cities, especially in emerging economies where cities are growing the fastest.
A set of Jam quick polls yielded some interesting answers. To the question “Which attribute is most important when you pick a city to live in?,” 39% responded career opportunities, and 29% public safety. 31% felt that citizen education offer the best sustainability return for cities, followed by 29% - efficient transport and 19% - renewable energy. And 49% said that by 2025 we will be driving 100 mile per hour cars, with 40% saying maybe.
Perhaps the most important conclusion coming out of the University Jam is that students around the world are optimistic about the opportunities to collaborate in creating a smarter planet. The participants in the Jam expressed a willingness to continue their dialogue in the future. Members of the academic community felt strongly that universities have a strong role to play in the variety of smarter planet themes, and that it was important to pursue them as a collaboration between academia, industry and government. Hopefully, such global conversations about the future of our planet and cities will vastly increase over time, and lead to many new actionable ideas.