Solving Scarce Resource Problems through Innovative IT

Point: Innovation can bring tremendous value to the problem of scarce resources.

Story: The World Health Organization reports that water scarcity affects one in three people on every continent, including areas that have plenty of rainfall. Access to clean drinking water or adequate amounts of water for farming and industrial use are at issue. Further research shows that by the year 2035, two-thirds of the world will have water shortages. In China, two-thirds of its 660 cities already face water issues today; by 2035, they will see severe water shortages.

The fact, however, is that the world has plenty of fresh water — 2 trillion liters per person. But, the resource is not well distributed. Worse, water quality matters as much as water quantity. Contaminated water creates problems for human consumers, agriculture, and high value marine ecosystems. Only uncontaminated water counts toward solving this crisis.

What can be done? Companies like IBM are harnessing IT to address the problem. One example is the SmartBay project in Ireland, which seeks to monitor water properties in Galway Bay to help manage commercial fishing & aquaculture. Networks of sensor buoys, tide gauges, wave riders and data analysis nodes provide up-to-date environmental information to monitoring agencies and the public. In a second example, IBM is applying its materials science research to create better desalination technology for producing purified water. In particular, the new filter material can remove more toxic metals than can the old technology. Third, IBM is leveraging is expertise in super computing to offer “Deep Thunder” for advanced weather predictions and simulations that could affect water supply or water reservoirs.

IBM’s efforts on water resources are part of a broader pattern and opportunity for innovators. The world has no shortage of scarcities. Applications, people, companies and even countries compete for water, energy, minerals, money, and attention. This means that innovators can create value by inventing clever means to improve the production, utilization, and productivity of each scarce resource.


To address the problem of any scarce resource:

  • Collaborate with experts to understand the supply-side issues of a scarce resource.
  • Survey resource users to understand demand-side patterns, value propositions, and capability gaps.
  • Look for solutions that:
  • *** maximize production of the scarce resource
  • *** improve quality of the resource
  • *** help connect supply with demand
  • *** increase efficiency of use, prevent waste, or support recycling of the resource.

6 Comments »Case study, Innovation

6 Responses to “Solving Scarce Resource Problems through Innovative IT”

  1. Gregory Y Jun 4th 2009 at 09:27 am 1

    I think your last Action point should be the first one the list. We cannot outInnovate the stupidity of the mass waste, but we introduce innovative mechanisms to make patterns of consumption more intelligent. @piplzchoice

  2. Andrea Meyer Jun 4th 2009 at 10:06 am 2

    Thank you, Gregory, for your point about innovative mechanisms that make patterns of consumption more intelligent. Indeed, companies can use IT systems to make improvements in how their own companies use water. Operational dashboards, asset lifecycle management, constraint-based optimization, and rich visualization technology are all tools companies can use to better distribute, manage and utilize a scarce resource like water.

  3. Lawrence Berezin Jun 9th 2009 at 09:14 am 3


    Great post as usual. As one of your regular readers, I observe that you refer to IBM as a sort of gold standard on many of the topics your discuss. Does IBM collaborate with other corporations on the water scarcity challenge?

    Love your blog!

  4. Andrea Meyer Jun 9th 2009 at 09:45 am 4

    Thanks, Larry. (You’re very observant – I used to work at IBM way back when, so I perhaps I’m a bit partial to them. 🙂 ) Despite that, I do think they’re doing good things in numerous areas. To your question, IBM recently sponsored brainstorming sessions with hundreds of experts from universities, industry, and government to share ideas about managing water. They’ve got a “smarter water” blog going that reports on initiatives around the world and what IBM is doing. IBM also clearly has a business interest in this topic: they see a solid opportunity in helping people better produce, distribution, management, and recycle water through the the company’s SWIM (Strategic Water Information Management) platform.

  5. Claire Walter Jun 16th 2009 at 02:12 pm 5

    Clean water (and to an extent, clean air) will help alleviate many health problems in the world. Good for IBM and others for putting some of their considerable corporate brainpower into such efforts.

  6. Melanie Mulhall Jun 18th 2009 at 09:22 am 6


    The project in Ireland makes me proud of my Irish heritage! But beyond the concept of scarce material resources, it seems to me that these ideas could be applied by those of us who sell services. I’m going to give that some thought.