Archive for June, 2009

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.

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