IBM announced this week its Economic Development Grid initiative, which
aims to help public sector institutions (e.g.,
school districts, local businesses, local governments, universities) in different geographic regions
leverage their computing power and resources to best benefit the
communities they serve.
The first region to be publicly announced as a partner is Greater
Cleveland, an area already being served by OneCleveland, a non-profit
organization dedicated to driving collaboration in the area through its
region-wide Gigabit network. IBM and OneCleveland have been working
together for some time on the network, which also aided in Cleveland
being ahead of the other cities with which IBM is working.
"They're a non-profit Ohio organization that's focused on this type of
value proposition and it made for a very easy, quick discussion and a
very easy move forward on the project," said Ken King, IBM's vice
president of Grid computing. "If you don't have an organization like
that set up in your community, it's a little bit more of an effort."
Scot Rourke, president of OneCleveland, said the organization is trying
to make the best use of its network, and is looking to use technology
as a tool set to solve various problems and challenges.
To establish what areas could benefit the most, and in turn bring the
most benefits to the community, IBM conducted a survey of CXOs in the
region and came up with four main categories where a Grid initiative
could really make a difference. The four areas, and their respective
- Healthcare Collaborative Grid -- This collaborative Grid would
allow hospitals to share information, ultimately allowing for improved
health care for patients through collaboration among medical
- Public Information Grid -- Designed to offer broad community
impact by delivering local government information to citizens. It will
improve the visibility of government information and services to
citizens, while improving customer service at a reduced cost.
- K-12 Outreach Grid -- An example of a data-sharing collaborative
Grid, this would allow the K-12 educational system to tap into the
resources from numerous school systems, as well as universities and
content providers to help teachers deliver higher quality and
compelling educational programs with the goal of increasing graduation
rates. As another example, a High School Outreach Grid would allow
universities to attract students, increasing enrollment in local and
- Higher Education Collaborative Grid -- By further enabling
distance learning, these collaborative Grids can provide a more
effective way for students to learn. They will make education more
accessible to students who may not have been able to participate,
ultimately providing an increase in attendance in local Ohio
"With IBM's help," said Rourke, "we were able to educate them on how we
might be able to use, in this instance, Grid to address some of those
social challenges and opportunities."
Both King and Rourke spoke about the possibilities of the health care
Grid project that has been outlined. King said the federation of
medical records across the various hospitals could really be helpful
for uninsured individuals, who often have to bounce from ER to ER, and
their records don't necessarily travel with them.
However, socio-economic benefits are not the only benefits the health
care system in the Cleveland area could see should the Grid project be
successful. Rourke said using Grid for the equivalent of interoperable
electronic medical records could reduce health care costs in the region
by 20 percent. A number, he added, that could be increased due to the Cleveland
area's relatively small number of providers versus metropolitan areas of
a similar size.
Rourke also laid out the two phases that he sees for the health care
project. Phase one, he said, is having interoperable medical records.
Phase two is a little more complex. Rourke said that the Cleveland
area will have a competitive advantage if it can establish one of the
first regional health care networks, which should lead to
pharmaceutical companies targeting the areas for drug trial tracking,
populace studies and the like.
Even with the excitement surrounding health care, though, no decisions have been made on which project will get underway first.
"We are probably going to start with identifying one of those
opportunities that has the most interest, the most resources to bring
to bear, the least amount of project-related risk, the most social
impacts," said Rourke. "Before the end of the year, it's our goal to
have a live, working example of a collaboration in those areas of some
leading institutions in this marketplace."
Assuming all the foreseen projects come to fruition and thrive, both
King and Rourke said the idea of linking the various projects to form a
"city Grid" or a "wired city" is definitely being considered. As King
said, "That's down the road a bit. Obviously, they've got to start
small, they've got to get some of these initial projects implemented
and successful and demonstrating value and return on the money they're
spending to do this, and then you can build out from there."
Rourke added that the city won't necessarily have to be "wired," as
OneCleveland is talking a lot about the concept of a "digital
But what about the money? Said King: "For IBM, this is about being a business. This is not about philanthropy."
That said, it doesn't mean IBM won't be doling out a little cash to get
things started. King said every scenario will be different, some of
which might include research grants or university grants that IBM does
all the time. He also added that the possibility exists that IBM could
do the consulting for a project, only to have the community choose
competitive technology or even have a competitor do the implementation.
"It's a broad range," he said. "There are areas where we will
contribute, but we are also looking at this as a business opportunity."
Although he can't give specific cities just yet, King said IBM is also
working with a couple of other areas on some interesting projects. One
city is interested in becoming a hub for software development
and plans to use Grid technology to make available the compute power of its local
government, universities and businesses to give software companies a
break as they deal with other start-up pains like finding venture
Another area is looking to become a hub for medical research and, like
Cleveland, hopes to draw in companies with its integrated data Grid
capabilities. That area is also looking at using excess compute
capacity to run very compressed medical research algorithms.
As for Cleveland, however, where all eyes will be focused to see how
viable this initiative can be, OneCleveland's Rourke said things are
looking good. He said they have identified "passionate leaders" in
their respective areas, have people committed to assigning resources to
projects and are finalizing executive support.
In the end, though, for any city or metropolitan area that decides to work
with IBM via its Economic Development Grid initiative, there is a lot
of work that must be done. While OneCleveland's high-speed network and
stated goal of driving collaboration made that project a little easier,
other cases will likely be more complex. Much work must be done, said
King, to establish relationships with local governments, economic
development boards, universities and other institutions in order to
create a constituency that will drive the project forward.
"This is not a simple exercise," King said, "but the value proposition is large, as well."