IBM: Big Blue Goes Green and Blue (IBM)

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IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM) is expanding into the water business. One part of the effort is to develop a smart grid of sensors and software to help manage water systems. The other part of the plan appears to be creating improved technologies to support water systems.

For instance, IBM’s research group has announced the development of a new desalination membrane that more effectively filters a variety of toxins and salts from water, delivering potable water. The filter material may also be resistant to chlorine, opening up a market in municipal water systems.

The sensor and software part of the plan includes installing sensors that can monitor pipes, rivers, reservoirs, and harbors for potential issues like loss of pressure in pipes, pollution increases in rivers and reservoirs, and floating debris in harbors. Combined with specialized software, the system could provide a lot of information very quickly and even begin to work on solutions for the problem.

There’s also the potential for significant revenue in managing water systems. IBM thinks it could be a $20 billion business in five years. The US stimulus package includes $15-$20 billion for water projects, so that’s a good start right there.

Most publicly traded water companies have either contracted with national or local governments to operate water delivery to citizens. IBM plans to act like an arms merchant, selling its services and technology to anyone willing to pay for it. That’s a lesson it learned long ago when it licensed, and didn’t buy, an operating system from a small start-up with no one had ever heard of.

Paul Ausick
March 13, 2009