IBM Chairman: Indian Cities Must Get Smarter to Tackle Urbanization

Sam Palmisano, IBM Chairman, says leaders will need to gain support for their ideas and concepts, and be persuasive

(from Information Week)

Cities are a critical component of driving the economy. But rapid urbanization around the world is already putting immense pressure on the limited resources available in the world’s cities. And countries like India and China are at the forefront of urbanization — India already has 12 of the world’s 100 largest cities.

Crowded street in Bangalore

Crowded street in Bangalore, India

It took nearly 40 years for the urban population in India to reach 230 million. Studies reveal it will take only half that time to reach the next 250 million. In the next 20 years around 30 Indians will migrate from a rural area to a city every minute. At that growth rate the population of Mumbai will be bigger than that of Canada by 2030. And the Delhi/NCR region will have a GDP bigger than Portugal. With more people choosing to live in cities, India will need 500 new cities in the next 20 years.

At the IBM Smarter Cities forum in New Delhi on September 13, a gathering of city planners, government policy makers, politicians, city architects, technologists, and researchers the consensus was that, even the best technology in the world cannot address the challenges induced by rapid urbanization. Delivering the keynote, IBM’s Chairman, Samuel J. Palmisano said it was really “a leadership issue” and that collaboration was essential. He suggested our leaders “should be systems thinkers, take a long-term view,” and have persuasive skills. And they “shouldn’t confuse leadership with charisma or the sound bite on TV.”

“If (leaders) are going to manage in the long term, they will need to build organizational support for their concepts and ideas. And you can only do that in a collaborative environment, with good team work and spirit. And you can’t dictate it and will it — you have to persuade people (to accept your ideas),” said Palmisano.

He said the problems (due to urbanization) are too severe for our leaders to manage. Yet there were changes happening in cities elsewhere in the world. Palmisano alluded to fresh water systems in Saudi Arabia, waste management systems (recology) in the San Francisco, a public safety crime center in Davao (Philippines), and an end-to-end command center in Rio de Janeiro to monitor all aspects of the city. IBM is also engaged with 3,000 smarter city projects around the world.

“Leaders who are managing these cities are non-ideological. They get things done. They have to solve the problems and make things better. And that’s what you see leaders in urban centers doing. These leaders think in terms of systems. Power generation, water management, transportation, health care and public safety are systems. A city is a system of systems that are interconnected. A great example is Rio de Janeiro. And they take a long-term orientation because you can do this in one election cycle. These are sophisticated projects.”