I wrote in a recent blog that "the Internet showed everybody how much more valuable IT is when you can connect and access everything regardless of vendor, and started the IT industry on a whole new strategy based on embracing open standards." The Internet enabled IT to become an open, global platform for innovation, in particular a platform for open, global, collaborative innovation.
But IT is just a means, not an end. What we are really after is leveraging the Internet -- and the collaborative IT platforms it has enabled -- to innovate "up the stack," in particular to help us address some of the most important problems facing society. And, no problems are more important and more in need of help than those surrounding healthcare and education, as was pointed out in two very important recent reports.
In health care, the Technology CEO Council issued a new report titled "A Healthy System." The report concluded that "If there's one thing that everyone agrees on about the U.S. health care system, it's that it isn't, in fact, a system," and that "the sad truth is that in health care today the whole is much less than the sum of its parts." The report went on to say, "We will never fix this problem simply by tinkering with its parts. As a practical matter, and as a moral imperative, we have to address the systemic problems of health care. And the most glaring - and promising - is health care's shocking lack of modern, networked information technology (IT), and the lost quality and efficiency that result."
In education, the National Academies issued a major report that also came out earlier this month and calls for a comprehensive federal effort to bolster U.S. competitiveness in the increasingly global economy of the 21st century. The report offers concrete recommendations in K - 12 and higher education, as well as in research and economic policy where it calls for a federal program to ensure ubiquitous, affordable broadband Internet access.
"That capability will do as much to drive innovation, the economy, and job creation in the 21st century as did access to the telephone, interstate highways, and air travel in the 20th century," the report went on to say.
Similarly, the National Innovation Initiative report which came out in December 2004 explicitly called for building a 21st Century Innovation Infrastructure to serve as a health care test bed, not only to attack the really difficult problems we face in health care, but to also help us establish advanced infrastructures in other key areas of national interest, such as education. The NII report also focused on talent as one of its three main areas of concern, and recommended building a National Innovation Education Strategy "for a diverse, innovative and technically-trained workforce".
Leveraging IT to build open health care and education platforms for innovation is really hard, because to a greater or lesser degree, there are no agreed upon open standards for connecting people, processes and information in either area. This is not surprising since, until we had the IT infrastructure to build on, integrating business processes, information and people was largely a labor-intensive, ad-hoc task. Only in the last few years have advances like the Internet, the emergence of software standards like Service Oriented Architectures and OpenDocument formats, as well as the explosive use of IT across just about all aspects of industry provided the impetus necessary to develop open, integrated, industry platforms.
As our experience with the Internet proved, you first need agreement on open standards, and this must be achieved on an industry basis. One of the obstacles to obtaining such agreement has been concern about intellectual property, since open industry standards are usually expressed and implemented in software, which then raises questions about potential patent issues. This week IBM is taking a major step toward ameliorating those IP concerns in the areas of health care and education by helping industry organizations in both areas develop the needed open standards and collaborative platforms. We are pledging open access to our entire present and future patent portfolio for specific standards initiatives around web services, open documents and electronic forms in the healthcare and education industries. For a detailed outline on this new initiative, let me refer you to a very good story posted by my colleague Bob Sutor in his blog.
Why is IBM doing this? In the last ten years, as we embraced the Internet's culture of standards, we have actively supported some of the key standards and open source communities in the IT industry, including the Internet (IETF) itself, the World Wide Web (W3C), Apache, Linux, and Grid Computing. More recently, we have been very vocal in stating that, in an On Demand world, such a culture of standards must become pervasive if we are to build globally integrated businesses, industries and economies. So, we are being true to our word and acting on the strategies that we have been articulating in the marketplace.
We see open, global, collaborative platforms as engines for innovation in health care and education. We believe all should do everything possible to support these really challenging initiatives, and that's what this announcement is all about.