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IBM Canada, as part of its Smarter Planet initiative, was looking for collaborative opportunities to accelerate the development of its water management technologies. In 2011, IBM crunched the numbers and decided it found exactly what it was looking for in the Southern Ontario Water Consortium.
IBM Canada is IBM's global home for business analytics, which is the art and science of extracting useful intelligence in real-time from the flood of data flowing constantly through global corporations, urban traffic systems and huge electrical grids.
Watersheds are dynamic eco-systems with interactions between users and the natural environment that are far too complex to simulate in a laboratory. Would IBM's intelligent automation systems be able to track microscopic changes in water quality across an entire watershed? If so, it could help communities around the world manage more effectively their water treatment and delivery systems.
Home to IBM's largest software development team outside the United States, IBM Canada has labs in Toronto, Ottawa and London, Ontario. IBM Canada's software labs have worldwide development missions in all of IBM's software brands including key components of the Smarter Planet initiative.
Ontario companies and universities have an international reputation for high quality, innovative water research. Scientists across the province are working on water issues at more than 21 university, college and publicly funded research institutes. IBM Canada works with many of Ontario's leading universities and colleges in a collaborative search for solutions to global challenges including water treatment and systems management.
The Southern Ontario Water Consortium (SOWC) is a collaboration involving private-sector companies, municipalities and eight universities. It is transforming the Grand River watershed, an area of nearly 7,000 square km that stretches from the highlands near Georgian Bay down to Lake Erie, into a "living lab" as a testing platform for innovative water technologies. The platform is on track to be operational by 2014.
The SOWC was established in August 2011 as a public-private collaboration. IBM Canada, the lead industry partner, provided a $20 million in-kind contribution. Additional funding included $19.5 million from the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario and $9 million from the Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation.
"The pieces are starting to come together nicely the equipment and software have been delivered and we expect the operations centre to be ready to receive data once the sensors have been deployed," said Don Aldridge, Research Executive, IBM Canada. "To the best of my knowledge, this is the only complete watershed in the world that will be monitored and managed from the headwaters down through agricultural users, industrial users and urban centres. Water management is one of the critical global issues identified in IBM's Smarter Planet initiative. We need to better manage our watersheds because our ability to use and reuse water efficiently will be a significant factor shaping economic growth."
IBM Canada's collaboration connected it with both leading academic researchers and cutting-edge technology companies.
The Water Institute at the University of Waterloo, for example, is an internationally recognized water-research leader that brings together the expertise of more than 100 faculty members from six faculties and close to 20 departments.
Two of the world's leading water and wastewater treatment technologies were developed in Ontario. We are also home to leaders in detecting leaks in underground water mains, monitoring water quality in real-time and extracting value from industrial wastewater.
For innovative companies such as IBM, Ontario offers unique opportunities to develop business solutions for global markets. Ontario is Canada's research powerhouse where more than $13.3 billion in industrial and university-based R&D is performed every year. Companies in the province have access to a highly educated workforce and one of the most generous R&D tax incentives programs in the world. Ontario has the people, the technologies and the competitive cost environment that growing companies need.
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All figures are in Canadian dollars unless otherwise noted. Information is accurate at the time of publication.