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Colin Harrison

Colin Harrison

Distinguished Engineer Emeritus, IBM


  • Adjunct Faculty, School of Sustainability
  • Distinguished Engineer Emeritus, IBM


Colin Harrison was IBM’s technical pioneer in Smarter Cities and in the application of the Smarter Principle to helping cities achieve their sustainability goals. He retired from IBM in January 2013.

Dr. Harrison remains a Distinguished Engineer Emeritus with IBM’s Enterprise Initiatives team. He remains active externally with scientific communities working on a Science of Cities and on solutions for regional and urban resilience. He was the inventor of IBM’s Smarter Cities technical architecture, which grew out of 2007 work on Energy & Environment offerings and a technology assessment on the Instrumented Planet. During 2007-10 he was a director in the corporate strategy group, leading business strategy development for Smarter Cities. He is also an IBM Master Inventor.

He was previously Director of Strategic Innovation in IBM’s Integrated Technology Delivery in Europe and Director of Global Services Research in IBM’s Research Division, where he held many leadership positions. Following his university studies in England and Germany, he spent 1972-77 at CERN in Geneva developing the SPS accelerator and its pioneering distributed real-time control system. He then returned to EMI Central Research Laboratories in London, and lead the development of the world’s first clinically useful MRI system in 1978. He joined IBM in San Jose in 1979 and has enjoyed a career leading from micromagnetics to medical imaging, parallel computing, mobile networking, intelligent agents, telecommunications services, knowledge management, and now Smarter Cities. In October 2004 he was elected to the IBM Academy of Technology.

In the course of his career Dr Harrison has lead many technical innovations, including the first use of a distributed real-time control system at CERN, the clinical application of Magnetic Resonance Imaging in medicine (1978), mobile computing (1990), wireless data services (1992), network services (1994), and so forth. Among his many failed innovations are magnetic bubble memories (1980), creating a medical imaging business for IBM (1984), inventing the Worldwide Web two years too late (1992), and creating a Voice over IP business (1997). He believes that failure is an intrinsic part of the innovation process, since it drives questions. And questions are often more valuable than answers.

Dr. Harrison studied Electrical Engineering at the Imperial College of Science and Technology and earned a PhD in Materials Science. He also studied Physics at the University of Munich. He is a Fellow of the Institution of Engineering and Technology (UK), and a Senior Member of the Institution of Electronic and Electrical Engineers (USA). He is registered as a Chartered Engineer (C.Eng.) and a European Engineer (Eu Ing). He was a founder member of the Society of Magnetic Resonance in Medicine (USA). He is an Expert Advisor to the Swiss Academy of Technical Sciences. He has been a visiting scientist at MIT, Harvard Medical School, and Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory. Dr. Harrison has been awarded 27 patents. He has published some 60 scientific and technical papers and talks and a successful book on Intelligent Agents. He is an invited speaker at European universities on the impact of information technology on the nature of work, business organization, and industries.

Among his many passions are photography, writing, and mountains above the tree line. He has fluent speaking, reading, and writing ability in English (UK), French (Swiss), and German. He has travelled widely in Europe, the Middle East, and North America. He has some familiarity with South Africa, Japan, and South America.


  • PhD, Materials Science, Imperial College of Science and Technology