updated 3/13/2009 7:39:09 AM ET 2009-03-13T11:39:09

IBM Corp. is launching a new line of water services Friday, hoping to tap a new sales vein by taking the manual labor out of fighting pollution and managing water supplies. IBM says the overall water-management services market could be worth $20 billion in five years.

The effort is part of a wider role IBM wants to play in infrastructure services, including automobile traffic and power grids. In each instance, IBM is trying to persuade utilities and government agencies to overhaul their computer networks and link digital sensors together for better insights.

For example, instead of a meter-reader from the power company traipsing through your backyard, IBM is banking that one day your meter and your neighbors' will feed data directly into the utility's computer network.

Same for water. IBM says its new services will help water providers become more efficient in overseeing ever-more-precious supplies and responding faster to contamination and other emergencies.

Obama’s green dreamsThe company has been working on a project called SmartBay with an Irish marine institute to develop sensors that are monitoring pollution, marine life and wave conditions around Galway Bay and transmitting data to researchers. Among the benefits, IBM contends, is that computers can track floating debris that pose a hazard to commercial fishermen.

This "smarter planet" theme is part of IBM's strategy to keep making money in the recession. The company's chairman and CEO, Sam Palmisano, said in a letter to shareholders this week that IBM will be aggressive in drumming up business in areas like managing traffic, power grids, water, food, health care and finance. He vowed the efforts will help Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM grow by getting early starts in areas that will need help for years to come.

"We will not simply ride out the storm," Palmisano wrote. "Rather, we will take a long-term view, and go on offense."

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