Head of IBM Watson Health leaving post after company stumbles, growing criticism

Oct. 23, 2018

After a rocky three years as head of IBM’s health division, Deborah DiSanzo is leaving her role.

A company spokesman told STAT that DiSanzo will no longer lead IBM Watson Health, the Cambridge-based division that has pitched the company’s famed artificial intelligence capabilities as solutions for a myriad of health challenges, like treating cancer and analyzing medical images.

Even as it has heavily advertised the potential of Watson Health, IBM has not met lofty expectations in some areas. Its flagship cancer software, which used artificial intelligence to recommend courses of treatment, has been ridiculed by some doctors inside and outside of the company. And it has struggled to integrate different technologies from other businesses it has acquired, laying off employees in the process.

The circumstances of DiSanzo’s departure were unclear, but Watson Health has been seeking to rebound after a series of stumbles. IBM executives have said they have bet much of the company’s future on its success in healthcare and improving Watson Health’s standing in the industry is seen as crucial to that effort.

DiSanzo was brought into the company in 2015 to be the general manager of Watson Health. She will be succeeded by John Kelly, senior vice president for Cognitive Solutions and IBM Research, who will step into DiSanzo’s role in an acting capacity, according to current and former employees.

DiSanzo will join the strategy team for IBM Cognitive Solutions.

The shift comes as IBM faces declining revenue. The company released third-quarter earnings, which showed that revenue from cognitive offerings, like Watson, was down 6% from last year. There was “growth in Watson health,” according to an IBM press release.

IBM was the first among major technology companies to introduce artificial intelligence-based products for use in healthcare. But its recent stumbles have led to the loss of major hospital clients, and the company is now facing stiff competition from large rivals such as Amazon, Apple, and Microsoft.

STAT News has the full story

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