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IBM launches startup incubator in the heart of downtown Toronto

Eric Emin Wood Eric Emin Wood Published: 09/21/2016

IBM Corp. – the 105 year-old computing giant known for its cloud computing services, Watson analytics platform, and a decision to sell its iconic personal computing division to Lenovo in 2005 – officially opened a startup incubator in the heart of downtown Toronto today.

The newly-launched IBM Innovation Space will be dedicated to helping tech startups take advantage of IBM’s wide range of technology, legal advice, and marketing expertise as they step into the global marketplace.

As IBM Canada president Dino Trevisani was quick to point out during the space’s Sept. 21 dedication, the company has not yet funded a similar space anywhere else in the world.

“This idea was born out of articles I read in the Globe and Mail when I got to Canada about how we’ve got a problem with creating companies that want to stay here,” he said. “The missing part was the private sector… We had to play a role.”

IBM Canada president Dino Trevisani was happy to emphasize the unique nature of the IBM Innovation Space during its Sept. 21 dedication in downtown Toronto.
IBM Canada president Dino Trevisani was happy to emphasize the unique nature of the IBM Innovation Space during its Sept. 21 dedication in downtown Toronto.

The space is the result of a partnership between IBM, which invested $24.75 million into the incubator, and the Ontario government, which invested $22.75 million grant from its Jobs and Prosperity fund. Other partners include the Ontario Centres of Excellence; the Southern Ontario Smart Computing Innovation Platform (SOSCIP) Research Consortium, a group that includes 15 colleges and universities including the University of Toronto, University of Waterloo, and Ryerson; and members of the Ontario Network of Entrepreneurs (ONE).

Though Trevisani expects other IBM divisions to launch similar initiatives in the future, he says Ontario was an ideal starting point because of the unique relationship between the province’s government, postsecondary institutions, and private sector.

A “selfish” act

IBM Canada senior innovation executive Allen Lalonde says that his company founding an incubator is ultimately a "selfish" act.
IBM Canada senior innovation executive Allen Lalonde says that his company founding an incubator is ultimately a “selfish” act.

The incubator’s roots can be traced back back to 2012, when IBM teamed up with the Ontario government, Ontario Centres of Excellence, and several of the province’s postsecondary institutions to create SOSCIP, an initiative that seeks to drive innovation in the province by removing barriers to conducting business.

“I’d love to tell you this was a new, wonderful idea, but the truth is it was an evolution,” Allen Lalonde, a senior executive of innovation at IBM Canada’s Research & Development Centre, tells ITBusiness.ca. “IBM has been in business for 105 years, and we’re a company built on innovation – we want to work with entrepreneurs, to learn from innovators in the marketplace, to accelerate our own research, to identify new markets, because big multinationals like IBM grow when new markets grow.”

“By working with the people who are changing the world and creating new markets, we’re establishing ourselves at the centre of whatever comes next,” he continues. “Selfishly, bridging the innovation gap is as much the smart thing to do as it is the right thing to do.”

As with SOSCIP, IBM is directing its incubator resources to “priority focus” areas such as health care, water, energy, infrastructure, and advanced computing – sectors where Canada has both a need and ideal opportunity to become a game-changing world leader.

And just as SOSCIP has been an enormous success – since its launch, Lalonde estimates that it’s helped create 50 projects and 40 companies, generated $2 billion in revenue, and will save Ontario $2 billion in healthcare costs – the company has high hopes for the incubator.

But the needs are different, Lalonde admits: Startups need a different type of support from government and academic projects. They require access to disruptive technology and must develop projects with an eye on commercialization opportunities.

Under IBM’s Innovation Incubator Initiative, companies can access the new space at no cost, but they must be based in Ontario, include at least two employees, have a viable product, and – most importantly – be positioned to benefit from the adoption and use of IBM technology such as IBM Cloud or Watson, he said.

It was discussing these circumstances with the Ontario government and the OCE that led to the incubator’s development, and ultimately today’s public launch.

Startup base already singing IBM’s praise

Tellingly, while the project was only publicly unveiled today, its initial startup base has been collaborating with IBM for nearly a year on a range of projects, from a support tool for veterinarians to a new two-step security software for businesses.

Orenda founder and CEO Tanya Collier MacDonald is thrilled to be working with IBM; she had been stalking the company since last year.
Orenda founder and CEO Tanya Collier MacDonald is thrilled to be working with IBM, having been “stalking” the company since last year.

Orenda Solutions founder and CEO Tanya Collier MacDonald says she began stalking IBM last year, flying from her native Nova Scotia to the Canadian arm’s Markham, Ont. head office to pitch her idea for a Watson-powered intelligent software solution that tracks a company’s reputation by analyzing online discussions about its activities.

“Watson is known as a leader in the field of cognitive thinking and artificial intelligence, and we wanted to align ourselves with a giant,” she says. “Fortunately, they pulled us into their innovation space and introduced us to the Watson ecosystem right away.”

Big Terminal director of business development and operations Nick Dyment says that access to IBM's cloud tools has been especially helpful for his company.
Big Terminal director of business development and operations Nick Dyment says that access to IBM’s cloud tools has been especially helpful for his company.

Nick Dyment, the director of business development and operations for Toronto-based Big Terminal, which is developing a Watson-powered search engine for the financial services industry, says that having access to IBM’s cloud services has been a particularly welcome boon for his company.

“Because we’re working with so much big data, if we had tried to buy the computers we’re using we would have been bankrupt in the first month,” says Dyment, whose platform analyzes global financial data and presents it in a simple, user-defined way. “Being able to use IBM Cloud has helped us scale as we grow while keeping our costs low, which is really great.”

Equally useful is the networking opportunities, McDonald and Dyment both note.

“IBM has a lot of financial clients across the spectrum, and these guys have been super supportive by getting us introductions to people, leading us to different businesses, helping figure out where gaps are in the market,” he says. “These people are great.”


IBM’s HR leaders on how a culture of innovation can boost employee engagement

Eric Emin Wood Eric Emin Wood Published: 08/07/2016

Editor’s note: Originally published on July 22, 2016. Updated with new interview on Aug. 7.

Innovation is built into IBM Corp.’s DNA, and that extends to its HR practices, its HR leaders say.

It’s no accident that, in addition to running one of the largest research and development divisions in the world and being the top U.S. patent recipient for 23 consecutive years, the Armonk, New York-based tech giant has been declared one of Canada’s most desirable employers by international HR services provider Randstad Holding nv for two years in a row.

“At IBM… we have a heavy focus on innovation – innovation in our products and solutions that we give over to our clients, but also innovation that we hope, and that we know, impacts the world,” Katherine Faichnie, IBM Canada’s director and HR leader, tells ITBusiness.ca.

By improving its employee experience, IBM Canada knows that employees are more likely to not only work with the company, but stay and help it grow – and ultimately, provide better service to clients, Faichnie says.

“Surveys and statistics show that employees that are proud of the company they work for deliver better customer service,” she notes.

And just like its products and solutions, the company applies its ethos of innovation to multiple facets of HR, Faichnie says.

Innovating performance management

Unlike the company’s dedication to research and patent applications, IBM’s current performance management strategy isn’t even a year old – but like many of its newest technological breakthroughs, it was driven by big data, Carrie Altieri, IBM’s vice-president of communications for HR, says.

“There’s almost no area of HR at IBM that hasn’t been reinvented because of data,” she says. “There are hundreds of data scientists within IBM that are looking at HR… and the surprising reality is that the one skill expected more from HR people than ever before is analytics capabilities.”

Much of the reason for IBM’s reliance on HR data lies, of course, with the sheer scale of its operations: the company has hired more than 100,000 new employees worldwide since January 2015, including 30,000 since January alone.

“If you look at our current portfolio, IBM is a very different business than when I started over 10 years ago,” Altieri says. “All of this analytics and cloud computing and helping clients design their web interface… that’s all work that we were not doing years ago, but we’re doing it now. So we need those skills.”

Coming from the wider tech world and accustomed to user-friendly consumer experiences, many of these new hires expect their work life to be much more personalized, she says – that they will be asked for their opinion and that the company will act on it, a feature that was absent from IBM’s former annual performance review system, known as Personal Business Commitments.

“That system, which we had in place for more than a decade, was no longer aligned with how IBM-ers were working,” Altieri says. “It wasn’t even aligned to how work gets done anymore.”

And so, rather than convening a group of HR managers to design a new performance management system, the company’s HR department shifted its focus to soliciting ideas from employees, using Connections, IBM’s internal social media platform, to run roundtables and encourage feedback.

The company’s initial blog post asking employees to share their ideas for a new performance management system received more than 200,000 views alone, and staff collected nearly 100,000 comments from the project’s various blogs and physical roundtables.

“We wanted an online debate,” Altieri says. “Like, ‘You’re not really going to make any changes… You have the whole thing worked out, and this is all for theatre. You’re going to come out in two weeks and tell us your plan.’ We received comments like that.”

Using social listening technologies, the company also determined which demographics weren’t fully participating in the project – and made a point of including them in the roundtables.

IBM even crowdsourced the name – “Checkpoint” – which Altieri says captures the move from an annual performance review to quarterly feedback that a majority of the company’s workforce was seeking.

“They got this sense of, ‘wow! People were listening,'” she says. “It was an interesting exercise.”

Despite its scale, the project’s development was surprisingly nimble: by applying analytics, IBM’s HR team was able to develop Checkpoint within 90 days, rolling it out internationally to every one of its 378,000 employees, spanning 170 countries, in February.

Innovating elsewhere

Recruiting

IBM receives more than 1 million unsolicited applications per year, and is looking to fill some 25,000 positions at any given time, Altieri says.

And so the company’s recruitment team relies on a Watson-based APIs to notify them whenever an applicant might be an especially good fit for a particular role.

“Fitbit for managers”

Another application uses predictive analytics to notify managers when an employee might be at risk of defecting.

“It’s almost like a Fitbit for managers,” Altieri says. “The fitbit alerts you when you have to move around… this says your employees may not be getting the attention they need to keep them on track.”

And whether the problem is mentoring or money, the application gives managers whatever tools they need to do something about it: for example, authorizing a pay and benefits increase of a certain amount.

Continuing education

IBM has also released an in-house professional development platform, which comprises both in-house lessons and outside education programs available to its employees.

“Imagine logging into Netflix,” Altieri says. “You have different channels of not only what you like, but what others like you are picking, and what, based on your role and the work you do, you might be interested in learning about. And if you opt out of a suggested class, the system learns.”

Award-winning HR since 2015

Few achievements illustrate the success of IBM’s HR efforts better than its ranking in the Randstad Awards, the HR service provider’s annual quest to determine the most attractive employers in the world.

Now its seventh year, the 2016 survey comprised more than 200,000 people from 25 countries that collectively represent 75 per cent of the global economy, with around 7400 respondents hailing from Canada.

When asked what they look for in an employer, the Canadians polled – including students, employees, and unemployed job seekers between the ages of 18 and 65 – listed salary, long-term job security, and a pleasant working environment as their top three concerns.

What Canadian workers want
The top factors that influence Canadians when deciding which employer they want to work for. (Randstad)

When it came to individual attributes, IBM Canada came in first place for training and career progression opportunities, and second for interesting job content and salary and employee benefits. It was also the top employer of choice among employees with post-secondary education and respondents who possessed graduate degrees.

Employer branding matters, Randstad emphasized in its 2016 report: the company’s research indicates that companies with good employer brands save 10 per cent on payroll costs, have 28 per cent less staff turnover, and spend 46 per cent less per hire.

The most attractive employer in Canada this year was Guelph-based energy firm Canadian Solar Inc., which received a 54.38 per cent attractiveness score – that is, among respondents who knew about the company, 54.38 per cent wanted to work there.

Other tech-related companies on the list included TD Bank, which came in 13th place with an attractiveness score of 44.52 per cent, the Royal Bank of Canada, which came in at 14th with a score of 44.05 per cent, and advisory firm PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (PwC), which came in at 18th with a score of 43.54 per cent.

In Canada, IBM came in second place, with an attractiveness score of 51.77 per cent – which IBM Canada’s Faichnie admits “felt great,” but also like a step down from last year.

“Last year we were actually number one,” she says. “This year we were a little disappointed not to be the number-one employer brand, but it puts us in a position of feeling like we’re the challenger, and so our goal is to take the information and improve our overall branding and employee experience so that next year we get back to the top of the list.”

After all, she says, IBM’s status as a desirable employer hardly came about by accident.


A silicon wafer designed to sort particles found in bodily fluids for the purpose of early disease detection. (Credit: IBM Research).

IBM predicts superhero vision, nano-sized health devices in next five years

Mandy Kovacs Mandy Kovacs Published: 01/06/2017

IBM is taking steps to make the world a better place.

The company has unveiled its annual ‘Five in Five’ list today, which lays out some of the most important and groundbreaking scientific innovations that, in the next five years, could have the potential to drastically alter the way people work, live and interact.

This year’s overarching theme is “making the invisible visible,” with IBM highlighting artificial intelligence (AI), hyperimaging, macroscopes, chip technology, and smart sensors as technologies that could have a big impact on life as we know it.

We break down IBM’s predictions below:

With AI, our words will open a window into our mental health

One in five Canadians will experience a mental illness in their lifetime, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association, and IBM is working to assist those who suffer.

The company is developing AI systems with machine learning capabilities that can analyze and find patterns in human speech and written words, which it hopes will ultimately help health professionals predict, identify and monitor various illnesses, such as schizophrenia, mania and depression. It hopes that similar techniques can be used to help patients with Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s disease, PTSD, and even neurodevelopmental conditions such as autism and ADHD.

“Cognitive computers can analyze a patient’s speech or written words to look for tell-tale indicators [of illness] found in language, including meaning, syntax and intonation,” the company says in a Jan. 5 press release. “Combining the results of these measurements with those from wearable devices and imaging systems and collected in a secure network can paint a more complete picture of the individual for health professionals to better identify, understand, and treat the underlying disease.”

IBM hopes that this technology, along with traditional clinical visits, will transform what were once invisible signs of suffering into “clear signals of a patients’ likelihood of entering a certain mental state or how well their treatment plan is working.”

Hyperimaging and AI will give us superhero vision

More than 99.9 percent of the electromagnetic spectrum cannot be observed by the naked eye, and while scientists have spent the last century building instruments to sense different wavelengths, these tools generally remain expensive and specialized.

Scientists at IBM are currently building a compact hyperimaging platform that can “see” across the many levels of the electromagnetic spectrum. The hope is that this technology, along with AI, will help humans see “beyond the domain of visible light” to reveal what would otherwise be unknown or hidden from plain sight.

This could assist drivers in hazardous traffic or weather conditions see more clearly, help self-driving cars operate more efficiently, or even confirm whether a bank check or pharmaceutical drug is real or fraudulent, the company speculates.

It predicts these devices to be portable and affordable for the everyday consumer, and even sees the opportunity to embed the technology in mobile phones to make it as least disruptive as possible.

Macroscopes will help us understand Earth’s complexity in infinite detail

With the emergence of connected devices and the Internet of Things (IoT), millions of exabytes of data are collected every year – however, much of it goes to waste. In fact, Berkeley reports that 80 per cent of a scientist’s time is spent scrubbing data instead of analyzing and understanding what was collected.

IBM hopes to change that using machine-learning software to organize the information. It has developed a “macroscope” to help bring together the vast amount of data gathered into something humans can comprehend and use to better various processes and activities.

“Unlike the microscope to see the very small, or the telescope that can see far away, [the macroscope] is a system of software and algorithms to bring all of Earth’s complex data together to analyze it for meaning,” the company says.

For example, farmers can use data on climate, soil conditions, water levels and their relationship to irrigation practices to make better crop choices and decisions on where to plant and how to conserve water. It tested the concept at a Californian winery in 2012 and saw success.

Beyond Earth, the technology could also be used to predict asteroid collisions and learn more about their composition.

Medical labs “on a chip” will serve as health detectives for tracing disease at the nanoscale

IBM predicts that within the next five years, nanotechnology will act as a first response medical team by “tracing invisible clues in our bodily fluids and letting us know immediately if we have reason to see a doctor.” It hopes to shrink down all the processes necessary in analyzing a disease – which would normally be carried out in a full-scale biochemistry lab – to a single silicon chip.

Company scientists are developing “lab-on-a-chip” technology “that can separate and isolate bioparticles down to 20 nanometers in diameter, a scale that gives access to DNA, viruses and exosomes.” This technology would potentially be able to reveal diseases before symptoms are even shown.

IBM hopes such technology could eventually be incorporated into a handheld device, as well as combined with IoT products, such as sleep monitors and smart watches, to be analyzed by AI systems for insight.

“When taken together, this data set will give us an in-depth view of our health and alert us to the first signs of trouble, helping to stop disease before it progresses,” the company reports.

Smart sensors will detect environmental pollution at the speed of light

To combat pollution and climate change, IBM is developing affordable sensing technologies that can be used by the energy industry to detect leaks around extraction wells, storage facilities and distribution pipelines in real time. For example, the company is working with natural gas producer Southwestern Energy to design an intelligence methane monitoring system as part of the ARPA-E Methane Observation Networks with Innovative Technology to Obtain Reductions (MONITOR) program.

IBM’s research is focused on using silicon photonics, “an evolving technology that transfers data by light, allowing computing literally at the speed of light.” It says chips made with this technology could be embedded in a network of sensors on the ground, or within infrastructure, or even fly on autonomous drones.

In five years, IBM foresees networks of such IoT connected sensors that could alert the industry of leaks in a matter of minutes instead of days or weeks, which could drastically reduce waste and the likelihood of catastrophic events. Combined with real-time wind data, satellite data and other sources, such technology “can be used to build complex environmental models to detect the origin and quantity of pollutants as they occur.”


IBM announces new video streaming software, partnership with CBC

Eric Emin Wood Eric Emin Wood Published: 04/18/2016

IBM Corp. is expanding its footprint in the cloud video market, releasing a new software line that enables broadcast-quality live video feeds, the Armonk, N.Y.-based tech giant announced today.

The company also revealed a host of new clients for its Clearleap streaming platform, including Japanese auto maker Mazda Motor Corp., Canadian-American film and television studio Lionsgate Entertainment Corp., and the CBC.

IBM’s live streaming software, which will be powered by subsidiary Aspera’s new FASPStream (Fast and Secure Protocol) code, and the company’s new Clearleap partnerships were both revealed at the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) show in Las Vegas on April 18, with IBM demonstrating FASPStream with three live camera feeds from South Africa, China, and New York state.

To provide Aspera’s clients and their users with broadcast-quality video, which IBM promises can stream from anywhere in the world with a delay of two seconds or less, FASPStream transfers a camera’s 50-Mbps source code across multiple networks, so that if a stream fails on one it can instantly be routed to another. The streams are also encrypted and must be authenticated by their player, ensuring security, IBM said in a statement.

One of FASPStream’s first clients, and the creator of its New York video demonstration, will be Broadway Video Entertainment, a film and television studio founded by Saturday Night Live executive producer Lorne Michaels.

IBM and CBC also announced today that the popular broadcaster would be using the tech giant’s Clearleap platform to power its new ad-supported streaming video service, which will allow viewers across Canada to watch more than 600 CBC titles on browsers, iOS, and Android devices.

“Our collaboration with CBC demonstrates the company’s continued commitment to innovation, and to making its content broadly available on every screen, platform and device through an excellent user experience,” Braxton Jarratt, co-founder of Clearleap and general manager of IBM’s Cloud Video Unit, said in a statement.

Finally, Lionsgate announced today that the Clearleap platform would be powering Comic-Con HQ, a new subscription-based video-on-demand service that will allow viewers to both virtually attend events organized by partner Comic-Con International and watch a mix of original series, entertainment news, and genre films and TV shows.


Toronto Raptors recruit IBM to build ‘digital war room’

Paolo Del Nibletto Paolo Del Nibletto Published: 02/23/2016

During the grand opening of the BioSteel Centre, Masai Ujiri, president and general manager of the Toronto Raptors guaranteed that an National Basketball Association (NBA) championship would come one day to the city.

The brand new practice facility is just one step, he said, in the commitment from team owners Maple Sports and Entertainment (MLSE) in building a championship squad.

The BioSteel Centre is a 68,000-square foot training and development facility featuring two full size courts, a locker room with individual monitors above each seating area, a large fitness and weight room, medical and rehabilitation areas, cold and hot tubs, an underwater treadmill and a full service kitchen.

But besides the two shiny new basketball courts, that long-awaited NBA championship could come from a first of kind installation from IBM Canada called the War Room. The Raptors War Room sports nine-screens showing data captured from advanced cognitive technology from Watson.

Masai Ujiri, president and general manager of the Toronto Raptors

“The IBM War Room is unbelievable,” Ujiri said. “The world has become more analytical. We need to collect a lot of data to be successful. And, when you look at the screens and see all the trades coming down and you are not part of them I might want to blame IBM,” he joked.

Ujiri, when asked by ITWorldCanada.com how much data analytics plays a role in his daily duties, said: “Plenty!”

Data analytics is a key part of his current direction for the team. “It’s become a big part of the game today,” he added.

Places like the IBM War Room helps the Raptors staff as well as team operations with making good decisions. The process now is in capturing as much data as necessary because Ujiri believes there is insight there to be found.

Typically War Rooms in major pro sports leagues such as the NBA, the NHL, Major League Baseball and the NFL utilize these conference style quarters for the annual amateur draft. But Ujiri plans to expand its use for free agency and player comparisons and evaluations. “This facility is changing the dynamics of the sports market,” he said.

Jamal Lacour, application architect for IBM Interactive Global Business Services, worked directly with Ujiri on the concept of the digital war room. Ujiri asked for a conference room that could change the dynamics of the game. “He also wanted the wow factor,” Lacour told ITWorldCanada.com

In behind the big screens at the War Room is IBM’s Sports Insights Central solution. IBM Sports Insights Central was built on the IBM BlueMix cloud development platform. It also has Watson Tradeoff analytics, which is a tool to assess possible roster combinations against a variety of criteria developed by the team.

The Raptors War Room will also have a social media aspect to it. Using IBM’s Watson Personality Insights technology, Lacour said it can create fluid profiles of current NBA players.

For example, Watson Personality can develop an instant profile on star players Stephan Curry of the Golden State Warriors and LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers. What makes this technology interesting is that these profiles can shift from week-to-week, day-to-day or even game-to-game. The profile on LeBron James can be a positive one based on his Tweets and other social media feeds and then change to negative the next day because his head coach David Blatt got fired.

Watson Personality uses linguistic analytics to understand player personality and social characteristics. This type of data, Lacour said, helps a team such as the Raptors on potential trades or gets some understanding on if a certain player can align quickly with the team’s culture. IBM Watson Alchemy API technology can further help analyze public news sources to round out player profiles, he added.

Currently Raptors team staff struggled to collaborate with each other on drafting, player development, professional scouting and trade scenarios. The process, according to Lacour, was too manual and got bogged down with paperwork.

Ujiri’s objectives to the IBM Interactive team was to push the efficiency agenda and remove the manual process for the team’s depth charts, scouting reports, trade scenarios, player comparisons along with bring into more analytical data.

“Before the War Room, the team analyzed its depth chart through colour coded magnets on a whiteboard. Now the depth chart will be the centre of the War Room. And, that same depth chart will be on display throughout the nine screens,” Lacour said.

Microsoft Excel was a big part of manual process for the Raptors staff. Lacour said that team officials used Excel extensively for many tasks. However, the Excel spreadsheet was not user-friendly on a mobile phone, team officials found it hard to share Excel files and could not collaborate on ranking players inside the software program.

Lacour said the Raptors plan to still use Excel but with the IBM Sports Insights Central solution that same spreadsheet becomes more dynamic. It can be viewed on a mobile phone, shared and the officials now have the ability to rank players.

IBM Sports Insights Central will also dramatically reduce paperwork.

Lacour called the BioSteel installation a large enterprise project, but said that this solution can be scaled down to one screen or a two-to-three screen set up for an SMB customer.

IBM Interactive worked with just one partner in the development of the Raptors’ War Room: MultiTouch Inc., an interactive display manufacturer based in Helsinki, Finland whose flagship product is called MultiTaction.

MultiTaction is multi-user touch display solution that can handle many touches on its screens.

Lacour wanted to work with MultiTouch because the solution brings about a large canvas experience.


Macs cheaper to deploy than PCs, IBM says

Eric Emin Wood Eric Emin Wood Published: 10/20/2016

Apple Inc.’s products might have a reputation for being expensive, but their enterprise deployment cost is lower than PCs, according to IBM.

How much lower? Between $273 and $543 USD per Mac over a four-year lifespan, Fletcher Previn, IBM’s vice-president of workplace as a service, told the audience during an Oct. 19 presentation at Apple device management solution provider Jamf’s annual Jamf Nation User Conference.

“And this reflects the best pricing we’ve ever gotten from Microsoft,” he said.

IBM learned its surprising lesson after implementing a program last year in which it began asking employees whether they wanted a Mac or PC.

And to be clear, it was a true choice – IBM’s leadership team believed that giving its employees the option and deploying both across the company, which spans 2,800 locations and more than 400,000 workers, 40 per cent of them remote, would boost morale.

“The goal was to deliver a great employee choice program and strive to achieve the best Mac program,” Previn said.

Last year the company deployed 30,000 Macs, a number which this year has grown to 90,000 so far.

In fact, IBM estimates that it will have deployed more than 100,000 Macs by the end of 2016 – and 73 per cent of employees have said they want their next computer to be a Mac, according to an Oct. 19 blog post on Jamf’s website, which based on the math could mean between $27.3 million and $54.3 million USD in savings.

As for how IBM achieved that number, one reason could be the fact that IBM requires only five admins to support its entire Mac network.

It also hired Jamf to leverage Apple’s Device Enrollment Program (DEP), which allows for zero-touch deployment – ideal for a company with as many remote workers as IBM.

Year over year, the company has also seen a dramatic increase in its employee engagement scores, according to Jamf, with “Better Tools” cited as the number one reason.


How IBM Watson helped Time magazine narrow its search for Person of the Year

Eric Emin Wood Eric Emin Wood Published: 12/08/2016

Before declaring the least-favoured – but most-covered – U.S. president-elect in recent history Person of the Year, the editors behind New York City-based Time magazine consulted an unlikely source for advice.

For the first time in the magazine’s 93-year history, the candidates for its 2016 Person of the Year were partly chosen by the public – with a little help from machine learning powered by IBM Watson.

Opentopic co-founder André König
Opentopic co-founder André König says that IBM Watson was instrumental his company’s efforts to help Time’s editors choose 2016’s Person of the Year.

“What they told us when we first started talking to them is that [choosing Person of the Year] was getting very repetitive,” André König, co-founder and head of strategy and revenue for Opentopic Inc., which collaborated with Time on its newest experiment, tells ITBusiness.ca. “Castro hadn’t died, Donald Trump wasn’t elected yet, and thinking about the stories they could write about whoever they picked was a real challenge for them. So they were looking for a way to make it more interesting.”

While the people’s choice for the person who wielded the most international influence this year – Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi – did not win, König says that Time’s editors used a combination of machine learning and reader feedback to narrow down the candidates.

They started by approaching IBM, he says, thinking they could use the Watson platform to analyze the year’s media coverage in an attempt to both narrow down the field and come up with ideas for how to approach writing about whoever they chose.

IBM, in turn, contacted Opentopic, which specializes in target audience insights and has been an IBM partner for around three years.

“Publishers in general – and we work with a bunch of them: the Economist, [Time magazine parent company] Time Inc., Conde Nast – have a couple of big structural problems,” König says. “Finding your target audiences, engaging them, and making sure they come back and, ultimately, subscribe to your publication is getting more and more challenging.”

“One way that Time Inc. is hoping to address the challenge of engaging audiences is finding better, more data-driven ways to create editorial content,” he says.

Typically when selecting the magazine’s Person of the Year, Time’s editors will discuss who they believe most warrants the designation during a two- or three-week period anyway, König says, so inviting the public to join was only a short hop away.

But first, they gave Opendata a list of “a few hundred names,” he says, “and we analyzed them all – content, media mentions, publications – for 2016.”

For each person studied, Opendata gathered information from across social media channels, online publications, bloggers, RSS feeds, and webpages before running it through multiple Watson-driven APIs (advanced program interfaces), including sentiment analysis, personality analysis, concept extraction, relationship extraction, and geolocation. It then presented the data in what König called a “user-friendly” dashboard-based format that allowed Time’s editors to compare and contrast the results.

The Watson platform was essential on two fronts, König says: The level of analysis Time’s editors were looking for required a great deal of server power and technical flexibility, since Opendata was analyzing multiple types of content and millions of pages.

“Everything we do at Opentopic is hosted on IBM Bluemix SoftLayer, which is a very flexible server infrastructure that allows you to scale up very easily and control what you do,” König explains. “It is also integrated with all of the IBM Watson APIs, so it basically allows you to turn any kind Watson API that you want on or off within a couple of hours.”

“It’s very flexible, which was very important for this project, since it had an iterative discovery process,” he continues. “We’d provide a set of analyses, the editors would look at it and come back with some feedback – stuff they like, stuff they don’t think apply – and we’d move forward from there. The IBM Bluemix SoftLayer infrastructure was critical to that.”

In the end, Opencontent analyzed tens of millions of pages across multiple parameters, providing a level of insight and decision-making that humans couldn’t, König says.

“For Time, it’s hopefully a better way to pick their person of the year,” he says. “It’s also a good story in itself.”


IBM and Bell partner up for enterprise mobility in Canada

Alex Radu Alex Radu Published: 01/17/2017

IBM has partnered with Bell Canada to bring its MobileFirst for iOS to Canadian enterprises.

IBM MobileFirst is the product of IBM’s partnership with Apple to create a made-for-business suite of apps that can be used by enterprises in a range of industries to handle big data analytics on the go. With Bell onboard, Canadian companies will be able to use Bell’s national network to get reliable and secure access anywhere under the Bell umbrella.

“This is a great way for us to accelerate the transformation we see our clients embarking on around mobility,” said Rob Ranieri, IBM’s vice president and partner of North America Apple Mobile Leader, over the phone with ITBusiness.ca. “Being able to partner with Bell gives us the ability to use their features on top of our own to really drive employee adoption of this new way to work.”

MobileFirst isn’t designed with any particular industry in mind. Examples include first responders who can use the program’s GPS data to find the most efficient routes and improve response time; retailers who can save time and resources by accessing or monitoring inventory at different locations remotely; and wealth managers who can create better pitches and save clients time by having access to large amounts of data securely on the road.

“We developed 100-plus applications in the first year that targeted 14 industries that we thought were ripe for transformation,” said Ranieri.

In Canada, Air Canada has adopted this platform in its Rouge line. Frequent flyers may have noticed the switch of onboard entertainment from seatback screens to directly onto one’s own wireless device – just one example of MobileFirst already being integrated into the enterprise.

IBM promises an ease of adoption as well. According to Ranieri, large scale deployments of MobileFirst can be done in as quickly as six weeks.


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