Health IT

IBM confirms layoffs impacted its Watson Health division

Spokesman Doug Shelton verified that IBM’s recent round of layoffs hit its Watson Health unit, but he did not specify how many individuals lost their jobs, according to The Herald Sun.

IBM has verified that its recent round of layoffs affected its Watson Health unit, which is focused on applying artificial intelligence to the healthcare space.

Spokesman Doug Shelton told The Herald Sun that the situation “affects a small percentage of our global Watson Health workforce as we move to more technology-intensive offerings, simplified processes and automation to drive speed.” He did not specify how many individuals lost their jobs.

Previous reports told a different story. Before Memorial Day weekend, The Register reported IBM laid off 50 to 70 percent of Watson staff members at offices in Dallas, Texas; Ann Arbor, Michigan; Cleveland, Ohio; Denver, Colorado; and elsewhere. The site reported the layoffs affected companies IBM acquired to help its Watson unit, including Truven, a data analytics firm; Merge, a medical imaging company; and population health management business Phytel.

The article in The Register cited inside sources and the Watching IBM Facebook page.

Overall, the exact extent of the layoffs remains unclear. IBM hasn’t filed a mass-layoff notice under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act in North Carolina, Texas or Ohio. Companies are required to file when a layoff impacts over 50 people amounting to a third or more of the staff at one site of employment, according to The Herald Sun.

IBM Watson Health and its approach have faced scrutiny as of late.

A 2017 interview with a former IBM employee who worked in the company’s life sciences group showed the hype around AI’s impact on healthcare was also felt internally at the company. He explained that though marketing budgets were large, the talk never materialized into a tangible off-the-shelf product.

In the article published last September, the employee said he has heard dissatisfaction from his former colleagues. “There’s a lot of frustration there. A lot of infighting and a lot of power jockeying and a lot of politics going on,” he said. “So people are getting fed up and leaving left and right.” He mentioned four people have reached out to him to see if they could get a job at his new employer.

Additionally, one of the tech giant’s projects in the healthcare sector made headlines for its lack of success. MD Anderson Cancer Center and IBM Watson’s relationship ended when the project failed to meet its goals, according to Forbes.

Last spring, a venture capitalist — Chamath Palihapitiya, CEO and founder of Social Capital — notably called Watson “a joke.” He pointed to Google and Amazon as companies he would take seriously in the space. “I think what IBM is excellent at is using their sales and marketing infrastructure to convince people who have asymmetrically less knowledge to pay for something,” Palihapitiya said.

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