Head of IBM Watson Health Steps Down

The general manager of IBM Watson Health, Deborah DiSanzo, has announced that she will step down from her position effective immediately. Under Ms. DiSanzo’s leadership, Watson Health faced management problems, layoffs, and mounting questions about the division’s long-term viability.

Watson Health, which uses the Watson supercomputer to analyze large amounts of health-care data, is designed to assist physicians in diagnosing patients and recommending treatment strategies. In addition to continued development of this artificial intelligence technology, IBM has sought to expand its access to health-care data, acquiring health-care companies and forming partnerships with hospitals and other providers.

However, Watson Health has struggled to harmonize these datasets and to integrate newly-acquired companies into its workforce. A report in July highlighted these issues, finding that the supercomputer had frequently recommended unsafe cancer treatments. These problems, combined with layoffs and other setbacks, have led some clients to end their contracts with the company, creating room for IBM’s competitors, including Amazon, Apple, and Microsoft.

The company has defended the product, and IBM’s third-quarter earnings report showed growth in Watson Health even as revenues fell elsewhere. Ms. DiSanzo will be succeeded at Watson Health by John Kelly, senior vice president for IBM Cognitive Solutions and IBM Research.

Sources: IBM press release, October 16, 2018; STAT News, October 19, 2018.