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  • Writer's pictureHugo Pinto

How IBM Innovates (and helps 250m Asthmatics in the process)

Helping make the world a better place working with the best global talent and using its biggest “bucket of Lego” is why I joined IBM about two years ago.

It began with understanding how IoT is changing medical devices like asthma inhalers (I’d come across it in a Life Sciences client workshop). Being an asthmatic, I was quite taken with the idea of collecting data points around where and when I needed to use my inhaler, as I knew data science does wonders with geo-location data points.

Internet of Things will be generating 1/3 of all data in the world by 2020

It then evolves with IBM’s acquisition of the Weather company, adding lots of new data points and an ocean of opportunities – humidity, polen, pollution, temperature and pressure can now be measured in each “puff”.

IBM’s culture now plays a huge part – by making The Weather Company’s data available to all employees in Global Business Services (Consulting arm), and launching a global hackathon to gather ideas from all around the organisation and figure out how it can grow an interesting area into a concrete set of killer features – the popular “killer app” – everyone became quite enthusiastic about its possibilities in several business contexts.

And that’s were ChrisSerge and I come in, by submitting our idea to the hackathon, adding a few key ingredients to the mix and winning the hackathon (with the help of a sock puppet – I’ll explain later).

The really cool stuff

  1. The scale of the impact – it starts with asthma – 250 million people are chronic patients – and 500k die every year – many of those because of panic (both Chris and I are asthmatics, BTW)

  2. Mixing the geo-location, with the weather data and machine learning to find out your personal triggers that generate asthma crisis (we actually hacked an inhaler for budgetary constraints :))

  3. Creating personalised alerts that warn you of the probability of a crisis and suggest a preventative use of the inhaler (for the full version we’ll be combining another class of inhaler as well).

  4. Preventing them with the help of Watson, and extending the use of that information to your eveyday life through the use of IBM’s APIs with services like tripadvisor, helping validate any decisions with a personal chat bot doctor in their pocket

Listen to the sock puppet

This is the pitch that won us the Hackathon, and the sock puppet  enters the stage at around 2 minutes.

We then did a series of internal calls and webinars to explain the concept and the technology framework, which can be adapted to any other chronic disease, if you change the IoT device and the data sources. Machine learning was the big star though, on par with the direct B2C opportunities for Life Sciences companies.

And that’s when the Watson Health team fully scaled the concept to come to life and announced the commitment with the client at the World of Watson event – this totally blew our minds – what started small and aspirational had just been made a global cause by our CEO.

So if you’re looking for our formula for killer ideas that change the word and build business opportunities on top, for your company, your clients and their customers?

  1. Understand technology and especially IoT, and how it’s opening entirely new possibilities in tracking the physical world

  2. Open it up and allow people to tinker with it – share and expand your speed and scale

  3. Allow your employees to make it personal – most of the successful startups are born of personal belief and drive

  4. Understand the human impact as well as the business impact – a good story on top of a good business is key for step 6

  5. Understand how you can replicate and grow your business case by 10x – exchange the inhaler with a different connected tracking device and you can help manage any chronic disease

  6. Announce it to spark even more ideas and generate demand from the get-go. The perfect win-win-win scenario will activate the perfect storm (no worries, Watson will prevent it)

  7. Recognise your teams and you will not have any problems in finding more talented people, either in your business of in recruiting new ones externally

We’re proud IBMers because we have the biggest bucket of lego, the biggest geniouses, and work for a company that fosters innovation and allows us to come together to make a difference in our organisation, our community and in the world.

Thank you IBM,

All 250m Asthmatics (or at least 2 of them)

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