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 health care, 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.
“John Kelly will continue leading Watson Health as we continue to grow and scale this successful business,” a spokesman said.
The shift comes as IBM faces declining revenue. On Tuesday, the company released third-quarter earnings, which showed that revenue from cognitive offerings, like Watson, was down 6 percent 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 health care. 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.
Watson Health has sought to shift its focus in recent months, scaling back a part of the business that sells tools to hospitals to help manage their pay-for-performance contracts. Following layoffs In June, DiSanzo sought to reassure employees that the company was on the right track.
“We know more about analyzing health data than anyone else in the world,” she wrote in an internal memo obtained by STAT. “We have been doing it longer than anyone else, and we have 13,000 clients who know our strengths first-hand.”
Prior to joining IBM, DiSanzo led Philips Healthcare, a maker of patient monitoring and health care informatics products. She also previously held executive and management positions at Hewlett-Packard and Apollo Computer.