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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.

  • As a retired IBmer and shareholder, I have to wonder about the capabilities of IBMs current management—all hype? Where’s the beef? What is your action plan!

    You aren’t making “quota” and should all be on an “improvement plan” or replaced” per a retired and once very successful member of the IBM mgt team!

    Quit selling us”futures”— I expect “results” NOW!


  • Watson Health has a tremendously deep roster of smart individuals however unfortunately none of them are in the leadership structure except in a few places. Debra was not an inspiring leader and had a track record of poor outcomes in her previous role at Phillips. She was a regrettable hire however there are other that still need to go.

    I know IBM leadership reads these comments so please read below if you want the inside scope on whats really happening. If your IBM leadership please read:

    – The previous VP of Engineering at Explorys was abusive to his staff and consistently subverted the prioritization process playing politics for his own gain.

    – Phytel leadership saved themselves after the last layoff and left their staff high and dry.

    – The Phytel leaders remaining in the organization are not equipped to do the job and have not solved the problem of expensive on-boarding.

    – The current OM senior leadership does not know what it is doing and are far from experts in the industry. They have some fantastic OMs working underneath them however their ideas are never heard because their existing leadership doesn’t know the difference between sand and water.

    – If you want to fix the provider segment you must follow through with the integration of Explorys and Truven. You also must focus your resources to building products that the industry needs now, not an antiquated Pop Health solution. We need robust analytics in the form of NLP. Quit saying cognitive pls….

    – Also why is John Kelly’s son-in-law allowed to act as a provider GM when he obviously does not have what it takes to get the job done. He doesn’t get along with his peers and needs to go. His healthcare experience is dubious.

    – Why is Ginni Rommetty’s niece not held accountable for her poor performance in sales.

    – Sell to a market … do not make custom solutions for everyone.

    – There is plenty of money to make in the provider sector however we are currently just misaligned.

    • Regarding the post from “Concerned IBMER, October 19, 2018″…

      The spelling errors (“your” instead of “you’re”) and mis-phrasings (“inside scope” instead of “inside scoop”) in that post, and the references to platform services topics are telling as to authorship. The reference to “cognitive” (IBM switched to “AI: Augmented Intelligence” earlier in 2018) indicate the author probably left IBM before the big layoffs in June 2018, and has outdated information.

      Regarding “The previous VP of Engineering at Explorys was abusive to his staff and consistently subverted the prioritization process playing politics for his own gain.”, I can say that the VP was certainly a hard driver, but every other part of that sentence is a baseless smear.

      There have been issues in Watson Health with market focus, but comments like that post above are both inaccurate and not constructive.

    • WH has plenty of spelling mistakes now that it laid off its documentation department. WH makes spelling mistakes in its job reqs now. And everything that was said above is absolutely true and not a smear.

    • I don’t care when “Concerned IBMER” was employed, his/her analysis is spot on. The VP of Engineering was a bully and lost 1/3 of his staff before the ‘layoffs’.

      Current Phytel ‘executives’ in Cleveland belittle employees and regularly recruit outside the organization rather than promote from within destroying morale.

      If there is a plan, no one knows it.

      Once the China endeavor fails, and based on history it will, there will be additional layoffs.

      If you go back to press release in Cleveland when IBM made the purchase:

      “Currently, there are 170 employees with the company. With the construction of the new facility, Explorys will create 125 new jobs by December 31, 2018, with an average salary of $106,000. These positions will be highly skilled, technical positions such as software engineers, designers, data scientists and will also include marketing & sales. ”

      Anyone want to take odds?

    • Spot on. Steve Beier was a political animal. Bullied the team, and more than a third of the strong Explorys dev team left because of him. Everything he touched was a failure, and Sales tanked while he merrily blue washed and successfully jockeyed to expand his power base. incompetent and ignorant when it came to technology, he nevertheless got on the good books of Mark Dudman, another technically naive idiot. could not write a line of code if his life depended on it, but spouted jargon and promised the earth even as his products tanked in terms of KLAS ratings, #customers, revenues or any other reasonable metric. Thank God he left IBM.

    • Unfortunately for Watson Health and the resources still showing up for work in Cleveland, the competition has not stood still while all of this dysfunction was unfolding and I find it unlikely that they can catch up. There is no evidence that IBM can stay focused on anything for more than one business cycle and most of the problems outlined by ‘Concerned IBMER’ still exists. I sure hope for the sake of my friends that I’m wrong.

  • Finally! Hope Mark Dudman is next and very soon, if they want to save Watson Health that is. Otherwise he is doing a bang up job at destroying it by his sheer stupidity and ignorance. Imagine a head of development that doesn’t know how modern development works. Only in Ginnis IBM.

    • Mark Dudman has been an absolute disaster. He let a team of over 500 people develop the Watson Health cloud, GxP version for 3 years, with only one or two clients, now being quietly stopped after 2 versions failed to even go to market (failing their QA processes abysmally). Dev team efficiency is terrible. No common process or infrastructure across Merge, Truven ! Explorys, and new products developed in Watson health. Big one-off projects like the custom diabetes product development for Medtronic are doomed to perpetual losses without any clear product strategy. Failed strategy in Blockchain, personal health etc all prove how thoughtlessly this management team wasted millions of dollars over the years.

      Lisa Rometty only got her job as Ginny Rometty’s relative, failed to meet sales goals year after year, but keeps increasing her scope of responsibilities.

      Most AI products are technologically obsolete, with almost no deep learning in the NLP for Watson for oncology or CTM. I don’t know enough about other areas, or recent developments in last 2 months but I expect this is true everywhere, in all products.

      With such poor leadership, I see no prospects for the organization to succeed. Such a shame.

  • It doesn’t matter. She will be replaced by ‘more of the same’. She was hired by John Kelly and Ginni and they kept her in this position even after she messed up big time multiple times. So yes she was terrible, but the fault lies with people that hired her and kept her going and will hire more of the same to replace her

  • I have not seen a more incompetent executive in IBM my whole IBM life. If this was Lou’s IBM she would have been fired long time ago because of the people complaining. But this is Ginni’s IBM where the real doers are lethally crushed if they dissent or differ from their executives.

  • Not at all surprising. I watched as DiSanzo threw a temper tantrum during her closing speech at this year’s Watson Health annual sales meeting. I’ve never seen a professional act so childish; especially someone who was in charge of an entire division of IBM.

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