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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.

  • Lisa Rometty has to go, talk about a abusive executive she is horrible. does not return phone calls or emails and has never made her numbers.
    Dan Cerutti Johns son in law has zero healthcare knowledge is abrasive bully and knows nothing.
    Tracy Beyers brought 96 sellers over from Philips and they cannot see anything , that was a good investment.
    Martha Thorne is clueless and a cold fish really put her in front of a CEO
    WH will only survive if it replaces the entire executive team with people that know healthcare and do not focus on there own financial chain.
    Too many non healthcare people and and sellers that are 24 years old trying to talk to executives.
    Rumors is WH is being investigated by the government for patient harm
    Culture and executives need to change to make it happen.
    All the acquisitions gave them self VP executive position and now top heavy.

    Kelly had his first all day meeting this week, sounded good on paper with his 4 goals let see if he can execute with the current leaders

    Too many healthcare divisions doing the same thing and compete with one another. Watson Health , GBS, and Lori Steele’s global healthcare team that brings no value.

    • I agree completely with everything you said. Dan Cerutti has failed for years with every single thing he was supposed to lead. Lisa Rometty has failed to hit her sales targets for her whole IBM tenure. Mark Dudman is the worst possible dev leader and is responsible for their disastrous dev strategy/execution (Watson health cloud aka Watson Platform for health, time/money wasted bluewashing Explorys/Truven/Phytel/…, pressure to move many products once again onto the new IBM cloud that is just not ready for prime time, eg it is still not HIPAA compliant). Yet these execs keep growing in their careers even as they lay off large numbers of innocent developers, product managers etc. Why are these guys still here? Why is there no accountability?

      Watson Health urgently needs a whole revamp of the executive team.

  • Deborah has made a lasting negative impact on IBM. It is not easy to undo all the damage she has done. Mark Dudman is one of her legacies that will carry the torch from her till he burns this whole thing down.

  • 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.

  • You mention “the loss of major hospital clients” because of “recent stumbles” by IBM. MD Anderson pulled out of Watson — but that was because of accounting and spending irregularities at the hospital, and not because of any “stumble” by IBM. Which major hospital clients are you referring to?

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