“Digital Health and Life Sciences ultimately aim to drive systemic, sustainable improvement for people in every community. But unfortunately the reality is that many of these industries are significantly underrepresented in terms of diversity”. Q&A Gavin Shorten, Ireland Lab Innovation Program Leader for IBM

Please tell us a little about yourself and your role as Ireland Lab Innovation Program Leader?

I joined IBM just over 9 years ago and have been working on our Innovation initiatives within the software development business. I originally started in IBM as part of our Central Business Services team and soon after partnered with our Operations and Innovation Program Director to look at “Innovation” opportunities for our lab. We first performed a baseline analysis to better understand our strengths, opportunities and how that might align with the broader ecosystem and as a result formed a team known as the IBM Innovation Exchange. Our partner ecosystem has grown to about 300 organisations today. We work with start-ups, small, medium and other large scale enterprises continuously looking at use cases for AI and Cloud technology in health, public safety, customs, 5G and many other industries. 

My current position has two streams, firstly my responsibilities include looking at the end to end of Innovation in our Lab, evolving our approach in line with the market, our corporate strategy and figuring out how to position ourselves to most effectively help our partners and clients to transform their businesses and drive growth using AI and Hybrid Cloud. Secondly I lead the commercial activities for our team where we have built a framework and culture that streamlines the translation of innovation back to services and product to maximise the impact it has and differentiates our go to market. 

My wife and I have two kids aged 3 and 5 that certainly keep us busy. I am also in the final year of an MBA program which has been a great experience in particular learning from my class mates on their approaches and experiences in leadership, entrepreneurship and so forth. 

What’s a typical work day like for you?

My typical day has certainly changed over the last couple of years, in most part due to the pandemic. We have a lot of design and innovation facilities on our IBM technology campus in Mulhuddart, Dublin so I used to spend a lot of my time there at workshops or garage events with our partners or moving from meeting to meeting and joining calls with them, given many are located across Europe. This also involved some travel to various partner events and meet ups.  It was refreshing to get a break from some of the international travel for a while but I very much miss the face to face interactions, white board brainstorming sessions and water cooler chats with colleagues, partners and clients. I am looking forward to getting back to that! We have just recently started our phased return to work and I think the hybrid working model, which we have always enjoyed at IBM will become more prevalent and valued even once things get back to “normal”. 

Talk to us a little about the IBM Innovation Exchange program and how does it currently engage with start-ups?

The IX program and its mission has evolved considerably since it was first established. We have always been focused on working to understand where the market is pulling technology and where we could support and engage. IBM has a rich and well established track record in research and innovation with one of the largest industrial research organisations in the world. We wanted our program to complement and build on this through a very open and flexible approach. Initially we had more of a technology orientated approach developing IP and capabilities working always in partnership with third parties, not just in a client/provider relationship but in a deeper co-create and collaborative way. Many of these projects included small enterprise companies, not so much with life style SME’s but we have worked particularly well with gazelle companies looking to reach enterprise scale and fast. We engage start-ups in European and national frameworks e.g. Knowledge and Innovation Communities, Horizon etc. as this is a good way to join a continental ecosystem and it helps de-risk innovation for early to mid-stage start-ups. 

In addition to this our leadership sit on the steering boards and committees of the many tech clusters and accelerator programs in Ireland and beyond. This allows us to offer guidance and support where we can and as a I said previously learn from the pulse of where the market might be going. So our approach goes from light touch to very much deep collaborative relationships depending on what works for all stakeholders. We have the benefit of being able to leverage the Startup with IBM and Build corporate programs that IBM has to offer which provide resources and expertise to our partners at different stages of their growth journey.  

What is your thoughts on the Grit International Female Accelerator and why did IBM sponsor and become a partner?

Digital Health and Life Sciences ultimately aim to drive systemic, sustainable improvement for people in every community. But unfortunately the reality is that many of these industries are significantly underrepresented in terms of diversity. I have read recent IBM and World Economic Forum reports that estimate just 18% of top organizational leaders are women, 79% of organisations are not prioritising women into leadership roles and on its current trajectory it could take another 99.5 years to reach global gender parity. Apart from how these statistics highlight the societal challenges we still face in this regard there is also a glaring loss of economic and entrepreneurial potential here. The programs and activities that GRIT International Female Accelerator are creating are hence very much needed, are potentially highly impactful and we are excited to be partnering. 

How has IBM positioned itself as a global leader in AI?

IBM identified quite a while ago that AI has many potential benefits to add value to our clients existing products and offerings, enable them to make better decisions, optimize, innovate and as a lever to pursue new markets. We also had industry leading and first of a kind AI technologies that had been developed over many years by IBM Research. Or strategy focused on transforming the potential of state of the art natural language processing, machine learning and other technologies into enterprise scale, consumable offerings that could be integrated into our clients operations and reduce the barriers for them to AI adoption. We have also developed an approach that enables AI transformation by combining the business, technology, data and learning requirements of the technology with the organisational structure and ambitions of our clients. This is a differentiator as many AI technologies require continuous data collection, training engineering and monitoring to ensure performance and frequently need to be pursued as part of a strategic rather than tactical play. Red Hat technologies combined with IBM’s capabilities added further dimensions to our capabilities in particular in delivering Hybrid Cloud and as part of the open source community. 

What excites you about the future of AI in healthcare?

I think it’s best to speak to this by example. My team are currently leading a project named MED-I with two Irish SME’s, two academics institutions and one of Irelands largest hospitals specifically looking at use cases for AI in medical imagining. Firstly this consortium of partners is a great example of the multi-disciplinarian approach that AI requires. This brings different stakeholders and actors together, creates synergies between them and fosters innovation and potential inherently. Secondly it is estimated by some experts that as many as one in two people will be diagnosed with cancer during their life time, and four in five will suffer from cardio vascular diseases. These disease types, and at least fifteen others are diagnosed and managed using complex imaging modalities that produce both structured and unstructured data at an ever-increasing volume and velocity. However, the statistics also show that there is a global shortage of radiology skills and the profession has an aging profile i.e. we are depending on medical imaging more than ever and the demand is starting to out strip supply of highly skilled and trained clinicians to interpret them. The development of proven, trusted and transparent AI solutions that can augment and support, not replace, these clinical expertise could unlock the key to increased efficiencies and new approaches for medical imaging that could have profound societal and indeed commercial impact. These ambitions are complex, they will take time to mature and it should not be overstated where we are on this journey, however the potential impact here makes me very excited about the future and potential of AI in healthcare.

What advice would you give female founders that aim to create a culture and structure that would be most beneficial for AI?

There are probably two pieces of advice. Firstly AI provides transformational opportunity but taking the first step can seem daunting. Focus on the problem you are trying to solve and then test through agile experimentation if and what AI technology. As ever, start with the business problem you are trying to solve or the differentiation you want to achieve – then experiment and see how AI can help succeed. 

As part of our partner masterclass, what topic will IBM be delivering?

We will be delivering a masterclass in Artificial Intelligence and will share details on its content once we have further refined our thinking based on continuous engagement and discussion with our GRIT partners so as to maximise the value it can provide to its attendees. 

Social media details:

Linkedin Page: https://ie.linkedin.com/in/gavin-shorten-0b815714

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