University of Ottawa opens analytics centre with IBM

OTTAWA – IBM and the University of Ottawa on Thursday announced the establishment of the IBM Centre for Performance Management at the university’s Telfer School of Management. Through the centre, IBM and the university plan to collaborate on business analytics research, a field officials said is increasingly important as organizations struggle to put ballooning quantities of data to good use.

Records of internet transactions, radio-frequency identification chips on trucks and goods and hospital patients wearing devices that emit constant streams of data are among the reasons analytics is becoming more important, said Rob Ashe, IBM’s general manager of business analytics, at the centre’s official launch Thursday morning.

“We’re talking about getting business intelligence right out into the front office,” said Ashe, former chief executive of Cognos Inc., the Ottawa analytics software company IBM acquired in 2008. “Let’s make it a practical reality that people can put to use every day, whatever mission they’re on.”

IBM will give the new centre $1.8 million worth of computing infrastructure, $1 million worth of research assistance and $1 million in cash, while the Telfer School of Management will contribute a $1 million endowment for the centre, which will be housed in the school’s facilities on the University of Ottawa campus.

Dr. Greg Richards, professor of performance management at the Telfer School, already teaches courses in the field and will play a key role in the centre. There are plans to add new faculty along with visiting researchers from IBM.

Dr. Micheál Kelly, dean of the management school, said the centre will help prepare students for the working world while helping the school build its involvement with the private sector. “For me this is the culmination of our strategic plan for the last five years,” he said, “which was to build distinctive research and teaching capabilities.”

The Ottawa Hospital, which is affiliated with the University of Ottawa and is one of Canada’s major teaching hospitals, will also work with the new centre. Dale Potter, the hospital’s chief information officer, said analytics can play a major role in improving health care.

“Health care is data rich but information poor,” he said in an interview.

At the launch event, Potter outlined an example of how analytics could help. A young couple with a baby are involved in a serious car accident. All three need surgery for various injuries. Potter described how data from paramedics’ initial assessment at the accident scene could be transmitted to hospital computers, where in conjunction with the patients’ medical records – transferred from their home hospital thanks to an electronic medical records system – it could be used to prepare for surgery even as ambulances transported them from the scene.

Today, Potter said, paramedics can’t transfer the results of their assessments to the hospital until they arrive, and there are “stop points” where treatment is delayed while patients’ conditions are assessed. For example, it can take 30 to 90 minutes to get a patient from an arriving ambulance into surgery. Potter’s goal is to use analytics to trigger actions “so that information flows in front of the patient.”

Potter, who was CIO of Alcan Engineered Products and Bombardier Transportation before joining the hospital 20 months ago, said technology in health care is 10 to 15 years behind the private sector. “Health care has been talking about this for a long, long time,” he said. “Let’s stop dreaming about when health care might be improved.”

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