Successful R&D management

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Successful R&D management


Shirley Yu-Tsui

When Thomas J. Watson Sr. joined IBM in 1914 as its president, the company didn’t have a single engineer on its payroll. So he quickly hired and set up a product development group in a brownstone near New York’s Penn Station. He created a patent development department in 1932 and in 1945 established the first corporate scientific research laboratory.

Today, IBM Research is the largest corporate research organization in the world, with 3,000 professionals at 12 centers in 10 countries.

It is no exaggeration to say that the results of IBM’s R&D - the punched card, the first hard disk, DRAM, the floppy disk, Fortran, the moon exploration system, the barcode, excimer laser surgery, the first commercial computer, e-business, Deep Blue and Watson - have led to innovations at both IBM and in the IT industry.

It is impossible to overemphasize the importance of R&D when it comes to the advancement of a country or an enterprise. Recent business battles, engaging patents and litigation across the industry, and patent alliances formed by global enterprises reflect the importance of R&D in enterprise transformation for economic growth. With today’s fierce global competition, R&D has become “the weapon” that determines the fate of enterprises. What is the key to successful R&D management?

First, development must be connected to research. “Coupling research with development has been one of the key factors in the success of IBM, and the fundamental role of an enterprise is to turn its discoveries into profits,” said former IBM CEO Sam Palmisano. IBM itself is a good example of his belief, producing five Nobel Prize winners and achieving 21 years of patent leadership, with 6,809 U.S. patents in 2013.

There have been many cases where research institutes leave new technologies to die as they put too much focus on research and fail to link it to product development. Conversely, many companies disappeared in the mist of history as they concentrated on development, while putting research, the backbone of technology, on the back burner. That’s why IBM is taking a new approach with our new IBM Watson Group. We gathered a team of scientists from IBM Research together with software developers. The IBM Watson Group will take the helm of research, product development, design and collaboration with business partners and clients, and is expected to accelerate the speed of R&D.

Second, R&D should be connected with future growth engines. IBM’s patent count last year is the result of inventions in strategic areas such as Watson, cloud computing, big data and analytics, mobility and security. Among those patents, 250 were related to cutting-edge cognitive computing, for which IBM holds a total of 1,400.

The newest patents range from machine learning and natural language processing to neuromorphic computing and computer vision, all of which are expected to be integral for future computing technologies. For example, “confidence assessor” enhances the ability of the core Watson question-answering technology in natural language and helps experts make better decisions.

Third, developers need to keep “users” in mind. We are proud IBM is the leader in U.S. patents, while we are mindful it is just one type of innovation.

More importantly, patent technologies should be applied to solutions and contribute to solving the problems of customers and society.

IBM believes an essential element of the era of cognitive computing will be producing machines that interact with humans in ways that are more natural to us. The IBM Watson Group has brought together people with expertise in user interaction, including experience, website and application designers. They collaborate to create new uses for Watson-style technologies and new ways for computing systems to interact with people.

On top of it all, consistent investments and a company-wide commitment are most important.

IBM invests about $6 billion a year in R&D and all employees adhere to the corporate value “innovation that matters for the company and for the world.” IBM makes constant efforts to invent new ways of innovating in order to transform business and society in the new era of computing.

By Shirley Yu-Tsui, general manager of IBM Korea

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