Explorys added 80 people after IBM deal, expects more growth

Explorys has added about 80 new positions since it was acquired by IBM last May. Now the healthcare data analytics software company employs about 220 people.

That number is still growing: Explorys had 48 open positions as of Feb. 24, the vast majority of which will be based in Northeast Ohio. The company plans to hire at least 80 people this year, according to CEO Stephen McHale.

Explorys' growth shows how committed IBM is to making Northeast Ohio a key cog in its grand plan to transform the health care industry through data analytics, McHale said.

“This is it. We're going to really make sure Cleveland is on the map,” he said.

For the record, the Cleveland Clinic spinoff company did predict that it would hire 80 new people. It said so in a news release issued in December 2014.

Then, five months later, IBM bought Explorys and incorporated the company into its new Watson Health business unit.

At the time, executives from both companies said that IBM bought Explorys with the intention of expanding the business here in Cleveland.

Granted, those kinds of statements sometimes are just lip service: It's not hard to find examples of local tech companies that stopped growing or closed their local office after getting bought by a larger company. In this case, however, Explorys is actually growing faster than it did before the acquisition.

So what's driving the company to hire employees in every department and take additional space at its Euclid Avenue headquarters?

For one, when IBM bought the company, 26 hospital systems were using Explorys' software to analyze anonymous patient data, with the goal of conducting research or improving care.

That number is “far out of date” today, according to McHale, who wouldn't give a specific number.

“And the ones we've been signing are mega systems. We signed one that's so big — people will be pretty excited about it,” he said.

Plus, now that Explorys is part of IBM's grand plan for transforming health care, the Cleveland company needs “to build the appropriate staff to scale … worldwide.”

In Watson's wake

McHale described IBM's plan as the company's “moonshot.” It's based on a technology you might've seen on TV: In 2011, a computerized “Jeopardy” contestant named Watson crushed two of the world's best players, Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter.

It did so with the help of IBM's so-called “cognitive computing” technology, which can interpret natural language questions, hunt for answers online and estimate which ones are probably correct.

That technology can do more than answer trivia questions. For example, the Cleveland Clinic's Lerner College of Medicine helped the Watson unit develop software that could eventually help doctors diagnose patients and determine the best treatment.

In the beginning, the Watson technology could only scour health data from publicly available sources, like medical journals. Over the past year, however, IBM has acquired four other companies that broaden its reach, including Explorys.

The local company remains a fairly small part of IBM's overall Watson Health unit, which is based in the Boston area.

Consider that the unit plans to spend $2.6 billion to buy Truven Health Analytics of Ann Arbor, Mich. That company alone employs 2,500 people, which would double the size of the Watson Health's staff once the deal closes.

But when it comes to analyzing clinical data, “we're the anchor,” McHale said. He noted that Truven focuses more on patient claims data.

McHale believes that Cleveland itself can play a central role in the health care revolution, too, given the region's large hospital systems and research institutions.

So does Cleveland Clinic CEO Toby Cosgrove, he said, describing a conversation the two men had in mid February.

Now they're drafting plans to turn that mutual vision into a reality.

“We believe we can have that territory,” McHale said.

"Explorys added 80 people after IBM deal, expects more growth" originally appeared in Crain's Cleveland Business.



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