IBM has announced that is is looking into investing R770 million($61,907,734) in the next 10 year in the expansion of IBM, Research Africa with a new lab in Johannesburg. This announcement was made by Minister of Science and Technology Naledi Pandor and Dr. John Kelly, senior vice-president of IBM Solutions Portfolio and Research and Prof. Zeblon Vilikazi, deputy vice-chancellor for research at Wits University.
The lab is to be open in April this year and will deal majorly with advancing big data, cloud and mobile technologies to support the innovation-based economic growth and drive skills development in South Africa.
Investment in the new research lab is being made as part of the DTI’s BEE Equity Equivalence programme, and will be accompanied by programmes to foster new business, particularly with black women, and helping start-ups, particularly in the area of ICT in health.
Minister Pandor adds that South Africa will become one of just 12 countries outside the US with an IBM Research Lab, and will focus on smart decision analytics, cloud and next-generation infrastructure.
“This is the first time we have an international company investing in R&D through the BEE equity equivalence programme,” she says, adding that the NDP envisages ICT underpinning a dynamic, inclusive and prosperous information society.
Dr Kelly says there were three main factors the determined the location of the IBM Research Lab in South Africa, and Johannesburg in particular.
The first of these is the availability of technical talent. “As a research organisation you are nothing more than the researchers in your lab,” Dr Kelly says. “We decided that here in South Africa and Johannesburg we have outstanding talent on the ground and will be able to attract top talent from around the world.”
The second factor is partnerships. “We need to partner with top universities and with government. This gives us the eco-system to make the lab successful.”
The final factor is the existence of big problems and challenges that require truly innovative solutions, says Dr Kelly. “We decided there are tremendous opportunities in urban development and other areas, as well as the biggest data-generating project in the world, the SKA.”
IBM’s South Africa researchers will partner with local universities, research institutions, innovation centres, start-ups and government agencies, thus bolstering South Africa’s emerging innovation ecosystem and helping to develop next generation technology skills.
The company is already in partnership with Wits University, the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) to collaborate on research programmes and skills development.
The new lab will be located in the Tshimologong Precinct in Braamfontein
The new South Africa research team will be led by Dr Solomon Assefa, formerly a research scientist at IBM’s flagship Thomas J Watson Research Centre in Yorktown Heights, New York. Dr Assefa has co-authored over 50 scientific articles and has 45 patents.
Aligned with areas of strategic national importance, the lab’s focus areas will include:
- Digital urban renewal – the lab’s inner-city location will allow IBM’s new researchers to form part of a ‘living lab’ that will explore the role of advanced digital technologies and Big Data analytics in urban renewal. IBM’s researches and partner organisations will develop solutions using computational modelling, Internet of Things and cognitive systems to engage more effectively with citizens and help revitalize inner-city areas in South Africa and around the world.
- Helping to transform healthcare – IBM will explore new approaches using Big Data analytics and cognitive computing to increase the efficiency, scalability and effectiveness of healthcare in resource-constrained environments in South Africa and across the African continent.
- Big data for big science – IBM’s new researchers will also contribute to the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope project which aims to answer fundamental questions about the origins of the universe