EXPLORYS

EXPLORYS was a healthcare informatics company in Cleveland, Ohio. It was founded officially in October 2009, via a deal with Cleveland Clinic Innovations. Explorys would eventually be acquired by IBM in April 2015 and become a part of IBM’s Watson Health division. Explorys became a casualty of Watson Health’s implosion in 2018.  

Explorys benefited from big data frameworks such as Hadoop, which were starting to go mainstream when Explorys was starting. Hadoop was created in 2006 and sparked a technical wave of innovation in distributed computing and storage, and Hadoop in turn was inspired from a series of technical papers from Google. Cloudera, which had the first commercial distribution of Hadoop and was a sponsor of a number of related conferences, became an important technical partner for Explorys. The Hadoop-family of frameworks were open-source software projects, and these communities were invaluable to Explorys’ success for knowledge sharing. The pace of technical change during this period was rapid, and it was through these advances that led to the growth of the company. Additionally, many of the key technical patterns that Explorys leveraged initially were from prior experiences at a company called Everstream, which had products for distributed Video On Demand reporting for cable operators.

Officially, Explorys was a Cleveland Clinic Innovations spinoff, although none of the initial full-time team were former Cleveland Clinic employees. The intellectual property made available to Explorys was a prototype for web-based patient population searching on a non-distributed platform, and the limited development on it ceased in 2008. This prototype demonstrated the utility for population searching in a clinical setting and served as a rough inspiration for Explorys’ first application. The engineering team at Explorys used this information to completely reimagine population searching. They created an entirely new and expanded technical stack, revolutionizing the process. Later, Explorys developed a product suite for quality measures and clinical registries which became the primary provider solution, complemented with a variety of risk models, all unrelated to the original prototype concept. Cleveland Clinic’s partnership with Explorys was critical in terms of business endorsement, though, and Explorys benefited from this support.   

By the time Explorys was acquired by IBM in April 2015 as a part of its Watson Health division, it had dozens of healthcare customers, had ingested many hundreds of sources, and arguably had the largest clinical repository of data in the United States. IBM had been in healthcare for a long time before Watson Health. IBM Research had long been undertaking various healthcare projects, and the consulting arms of IBM had been performing a variety of custom healthcare projects (typically on-premise deployments) utilizing IBM products. In general, however, IBM did not have much in the way of healthcare applications. Watson Health was the solution to this problem.

There were challenges with Watson Health from the start. As they began the creation of this new division, IBM acquired numerous healthcare software companies, all of which needed to be integrated into the system. The acquisitions included Curam, Phytel, Merge Healthcare, Truven, and Explorys. These companies formed the basis of the new division, along with several IBM Research healthcare assets. At the formation, most of the actual products and customers were from these acquired companies. 

The overall Watson Health strategy was to rebuild everything that had just been acquired into the “Watson Health Cloud” on SoftLayer. Complicating this already complex situation was the fact that the primary consumer-facing cloud service at the time was SoftLayer - itself an IBM acquisition in June 2013. This made IBM Watson Health a collection of recently purchased companies, loosely tied together, leading to an enormous amount of instability.

The name Watson Health referred to IBM’s Watson AI framework, which itself was a reference to early IBM leader, Thomas Watson Jr. Marketing for Watson was ever-present in the media, but IBM over-promoted Watson’s capabilities which further eroded customer confidence.

The failure to prioritize evolving and expanding the acquisition solutions for their existing customer bases would quickly lead to the downfall of Watson Health. Contract terminations started in 2017 as customers slowly became disillusioned, realizing the plans presented by Offering Management were never going to happen. IBM’s Watson Health imploded publicly in the summer of 2018, and the layoffs were particularly hard on the acquisition companies.

 

Doug Meil


To read more about the history of Explorys and IBM Watson Health, see:

History of Explorys (2009 to 2015) 

History of Explorys / IBM Watson Health (2015 to 2018)

IBM Watson Health (2021)


 

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