When seven leading Columbus businesses and organizations came together in early 2014 to create the Columbus Collaboratory, they wisely envisioned its work would be as important as it has quickly become.

The founders—American Electric Power, Battelle, Cardinal Health, Huntington Bank, L Brands, Nationwide and OhioHealth—launched a company that has gained significance as it has added value to the IT operations of each of their own ventures and the Columbus Region as a whole.

As its name suggests, the Collaboratory is a place where chief information officers of the seven founders come together to tackle IT issues that are common challenges despite their diverse business interests. Advanced analytics and cybersecurity have been the initial focus, says Matt Wald, CEO of the unique company headquartered at Battelle.

Because none of the founders compete with each other, they share IT concerns to create innovative solutions that can benefit all of them.

Now the Collaboratory is moving into the next phase as it commercializes its work and is positioned to continue as a self-sustaining enterprise.

Wald says the Collaboratory worked in parallel its first two years on project engagements with members as well as product development efforts. “What has emerged from that now is a library of (intellectual property) that has resulted from those engagements, outputs from the engagements themselves where the member companies are deriving internal benefits from using them, a core set of services that the company itself now has and an emerging set of products that are now under development that have directly resulted from those collaboration efforts.”

The Columbus Region, already collaborative in nature, is ideally suited to the work of the Collaboratory, Wald says. “These CIOs of these seven companies that sit on my board, they have really big jobs, very important jobs. They're very, very busy people and yet they are very, very collaborative and they are willing to compromise for the good of the whole. … They understand the bigger picture here and how by collaborating together they're creating something greater than themselves while still benefitting from it.”

As cybersecurity threats have grown, the Collaboratory has been able to help its members address mutual concerns better than they might have been able to do alone. For example, when the global WannaCry ransomware attack emerged in May, Collaboratory members quickly organized a Saturday conference call where they were able to learn strategies from each other for handling the threat, Wald says. “Imagine trying to do that if we hadn't existed.”

Another major value of the Collaboratory is its cyber rotation program in which new college IT graduates cycle through the IT departments of each founding member, giving each of them exposure to the differing company cultures while giving the companies an opportunity to get to know them as they ramp up their IT skills.

“The hypothesis was we can compress the time it takes to make new entrants to the cyber workforce eligible for hire from what used to be five years down to something shorter, like two.” In fact, two of the first seven new grads in that program have been hired by member companies and a new class of eight is now rotating through the seven companies plus the Collaboratory itself. “And the class of eight, we've attracted more kids from out of state than the original class of seven,” Wald reports. That helps spread the word nationally that there is a lot of opportunity in IT in the Columbus Region, he adds.

“Our founding CEOs and founding CIOs took a risk; like all things in business you have to take a risk in order to hit a benefit. That was because some folks had some real vision and courage, and I think it's paying off,” Wald says. “It is really creating a future opportunity for them that just didn't exist a couple of years ago.”