It's no accident IBM bases its North America Cognitive Innovation Center in the Columbus Region.

From offices in Columbus, IBM's Cognitive Innovation Center provides clients with services in the realm of Internet of Things,cognitive and data science and services supporting the digital transformation cycle.

“When IBM had selected Columbus as the location there were certain criteria,” says Teresa Hamid, vice president and chief technology officer overseeing the North America Cognitive Innovation Center. “Columbus was selected because of its location and proximity to colleges and universities. We knew analytics is a growth area, and talent is a must—we must have access to that talent.”

The IBM division works with clients in government and a variety of industries including financial services, distribution, retail and manufacturing. It serves businesses at various levels of maturity, some just beginning to explore the importance of analytics to their business.

Data is more than just a buzzword, as it brings about an element of change for organizations across industries.

IBM allows clients to analyze data that is “unstructured,” or raw. The services can be applied to a variety of business processes.

“It could be around a contact center, where we could create a chatbot of sorts—create messaging,” Hamid says. “It is definitely an area of growth. But it's also an area of challenge for all of our clients.”

In providing the services, IBM is agnostic to technology, Hamid says. But, of course, the division also has access to IBM tools such as Watson, the famed artificial intelligence application.

The North America Cognitive Innovation Center has worked with hundreds of clients, both nationally and globally.

“The clients that are really going after this, and exploring and failing fast, will be the greater competitors in this space,” Hamid says. “Depending on the industry, we're still in some areas of early adoption and in some areas of maturity.”

Access to talent is one of industry's greatest challenges.

“Analysts are in a level of shortage. They continue to be a critical element to any growing organization,” Hamid says. “Analytics or cognitive, be it machine learning, these are the roles that are critical and we need.”

Hamid says IBM is working closely with high schools and universities to ensure educators are grooming students to have the right sets of skills.

“We have a great relationship with OSU; we work with their school of engineering, statistics, identifying that these are the types of courses that are needed,” Hamid says.

IBM also is able to collaborate with businesses—be it in insurance, automotive, retail or pharmaceutical—that are facing the same challenge.

“It's really a community effort and beneficial for all of us,” Hamid says. “There has been great collaboration across the local companies in various aspects, and it doesn't always have to be in the analytics and cognitive domain.”

The issues are important because they have far-reaching impacts across IBM's footprint.

“While we are local, we also are a part of the broader global team that reaches out to hundreds of data scientists, analytics architects,” Hamid says. “We're part of a larger ecosystem. The advantage of having a co-located team here in Columbus is it's a local area for clients to come.”