IBM to launch Joburg inner-city research lab

Johannesburg - Computing company IBM plans to open its first research lab in South Africa in April 2015 and is committing R700m to technology research in the country.

The facility, which will be based at the Tshimologong Precinct in Braamfontein, will form part of the University of the Witwatersrand and is expected to focus on advancing 'big data', cloud and mobile technologies.

In addition, the Department of Science and Technology has also entered into a ten-year partnership with IBM as part of an ICT research, development and innovation programme.

Minister of Science and Technology Naledi Pandor said the research programme is planned to be centred around the establishment of the Johannesburg IBM research lab.

“The partnership commits IBM to an investment of R700 million in a programme involving academic, enterprise development,and research components,” said Pandor.

Pandor said the partnership is also “anchored in the Black Economic Empowerment - Equity Equivalence Investment Programme (BEE-EEIP) of the Department of Trade and Industry”.

This means that the academic programme of the initiative is also expected to provide full bursaries to qualifying black students, mainly from rural areas, in the fields of ICT and tiered from undergraduate to masters level, Pandor said.

IBM’s second African research lab

IBM established its first African research lab in Nairobi, Kenya in 2013.

South Africa, then, is the second country on the continent to have an IBM lab and joins around 12 nations in the world that have such facilities.

“IBM considers two factors when deciding where to place research labs: access to world-class skills and talent and the ability to work on pressing business and societal challenges that can be best addressed through advanced information technology,” said Dr. John E. Kelly III, Senior Vice President of IBM Solutions Portfolio and Research.

“South Africa provides an exciting backdrop as we look to expand our research efforts in the region. Our Africa-based researchers are part of a global community of IBM scientists who are forging the future of our company and ensuring that we remain at the forefront of scientific discovery,” he said.

Apart from striking up a partnership with the Department of Science and Technology, IBM says it has also reached out to the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) to collaborate on research programs and skills development.

Lab’s focus areas

IBM said focus areas of its Johannesburg lab are set to include digital urban renewal, helping to transform healthcare and ‘big data for big science’.

“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,” said IBM.

“Mobile technologies, global positioning systems, cameras and sensors are becoming ubiquitous in cities, thereby providing opportunities to re-imagine the delivery of services such as transportation, energy and security,” the company said.

Regarding transforming healthcare, IBM said its South African-based researchers will explore “new approaches using Big Data analytics and cognitive computing to increase the efficiency, scalability and effectiveness of healthcare in resource-constrained environments”.

And in terms of big data, IBM said its local researchers are further expected to contribute to the Square Kilometer Array (SKA) radio telescope project, which is to be built in South Africa and co-hosted with Australia.

The SKA will look further into the universe and help scientists with finding answers to its fundamental origins.

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