IBM’s made-in-Canada incubator goes global

By and Steven Astorino | 2 minute read | August 21, 2020

What happens when you let six people operate like a start-up inside one of the most iconic tech companies in the world? Answer: the next game-changing IT solution.

At large enterprises, R&D can sometimes take years to go from theory to application. To disrupt this process, we created an internal incubator called Area 6-3-1: 6 IBMers working for 3 months on 1 breakthrough. We give small, agile teams full control and full-time commitment to their project — with three months to go from big idea to working prototype.

The first Area 631 project, run in 2018 out of the IBM Canada Lab in Markham, Ont., became a key component of Watson AIOps (which stands for artificial intelligence for IT operations). The project was integrated into ongoing work from IBM Research to further develop this Watson product. AIOps applies AI so that IT operations teams can respond more quickly — even proactively — to slowdowns and outages with much less effort. Just like a doctor prescribing preventative treatment to a patient based on early symptoms, Watson AIOps helps predict and prevent IT failures by learning and detecting the early symptoms of failure. Due to the success of the Markham program — and others now in the development phase — we’re launching Area 631 incubators at eight global IBM software development labs in the United States, Canada, China, India, Germany and Poland.

Group of developers holding a meeting

Area 631 programs will be located at IBM Data & AI Development Labs in:

  • Bangalore, India
  • Beijing, China
  • Böblingen, Germany
  • Krakow, Poland
  • Boston
  • San Jose
  • Ottawa
  • Toronto (Markham)

Area 631 offers a start-up experience inside the company while providing employees with the opportunity to boost career trajectory, improve their patent portfolios, and facilitate mentorship with senior executive and technical experts. The concept allows for dedicated time to focus on innovation and collaboration without changing job roles or leaving IBM. Area 631 provides this opportunity for developers, designers and others, and can even include the chance to collaborate with clients to improve their user experience with IBM products.

In each market, teams start by submitting their ideas to a panel of local executives. Once a project is chosen, they’ll get to work innovating on cutting edge areas such as healthcare, eSports, AI for HR, and the IBM Cloud Growth Experience.

IBM has always been known for its entrepreneurial mindset, and Area 631 is just one more example of how an emphasis on grassroots innovation can spark transformative change for businesses and industry, both here in Canada and around the world.

We’re excited to see the Area 631 program come to life to cultivate our next big breakthrough.

Steven Astorino
VP Development, IBM Data & AI