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IBM Creates FOAK

IBM's First-of-a-Kind (FOAK) program (so called because each of its projects creates the first marketplace example of a technical asset's use) was a natural outgrowth of the era and IBM Research's interest in reaching out further. IBM funded FOAK in 1995 as a way to differentiate IBM's solution offerings.

The very first FOAK, MedSpeak, was also the first commercially available continuous speech recognition application. A medical application seemed to be the perfect place to get going. Radiology reports are essential to patient care, but in 1995 they needed to be dictated to transcriptionists, typed, and returned for correction and signature. The process was expensive and time-consuming; it took 12 to 72 hours to turn around a report. Attempts to use existing, discrete transcriptions had failed because they were too awkward for most radiologists to adopt.

But what if an IBM Research asset, a continuous speech recognition engine, could be used to transcribe radiology reports? The MedSpeak FOAK was set up to do just that. Furthermore, it made the asset more commercial-ready by building a prototype application. This ambitious project actually was done by working with three IBM clients to ensure that the asset and prototype would address real, important client pain points.

Ultimately, MedSpeak became IBM MedSpeak/Radiology. It enabled radiologists to dictate reports directly and instantaneously into text and then correct, sign, and store reports for access by other physicians. The business value of this solution to the customer was fast turnaround of signed radiology reports and elimination or lowering of costs for transcription services. MedSpeak also garnered worldwide press coverage and accelerated IBM's development of continuous speech recognition.

But MedSpeak had an even more profound impact. It became a proof point for the whole idea of FOAK. With MedSpeak, the FOAK team was made up of researchers and contractors. When the FOAK project was completed, the contractors simply left IBM Research and moved with the technology to the delivery organization. MedSpeak demonstrated a new way to develop deep technical expertise on a solution and transfer it out of IBM Research.

With FOAK, IBM created a program dedicated to speeding the movement of great ideas and new technologies from the labs to the marketplace. This became a way for IBM, officially and systematically, to begin sharing the jewels with its clients. And, not incidentally, it has become a way to get these jewels out of the lab and provide value to IBM.

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