On the third floor of the new, five-story Center for Applied Innovation building at the corner of Blossom and Assembly streets, large, colorful posters decorate the walls. Inside each of the framed designs – some that look like modern art, others that more closely resemble photographs – the word “think” can be found.
That’s indicative of the innovation anticipated inside the $25 million, 110,000-square-foot building, unveiled to the public on Thursday, which represents a public-private research partnership between the University of South Carolina and IBM. Computer analytics and applied research will come together there to provide real-world solutions to industries ranging from automotive to education.
“We’re at the dawn of big data. We’re at the dawn of analytics,” USC president Harris Pastides said. “And in this building, those terms will be more robustly defined one day. USC students will have a leg up as they become the next generation of business leaders and technology innovators.”
IBM also hopes to reap benefits from its new showplace – by showing it off to clients and by harvesting the information gleaned there. Chris O’Connor, IBM general manager of offerings, oversees the company’s work in the Internet of Things, where cognitive capabilities are used in predictive analytics and maintenance. Data mined from the IoT – given a name and a voice in IBM’s ads for its Watson technology platform – can help a car run better or keep a person healthier.
“The center lets us string together the phenomena that’s taking place in the state,” O’Connor said. “You’ve got a great manufacturing base and companies that are in the state now. You’ve got a fantastic set of resources. With IBM locally here in the Midlands, it serves as a catalyst to collaborate among those three phenomena – the companies here in the state, IBM, and the university.
“It really multiplies the effects. We can show what we can do to other companies, so that’s good for our business. We can help companies decide to invest here, so that’s good for the university and South Carolina.”
IBM will bring its IoT expertise to research already being done at USC’s Center for Predictive Maintenance and McNair Aerospace Center. The Center for Applied Innovation will serve as a base for USC, IBM and other private sector researchers investigating new IoT applications, including intelligent supply chains and interconnected health equipment.
A small group toured the yellow brick building’s third floor on Thursday morning. Sunlight splashed through large windows overlooking the bustle of traffic and pedestrians into the Horseshoe conference room, the largest of three with names related to South Carolina. Visitors took in mobile whiteboards, adjustable-height work stations on casters, and small clusters of “discussion pods.” Framed nods to “One hundred years of IBM icons” lined one hallway, with achievements such as “Linux – the Era of Open Innovation,” the PC, and e-business highlighted.
The open workspace served to create a sense of connectivity that is both a design trend and, some hope, a glimpse into a future that may mirror Thursday’s grand opening.
“I happen to know there are both partners of IBM and partners of the university who are taking note today,” Pastides said. “I think they’ll come back for more details and relationship-building, so I hope within a year, there will be more announcing, and, over a five-and 10-year haul, that this will be the first domino to bring more and more companies into the Midlands.”