IBM, Universities Collaborate on Technologies for the Aging Workforce

Nov 21, 2007

IBM and the researchers at the University of Dundee School of Computing (UK) and the University of Miami's Miller School of Medicine are collaborating to develop open source software technology tools to accommodate the needs of older workers to help them adapt to and remain productive in the changing workplace of the 21st century.

Workforces in developed countries are aging and the available pool of younger workers is shrinking at a fast rate. High percentages of skilled workers are approaching or reaching retirement age by the end of the decade. As these workers retire, they leave behind companies and government organizations vulnerable to lost skills, experience, training and knowledge.

As this trend continues, companies can use this opportunity to innovate -- and even gain competitive advantage -- by ensuring skilled older workers have the tools they need to be effective and by offering advantages to promote retention. One way to support maturing workers who have age-related disabilities is to find new ways to increase their comfort level and ability to use technology.

For many organizations, the answer is accessibility -- the development and integration of structures, systems, tools, and processes that facilitate the inclusion of more people -- irrespective of their age, abilities or personal challenges.

"IBM strives to aid companies in developing solutions to accommodate the maturing workforce, as well as prolong and increase productivity, said Dr. Vicki Hanson, Manager, Accessibility, IBM Research.

The new partnership is part of IBM's Open Collaborative Research (OCR) program -- an initiative designed to foster research connections between IBM and universities. Under IBM's OCR program, results developed between IBM Research and top university faculty and their students for specific projects will be made available as open source software code and all additional intellectual property developed based on those results will be openly published or made available royalty-free.

The new team is comprised of researchers from the IBM T.J. Watson Research Center and Professors Peter Gregor from the University of Dundee and Sara Czaja from the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. The project will target both training and collaboration technologies, with an eye to the unique needs of older workers.

At the University of Dundee, within the Assistive and Healthcare Technologies Group, there are eight faculty, including three full Professors and Royal Society of Edinburgh Fellow, Dr. Anna Dickinson, who have a focus on assistive technologies. The university provides a multidisciplinary attack on the problem with researchers not only from the School of Computing, but also from Psychology, and from the Schools of Media Arts & Imaging and Design in producing visualizations and interaction scenarios.

"This collaboration is a superb opportunity for the group in Dundee to apply our wide experience of research with older people, and of developing better ways of accessing technology, in an exciting new transatlantic partnership with IBM and the Miller Medical School in Miami," said Professor Peter Gregor, Head of the School of Computing at the University of Dundee. "The open source focus makes the challenges particularly rewarding because it means that knowledge gained and systems developed will be available freely to the people who need them and to other developers."

At the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, the collaboration will build on research conducted at The Center for Research and Education on Aging and Technology Enhancement (CREATE) and the Center on Aging. CREATE is a multidisciplinary, cohesive center of research and education on aging and technology funded by the National Institutes on Aging. CREATE represents a consortium of three universities, each with its own research team: The University of Miami, Florida State University and Georgia Institute of Technology.

An emphasis of the research program at Miami is on technology in work/employment settings. One aspect of this work is examining training programs and how to design e-learning software so that it is effective for older adults. Miami provides an important setting to explore these issues given the diverse population of older adults that reside in the South Florida community.

"Older workers represent an extremely valuable resource. However they need to have tools available to them to be able to compete in today's technology driven workplace," said Professor Sara J. Czaja, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. "We are excited about the opportunity to collaborate with IBM as it provides us with a unique opportunity to have the results of our research efforts translated into actual products and tools. It also provides a wonderful opportunity for our students.

The IBM Research team, lead by Dr. Vicki Hanson, has worked for the past several years on website usability for older adults. Through Corporate Citizenship partnerships with key organizations serving older adults, the IBM researchers have created software deployed worldwide that addresses many needs of older users. For more information on the available solutions, please visit: http://www-03.ibm.com/able/solution_offerings/research.html

By design, the IBM OCR program accelerates the innovation and development of open software across a breadth of areas, thus enabling the development of related industry standards and greater interoperability, while managing intellectual property in a manner that enhances these goals.

To remain competitive, businesses and governments worldwide must evolve and adapt by creating strategies that maximize the potential of every worker, regardless of their age or physical abilities. IBM believes that accessibility can play a critical role in helping companies maximize the skills and knowledge of maturing employees, while creating a meaningful connection to younger generations of workers.

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