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Continued: IBM continues global job trimming; impact on Rochester unclear

IBM Rochester’s employment peaked at 8,100 in 1991, but has since plummeted to an estimated 2,500. The exact count isn’t known, as IBM quit giving out Rochester employment numbers five years ago.

Company officials didn’t respond to requests Thursday by the Star Tribune for comment.

Tradition of innovation

The Rochester plant has a long history of innovation, such as the immensely successful AS/400 midrange computer that garnered the coveted Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, presented by President George H.W. Bush.

Besides the award, the AS/400 had enormous consequences for IBM’s computer business. It was the result of a secret IBM Rochester effort, code-named the Silverlake Project, that turned IBM’s computer business strategy on its head.

In the 1992 book “The Silverlake Project: Transformation at IBM,” three project participants and their co-author describe how before AS/400, Rochester’s market share of midrange computers plummeted. But rather than lay down and die, Rochester initiated the most radical cultural change in IBM’s history, switching from a ­product-driven to a market-driven approach to doing business.

There have been more recent Rochester advances, such as helping build the Blue Gene supercomputer. In 2011, the latest version of Blue Gene, the “Watson” supercomputer, bested two human champions to win the “Jeopardy!” TV show — a challenge that required encyclopedic knowledge and split-second answers.

But that was only part of the story. Watson was designed to be the world’s most efficient doctor’s assistant — it listened to patients, asked a few questions and read 100 million pages of related medical material per second.

In March, however, IBM said it would move the bulk of its computer manufacturing from IBM Rochester to other IBM locations in Guadalajara, Mexico, and Poughkeepsie, N.Y., beginning this year.

IBM Rochester would retain only minor manufacturing responsibility, such as prototyping new products and final assembly of Blue Gene supercomputers.

 

Bloomberg News contributed to this report. steve.alexander@startribune.com • 612-673-4553 jcrosby@startribune.com • 612-673-7335

 

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