A person who is blind is ultimately putting his or her life in the hands of a service dog. That is why the nonprofit organization Guiding Eyes for the Blind has a mission to put the right dog with the right person.

In order to find that perfect dog, there are both structured and unstructured data that need to be sifted through. For better data management and to increase the graduation rates of its service dogs, Guiding Eyes announced today that it will use IBM Cloud. The move will also allow Guiding Eyes faster access to its canine data.

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Guiding Eyes started the process of moving to the cloud two years ago by identifying that its legacy systems were aging and that it needed new servers to host all its data. Realizing it wasn’t in the business of hosting an IT department in-house anymore, the organization turned to IBM Cloud solutions, said president and CEO of Guiding Eyes Thomas Panek.

IBM Cloud has allowed Guiding Eyes to migrate more than half a million health records and more than 65,000 temperament records on thousands of dogs. IBM Cloud will enable Guiding Eyes to provide easier access to colleagues across the United States, as well as partners and scientists who contribute to research and analysis of that data.


Grading dogs
Panek said that every dog that the organization graduates has a behavior checklist for everything it has done since it was born. Additionally, there is information on canine genetics research, breeding technology, behavioral development, and medical records and complex genetic mapping. There is also unstructured data from virtually scanned hard-copy questionnaires that trainers and host families complete about their experiences with the dogs.

All of that data is being used to figure out which dog will be able to graduate and then serve someone.

“The heavy-lifting that my staff has been doing is making sure that, as we migrate that data to IBM Cloud, that it’s the data we will really be able to use,” said Panek. “Much of this is normalizing tables and making sure what we are putting into the cloud is useful stuff, and it’s a chance to clean out the closet.”

He also said that people don’t typically think about an organization like Guiding Eyes as a Big Data company, but without this data, the company cannot grow or continue its mission.

“By collecting information about our dogs over the years, we can dig into the data to pull out meaningful insights about health, behavior, temperament and so much more,” said Panek. “However, all of that was becoming increasingly difficult on our legacy systems. By putting it on the IBM Cloud, we will simplify our IT and make our data more accessible for more analysis.”

From a personal experience, Panek said that he understands the need to have all of this data easily accessible. As a blind man, he has a yellow Labrador retriever named Gus, which he said was matched with him based on data collected by the company.

For additional research support, IBM Cloud will allow Guiding Eyes to open up its data to external partners for the first time. For example, the organization invited Chris Tseng, a professor of computer science at San Jose State University, to analyze the volume of DNA and behavioral data.

Tseng and his machine learning students will spend their spring semester using IBM Watson Personality and Natural Language Processing on IBM Bluemix. Using Bluemix, they can analyze the organization’s structured and unstructured data.

By May, the group hopes to establish a process for identifying data patterns and correlating traits, characteristics, environmental conditions, and personalities of both dogs and trainers. This will help improve Guiding Eyes’ dog graduation rates and to better match young dogs with trainers and ultimately owners.

By moving to the cloud, Guiding Eyes is also hoping to improve its screening and breeding processes, which will then improve the graduation rate of its guide dogs from 36% annually. Each dog costs approximately US$50,000 to train, and any improvements to the graduation rate will increase revenue and put more guide dogs into the right hands, the company said.