Amplify 2016: IBM Introduces New Cognitive Computing Tools to Accelerate Customer Engagement

TAMPA -- With the plethora of information available to companies today, "we know our customers better than we ever have," Harriet Green, general manager of Watson Internet of Things, commerce and education at IBM, said to the attendees gathered at IBM's Amplify conference on Tuesday. "We've risen far beyond traditional methods of market research, focus groups, and surveys. Today, we can record every move a customer makes as they navigate a Web site; we have heat maps that follow foot traffic through store; we can analyze unsolicited social sentiments about brands in real time. And every single bit of of that information can be used to understand exactly where a customer is in their journey [to] craft seamless, relevant customer experiences."

But despite the fact that companies are amassing so much information, it doesn't change the reality: They are inundated by data and often require a helping hand in putting it to good use. Because companies shouldn't be letting so much valuable data go unused, IBM this week introduced several cognitive computing capabilities to help them better connect with their customers.

Among these are enhancements to the Real-Time Personalization component of IBM's Marketing Cloud. "The system goes way beyond what is currently available" from IBM, Green explained during an afternoon press conference, in that it continually learns about a person by looking at their activity and adapting to their interests. The solution operates under the assumption that a customer's preferences evolve over time and thus the content they view should be shaped accordingly. A new Cognitive Rule Adviser feature leverages Watson to learn a customer's preferences and to offer marketers advice regarding what messages they should show their different Web page visitors.

For instance, a customer might develop a budding interest in a particular sport. That person will likely demonstrate the affinity in the way they behave online, the content they post on social media sites, and how they act while they visit a brick-and-mortar store. The Real-Time Personalization can recognize that the customer is early in their buying journey and show them content that is fit for beginners, including tips for getting started, or places to practice that sport in their area. As that person's interest matures and they begin to progress at it, the solution adapts and serves up different, higher-level content, such as information about leagues or contests.

However, it's not just customers companies need to understand, Green said. IBM has also embedded cognitive capabilities into its Commerce Insights product to give retailers the ability to see how their various products are performing on an e-commerce page. This allows retailers, for instance, to automatically change the presentation of products while taking into account important factors such as how many of that item a company has in stock. "It recognizes instantly spikes and shifts in sales and even identifies the reasons behind them," Green said, including promotional events, channel activities, social sentiment, or competitive pricing. It also goes one step further in that it recommends a course of action based on the information it processes. For instance, it might suggest a price increase or drop.

Kareem Yusuf, IBM Commerce's vice president of offering management and development, elaborated on why professionals can safely trust the system. "They can see the reasoning the system has gone through to arrive at such conclusions," and make modifications to the preferences, conditioning it depending on what they want to focus on, Yusuf said. "The system continuously learns, and thus gets better over time."

"This would not work if [users were forced] to switch systems" to accomplish their goals, Yusuf stressed. "What we have been very focused on, and what I believe has been very differentiating for us at IBM, is how we seamlessly bring these powerful capabilities to bear in the hands of our users in a way that fits in with how they work."

To that end, IBM has brought on omnichannel data and tag management provider Ensighten as a partner in its Universal Behavior Exchange (UBX) ecosystem. The goal: to bring in data from multiple sources to one user interface.

"Cognitive computing is fundamentally different from anything that has come before it," Green emphasized. "These systems learn, they understand, they reason, they communicate in natural language. They work with larger, more diverse data sets. They can ingest information from seemingly unrelated systems, whether it's transportation, weather, or social media, and then find correlations between them, discovering patterns and giving insights that are just extraordinary." IBM's goal, Green said, is to infuse this technology into every area of its product portfolio.

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