• January 10, 2014
  • By Leonard Klie, Editor, CRM magazine and SmartCustomerService.com

IBM Invests $1 Billion in Watson for Analytics and Big Data

IBM yesterday introduced the new IBM Watson Group and announced plans to invest more than $1 billion into it. This major investment will include more than $100 million to support IBM's ecosystem of start-ups and businesses building new Watson applications in the IBM Watson Developers Cloud.

Paul Greenberg, president of CRM consulting firm The 56 Group, says IBM's investment in the Watson technology is significant.

"One thing that you can say for IBM is that they do big in a big way," he says. "This is a huge and important effort at scale that could, if done right, affect how businesses create, distribute, and consume information—if done well, which of course remains to be seen."

Additionally, Greenberg calls the moves a sign of just "how important IBM is taking the world of knowledge, insight, and big data," adding that Big Blue also understands "the components needed to make this happen in what could become a ubiquitous way."

But, what makes this interesting isn't numbers, he adds, "but IBM's understanding that insight services require an ecosystem, and they are investing 10 percent of the money in incubating new services to support the effort. It's being deployed in the cloud—IBM's own Softlayer—so they also understand the needed methods of distribution of the efforts and results."

Ray Wang, founder and principal analyst at Constellation Research, says the $1 billion investment, while significant, isn't all that much considering the amount of work needed to tie all Watson's capabilities together.

What is more significant, he says, is that IBM is showing that it is "serious" about Watson, about its place in the big data and analytics market, and about the need for partners to advance the technology along.

Wang eventually expects that work performed in the Watson labs will lead to a Watson that can fit into a smartphone and act like a souped-up version of Apple's Siri personal assistant app for its iPhone and iPad devices.

In tandem with the new funding, IBM also introduced three new Watson services delivered over the cloud. IBM Watson Analytics delivers big data insights based on questions posed in natural language by any business user. IBM Watson Explorer helps users across an enterprise uncover and share data-driven insights more easily, while empowering organizations to launch big data initiatives faster. IBM Watson Discovery Advisor will accelerate and strengthen research and development projects in industries such as pharmaceuticals, publishing, and biotechnology.

IBM Watson Analytics will allow users to explore big data insights through visual representations without the need for advanced analytics training. Guided by sophisticated analytics and a natural language interface, Watson Analytics automatically prepares the data, surfaces the most important relationships, and presents the results in a visual format.

With Watson Analytics, a marketing executive, for example, could ask a question and immediately discover what could be causing sales to fall in a particular country during a particular quarter. In addition, Watson Analytics could help guide the executive to new insights on related topics that might be impacting sales, such as employee attrition, economic factors, or competitive threats. The executive could then quickly share his findings with other employees, asking for their input. Through social collaboration, each business user could view and interact with data-driven insights, and even add additional data to spark new discoveries.

Also new from the IBM Watson Group is the IBM Watson Explorer, a service to help users across an enterprise uncover and share data-driven insights more easily, while helping organizations launch big data initiatives faster.

Watson Explorer provides a unified view of all of a user's information. The service provides data discovery, navigation, and search capabilities that are secure, unified, and span a broad range of applications, data sources, and data formats, both inside and outside an enterprise.

Watson Explorer also provides users with a framework for developing information-rich applications that deliver a comprehensive, contextually relevant view of any topic for business users, data scientists, and a variety of targeted business functions.

"Watson is the solution to today's influx of information, delivered from the cloud and ready to be the ultimate advisor for faster, more accurate decisions," said Michael Rhodin, who was named to head up the IBM Watson Group as its senior vice president, in a statement. "By bringing a new generation of Watson-powered services to the marketplace, IBM is transforming industries and professions. These new cognitive computing innovations are designed to augment users' knowledge, be it the researcher exploring genetic data to create new therapies or a business executive who needs evidence-based insights to make a crucial decision."

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