LAS VEGAS: Data analytics have been used in the enterprise for some time, but IBM claims that Watson will create an information revolution leading to companies becoming data-driven "cognitive businesses".
Bob Picciano, senior vice president of IBM Analytics, said at IBM Insight 2015 in Las Vegas that trends such as the growing digitalisation of companies and the rise of the Internet of Things are creating a deluge of data that businesses can tap into with the right tools.
"There's so much data at the edge being generated by billions of connected devices, sensors and services, and about 90 percent of that data is never captured. It's never analysed, and it's never actioned. That is a total waste. Just imagine if we could tap into all that data," he said.
Understandably, Picciano touted IBM's Watson cognitive computing capabilities as a way to achieve this goal.
"Cognitive business is at the nexus of exploiting digital transformation and digital intelligence powered by capabilities like Watson," he said.
There are several analytics tools in the technology market, such as those offered by SAP, but Watson's cognitive computing and machine learning capabilities set it apart from rival tools, according to Picciano.
Watson's cloud-based cognitive capabilities allow the system to learn from the patterns it uncovers from the analysis of large datasets from numerous sources, making it more effective and efficient each time it carries out similar analysis processes.
Mike Rhodin, senior vice president at IBM Watson, noted that cognitive computing surpasses standard analytics tools as it can find patterns in data sources not normally associated with business intelligence activity.
"This idea that data is transforming industries is nothing new - we've been talking about it at Insight for years - but now more than ever the majority of this data is dark or invisible to us," he said.
"Unstructured text, images and sound are essentially invisible to most of today's computer systems. This is where cognitive systems come in. For cognitive businesses this represents a treasure trove of potential, and Watson will help you put data into context."
Rhodin noted that Watson's ability to learn each time it carries out analysis allows the system to become more intelligent over time and thus more valuable to its users.
Watson sits at the centre of several technologies, including cloud, artificial intelligence and digital data, and Rhodin sees it creating a large-scale "information revolution".
"This idea of cognitive business is the beginning of what I [think] is the next technological breakthrough in systems. We had the Industrial Revolution to scale production, we had the computer revolution to scale business, and what we're going to do now is scale knowledge," he said.
"As we're digitalising the physical world, all this data needs to be processed. Analytics is the universal translator for data. It turns data into information and, when you combine information with lots of different types of information and put it through a cognitive engine, you get knowledge at scale."
Cognitive business pioneers
Rhodin did note that IBM and the technology industry as a whole are only at the start of making full use of big data, machine learning and cognitive computing. But IBM's vison of an information revolution driven by Watson is not just corporate bravado.
This is down to the company's continuing strategy to push the development of Watson's capabilities and further open up its APIs to provide developers and businesses with a way to build apps and functionality on top of Watson so that its cognitive computing can be applied to a wide range of industries.
This effect of this can already be seen with The Weather Company, which uses Watson to apply cognitive analytics and machine learning to its forecasting platform to better deliver weather predictions to customers.
Another existing user of Watson is Go Moment, which has created a virtual customer service agent for hotels called Ivy, which is built on top of Watson APIs and harnesses natural language understanding and cognitive capabilities to provide real-time service in place of unavailable hotel staff.
Coca-Cola, already a customer of IBM's, touted ambitions to delve deeper into predictive analytics through the use of social networking data made available to enterprises through a partnership between Twitter and IBM established in October 2014.
"We want to be able to do true social analytics. We're hoping that by bringing together data streams from outside Coca-Cola with some of the information we have internally, we'll get a better insight into our customers and how they experience our marketing [activity]," said Mike Weaver, group director of data strategy at Coca-Cola.
"By bringing those different datasets together we hope to get predictive [insight into] the right times to market to our consumers, the wrong times, and the next best brand to market."
Partners and customers were highlighted throughout the opening keynote at IBM Insight as potential drivers of the next wave of cognitive businesses, lending credence to IBM's ambitions for Watson.
Given how IBM took Watson's capability and packaged it as Watson Analytics, a cloud-powered service made available to all, and created industry-specific cognitive computing platforms such as Watson Health, the company's vison of an information revolution maybe very close indeed.
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