LAS VEGAS: IBM has touted analytics and cognitive computing as ways to make individuals more productive and work better together.
IMB Insight 2015 in Las Vegas has seen the company championing analytics and the Watson cognitive computing technology to help companies tap into insightful information from big data and improve operations.
However, Rob Koplowitz, Watson ESS programme director at IBM, said in a talk attended by V3 that IBM's analytics can also shake up the use of traditional productivity tools.
An injection of analytics and cognitive computing can be used gain an insight into how people work, and identify ways to generate better productivity and collaboration with colleagues, according to Koplowitz.
"Everything has been going along a similar path: we're communicating, we're sharing things more effectively," he said, mentioning how enterprise productivity tools have aped consumer software to become more usable and mobile friendly.
"But it was all trying to accomplish the same thing until now. Bring analytics into it [and] for the first time we actually have the ability to look at the user and understand what's important to them, what content they access, what things they work on that are important, the context in which they are working, and what they are trying to do."
Koplowitz explained that IBM intends to realise this potential by injecting analytics and Watson into productivity and collaboration products, such as the firm's Verse enterprise email client.
"If we add cognitive to this we can say: ‘I now understand what you're doing and I can actually do things on your behalf. I can actually give you insights that you didn't know existed, and I can assist you in ways in which you couldn't have been assisted before,'" he said.
Watson meets Verse
Koplowitz highlighted a project called Hill One being carried out by IBM's Design team to add analytics and Watson into the mobile version of Verse.
Hill One makes use of IBM Design Thinking, a framework to ensure that interface features added to IBM's software are made with the users' needs in mind, and uses analytics to highlight and prioritise the emails most important to individual workers.
People short on time but with a mountain of emails to get through can tap a light bulb in the mobile version of Verse which will then arrange emails in priority.
Cognitive analytics taken from Watson can use natural language comprehension to pick out important parts of emails in the preview part of the app, bypassing the normal salutation and preamble found in normal email previews. Koplowitz said this will save time and effort for future Verse users.
When going into an email the cognitive capabilities automatically suggest actions that need to be taken, such as booking a meeting room when all parties are available, or presenting and attaching a document that the sender might have requested.
Koplowitz noted that Watson will only suggest actions for the foreseeable future, rather than intercede on the user's behalf, thereby avoiding any mishaps.
The final feature is a Watson icon that can appear in emails if it detects content that might be unfamiliar to the recipient, such as specialist medical terminology. A simple tap on the Watson symbol will present recent articles and information on the subject.
IBM's analytics and Watson capabilities are likely to find their way into more of the firm's products, according to Koplowitz. "We began this journey at IBM with our Verse product and we're going to continue it throughout the entire portfolio," he said.
Adding Watson to more products and services is part of IBM's goal of sparking an "information revolution" that will change enterprises into data-driven "cognitive businesses".
Author's view: Analytics on big data sets is nothing new and, while IBM is pushing Watson's cognitive computing capabilities as a way to galvanise how it is used, I was not hugely moved by the products being presented at Insight until Koplowitz's talk.
However, as someone who has a mountain of emails, invitations and documents to manage on an almost hourly basis, anything that eases that process would be very welcome.
Microsoft is doing similar work with the Outlook mobile app, and Google is looking at simplifying email management with Gmail Inbox apps.
But adding cognitive computing into the daily drudgery of inbox management could be a step change for enterprise software, potentially stealing market share from Microsoft and Google in the productivity tools arena, providing IBM's design team can integrate it neatly into Verse.
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