Hugh Byrne – July 28, 2016
From cockpit to courtside, IBM’s Watson has been busy this summer. The cognitive business platform has made news demonstrating how it smooths air travel, assesses fan favorites at Wimbledon, and studies music composition on the side. On the B2B front, Watson continues its relentless push into verticals, teaming up with Cisco for collaborative workplace tools, and driving deeper into building automation analytics.
Watson press releases flow forth from IBM every two to three days. But two recent items are worth noting for enterprise data executives, not simply for being yet another demonstration of Watson’s prowess in carving out vertical markets, but as proof of concepts for pairing AI and cognitive computing with data as platforms for innovative new applications.
On June 16, IBM announced an agreement with Gogo, the in-flight data and wifi provider, to monitor and alert planes to oncoming turbulence before the ride gets bumpy. It’s the first high-profile byproduct of IBM’s $2 billion acquisition of The Weather Company in January, and it leverages the treasure trove of data that had been seen as the primary driver of the deal, as well as technology built by The Weather Company that is now a key component of IBM’s Watson IoT division. Planes experiencing turbulence will transmit data to IBM, which compares it with meteorological data to gauge severity. As needed, Watson will then send alerts to nearby planes to avoid the area, a significant step forward from the traditional system of coded verbal alerts.
A few days later, Watson was again in the news, this time for its novel mechanism to gauge fan sentiment at Wimbledon (where IBM is also a sponsor). Using cameras to monitor facial expressions, Watson gathered data throughout the tournament to determine which players were fan favorites. While past years have seen Watson monitoring social sentiment data surrounding Wimbledon via Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, the facial recognition application exemplified the rapidly emerging field of AI emotion technology, a powerful new form of market research. Wimbledon officials say they ultimately intend to use this information to more effectively merchandise and market the annual event.
Why This Matters:
To a cynical observer, Watson’s greatest talent might be its ability to generate press releases. In June alone, IBM issued a Watson-related release on average of every three days, announcing the platform’s latest slice of a vertical market, new technology, or partnership. But Watson – an orchestration of components targeted to solving highly specific and challenging problems – continues to generate compelling applications that demonstrate the potential of leveraging data assets with advanced analytics.
The Gogo deal serves as a creative mashup of flight and meteorological data, leveraging computing power to create a feedback loop that veers into the territory of prescriptive analytics. Outsell has long championed prescriptive analytics as the top of the data business value pyramid, and as more applications like the Watson-Gogo partnership enter vertical marketplaces, they further illustrate the potential opportunities for the role of data to evolve from ‘what happened’ to ‘what to do.’ And while Watson may grab headlines for helping keep air travelers more comfortable in turbulent skies, expect its greatest business opportunities for prescriptive analytics to lie in narrower verticals, such as energy management and building automation.
For all the novelty gauging who the crowd favorite was in the Serena Williams – Angelique Kerber match at Wimbledon, Watson also offered a high-profile proof of concept of emotion AI technology. Emotion AI is a significant leap forward in identifying consumer sentiment in action, by measuring how people honestly feel. This technology has applications that stretch beyond media and entertainment, and into B2B markets such as legal, education, and healthcare. Watson is by no means the dominant player in this sector, which is led by Affectiva, Real Eyes, and Emotient. Indeed, Emotient was acquired by Apple in January, and IBM may be seeking to fill a vacuum while Apple remains quiet on its next step with the technology.
For Chief Data Officers (CDO), Chief Analytics Officers (CAO), and senior data executives, Watson’s ongoing string of news provides interesting threads and applications worth monitoring. While much of what we at Outsell hear in our conversations with CDOs and CAOs relates to the fundamental challenges of standardizing platforms and processes, forward-thinking executives in the space are looking beyond to innovative ways of monetizing existing data sets, as well as sourcing complementary data and technology via partnerships and acquisition.
IBM continues to drive creative uses of Watson technology to carve out new verticals and promote the platform as an ecosystem for developers and partners. As enterprise data executives evaluate their opportunities and options for developing new lines of business that leverage cognitive computing, Watson’s integrated stack demonstrates a compelling range of capabilities. IBM has worked hard and confronted challenges in promoting the platform as an attractive turnkey solution.
Some takeaways for data executives from Watson’s latest moves:
- Aim high on the data business value pyramid. Applications that focus on predictive or prescriptive analytics take data from the role of supporting cast to center of attention.
- Approach data monetization initiatives systematically, assessing market opportunities, testing concepts, and launching successful offers.
- Consider the frequency and speed of Watson’s new ventures as but one indicator of how low the barriers have gotten for launching data businesses. Speed, agility, and low cost are not advantages unique to Watson.
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