IBM Making Savvy PR and Operational Moves with Watson

Carl Weinschenk
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IBM has done a great job marketing Watson, its cloud-based natural language processing cognitive computing platform. It famously started in 2011 with Ken Jennings and Jeopardy! and now is featured in television commercials with Jennings, a cute little girl who is in remission from cancer, Bob Dylan and others.

The moves go beyond media savvy. Any given week seems to see IBM Watson entering new lines of work. The company is establishing Watson’s global headquarters in Munich and recently made Harriet Green, who had been CEO of the Thomas Cook Group until last year, CEO.

Green spelled out to Fortune’s Stacey Higginbotham what has been the company’s strategy:


Green sees IBM pursuing a vertical, industry-specific approach to helping clients adapt to the Internet of Things. Thus, IBM has people working with clients in automotive, retail, insurance, those helping on smarter cities, etc.

Big Blue said that it will establish “client experience centers” in Beijing; Boeblinger, Germany; Sao Paulo; Seoul and Tokyo. In the states, centers will be in Massachusetts, North Carolina and Texas. Forbes suggests that IBM is playing a smart game by locating the headquarters in Munich:

Placing the headquarters in Germany is a deeply symbolic move, says analyst Frank Gillett of Forrester Research. With European companies, especially major ones in Germany, the continent’s largest economy, concerned about American tech companies exporting the value from the rise of Internet-connected sensors in their businesses, IBM’s base in Munich will be intended to demonstrate that the company can be trusted, the analyst says. ‘A traditional mainline tech company has plunked down in Europe to say, we are firmly with you, we are rooting ourselves in your environment to work with you.’

There has been a lot of coverage of what Watson plans to do. Here is something that hasn’t gotten as much attention: A look at how well it is doing so far. Thomas H. Davenport, a Distinguished Professor at Babson College, writes in the Wall Street Journal, that it is doing quite well, and cites some examples:

Dr. Mark Kris, the MSKCC oncologist who has led that institution’s Watson project since 2012, commented that, ‘It’s been a lot more complex, and taken a lot more time, than we had thought. But this is the way medicine is going to be practiced.’ Jeff Margolis, the chairman and CEO of Welltok, says about the power behind his company’s ‘CaféWell Concierge app powered by Watson,’ that, ‘Watson learns quickly from the corpus [body of knowledge that informs its recommendations] and doesn’t forget. It has spatial awareness and temporal understanding. It’s an amazing technology.’ Dr. Steve Alberts, who is leading a Watson project at the Mayo Clinic that matches patients with clinical trials, said that, ‘It’s amazing how much unstructured and structured knowledge Watson can pick up on.

The piece suggests that there are no miracles. “Moonshot” projects – very ambitious undertakings that would make big headlines but are complex – don’t produce results overnight. They are works in progress – and might be forever, since the body of knowledge with which Watson has to keep abreast grows rapidly.

The article goes into good detail, including a practitioner’s opinion that special attention must be paid to the way in which Watson is exposed to knowledge that has not yet made the literature.

Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at cweinsch@optonline.net and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.



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