Why Watson Analytics Won’t Win Jeopardy, But Might Win Small Businesses

Loraine Lawson
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Five Ways to Use Data to Be More Relevant to Customers

I admit to having fan-girl tendencies. I’m a big geek in that way, particularly when it comes to games or quirky TV.

When it comes to technology, though, I’m neutral, as I should be. I own a Mac, but loved my retired Dell and don’t care to deify Steve Jobs, for instance. The Apple watch? Meh, I really like my diver’s watch. Microsoft? For years, I preferred Windows, but thought IT was too biased toward their tools.

But I have to confess that one company occasionally spurs a full-on geek-out: IBM.

Honestly, this has less to do with the company than the company’s really cool use of technology. For instance, who could resist the company’s SOA-built, 3D virtual tour, “The Forbidden City: Beyond Space & Time.” (Whatever happened to that?)

And then there was Watson, IBM’s natural language supercomputer, which captured our attention for, like, a week by winning Jeopardy. It may have been one of the most impressive marketing stunts I’ve ever seen, simply because most people didn’t perceive it as a marketing ploy. It just seemed like this epic brain battle between man and machine.


So when IBM revealed that Watson Analytics was in public beta, I was a bit psyched. I don’t think I was the only one: Information Week reported that more than 22,000 users have registered since September.

Is it as cool as it sounds? If you’re expecting a Jeopardy-esque experience, then no. Instead, Watson Analytics’ value proposition is that it’s a super easy (and did I mention free?) way for small businesses and business users to tinker with predictive and visual analytics.

KDnuggets published a walk-through of Watson Analytics’ limited release beta, complete with pictures. The reviewer used Watson Analytics to identify the top predictors of churn, as well as to show relationships such as association, difference and correlation. IBM’s site includes other examples that filter the tool by job function: Finance, IT, HR, operations, marketing and sales.

That piece notes that the cloud-based analytics service is trying to “play the role of data scientists and is for business users who do not want to use Spreadsheets for analysis.” Now that it’s in public beta, IBM has also added Salesforce, Google Drive, Box, Oracle and IBM connectors, Computerworld reports.

Several pieces I read noted that Watson Analytics relies on a natural language dialogue, but it’s not actually as you might imagine, according to Gigaom analyst Stowe Boyd. This is not the Watson of Jeopardy fame, he cautions, though he found the user experience “very intuitive.”  IBM promises that, as you use the tool, it will become smarter in how it relates to data sets over time, Boyd adds.

Data

Another common takeaway from the beta: IBM is really targeting small businesses with this tool. That surprised me, since you don’t usually think “talking supercomputer” and “main street,” but as InvestCorrectly.com notes, Watson Analytics automates the time-consuming tasks required for analysis:

Watson can ‘clean’ available data, that is, organize and format it into an analyzable form. This data preparation can take up around 60 percent of the time required for analysis. The Watson system can also convert data from other systems into easier analytic form, suggesting algorithms and visual appearance for easy interpretation.

What may really set Watson Analytics apart, though, is IBM’s partnership with Twitter, which will allow the company to add social media data to its cloud analytics tools. Imagine if you could upload a few spreadsheets and instantly add social media data to it without any integration work on your part? That would certainly appeal to small businesses.

ZDNet reports that eventually, the Watson Analytics tool will also connect with common cloud offerings such as Salesforce, Google Docs, Oracle, Box and, of course, Cognos and SPSS.

Another move at play: IBM this week filed two data-related patents that could help pool resources between cloud data centers and allow for real-time data analysis to determine priority data packets. This second ZDNet article includes more details, if you’re curious.

In the meantime, if you’d like to learn more about Watson Analytics, you might want to check out these resources:

Loraine Lawson is a veteran technology reporter and blogger. She currently writes the Integration blog for IT Business Edge, which covers all aspects of integration technology, including data governance and best practices. She has also covered IT/Business Alignment and IT Security for IT Business Edge. Before becoming a freelance writer, Lawson worked at TechRepublic as a site editor and writer, covering mobile, IT management, IT security and other technology trends. Previously, she was a webmaster at the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet and a newspaper journalist. Follow Lawson at Google+ and on Twitter.



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