Big Data

IBM Watson: A shining example of how to take big data to the next level

Vendors are starting to embrace the next round of business relevance for big data and analytics. A case in point is how industry verticals are using the Jeopardy-winning IBM Watson supercomputer.

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For big data and analytics vendors, the market is approaching an inflection point that takes analytics past early implementations and into more mature realms of how these analytics are ultimately going to impact business.

In the past two years, companies have internally grappled with this question of how to make big data and analytics relevant to the business, and how both can make payoffs on initial budgetary investments.

In many cases, enterprises have seen big data and analytics pay off. Early successes have come in the form of summary dashboards that give C-level executives and middle managers instantaneous visibility on revenues, sales campaigns, and operational performance. But while companies have gotten their feet wet, vendors of big data and analytics also know that a new level of business relevance for analytics will soon be expected, and they are seizing the opportunity to deliver it.

Say hello to Watson

There is perhaps no better example than IBM's Watson, which made its first widely publicized splash in 2011, when it battled the two highest ranked players in a nationally televised two-game Jeopardy! match.

Originally started as a project in 2007 by IBM Research, Watson is a computer system that combines algorithmic query techniques with computational linguistics, information retrieval, knowledge representation and reasoning, and machine learning. At first blush, this would seem to make Watson the perfect complement for academic and research communities intent on capitalizing on high performance analytics. Watson can deliver in these areas, but what IBM has also done in the past several years is particularize its use for specific industry verticals and the problems that companies in these verticals want to address.

Watson in the medical industry

At Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, medical personnel worked with IBM to "train" Watson in the selection of treatments for lung and breast cancers. In an article on the cancer center's site, Mark Kris, MD, Chief, Thoracic Oncology Service at Sloan Kettering wrote:

"I was particularly interested because my friend and colleague Larry Norton, Deputy Physician-in-Chief for Breast Cancer Programs, had previously alerted me to the fact that systems like IBM Watson could be harnessed to improve cancer care and research.... The power of the technology is that it has the ability to take the information about a specific patient and match it to a huge knowledge base and history of treatment for similar patients. This process can help medical professionals gain important insights so that they can make more-informed decisions, evidence-based decisions, about which treatment to follow."

Watson in the financial industry

At Australia's ANZ bank, Watson is being used in the wealth management division. "I started to think about how many apps could benefit from reducing complexity and Big Data into simple solutions," said Joyce Phillips, CEO Global Wealth and Private Banking Group Managing Director, Marketing, Innovation and Digital, in a June 2013 American Banker article. "You could see the implications for doing that in customer service, in underwriting and in other areas that are ripe for innovation."

Phillips also saw a way in which a new customer's financial situation could be more quickly and comprehensively analyzed. "What if I could sort you out in one session by asking you a few questions, and not have you bring a file cabinet of paper to me, while we're having a cappuccino potentially? I started to test that concept with clients and it really resonated."

Watson in the retail industry

In retail, Watson is being used in customer engagements, with an Ask Watson facility that enables customers to speak directly to Watson via instant message, text message, email, web chat, or a dedicated app on their mobile phones.

Early adopters like Nielsen plan to use Watson to help advise individuals responsible for buying ads about how Nielsen compiles its results, and even recommend how they can best spend advertising dollars.

Watson in the mobile industry

The push is now on to make Watson a platform of choice as enterprises across the board look to deploy mobile applications.

Big data, round two

Can these efforts solve persisting problems facing enterprises in key industry verticals? The problems across industries are myriad and varied and will not be solved in a day or a year.

But the efforts from large vendors to particularize big data and analytics solutions to key verticals so companies don't have to build these themselves has the potential to take big data and analytics to a new level of business relevance — one that transcends dashboards, operating alerts, and other artifacts that have characterized the first round of big data/analytics implementation.

Also read on TechRepublic

About Mary Shacklett

Mary E. Shacklett is president of Transworld Data, a technology research and market development firm. Prior to founding the company, Mary was Senior Vice President of Marketing and Technology at TCCU, Inc., a financial services firm; Vice President o...

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