IBM forms new cognitive business unit to promote Watson

Can IBM bring cognitive computing to the masses? That's the mission for IBM's new Cognitive Business Solutions group. Also in Searchlight: Apple breaks up with VMware; Dell might buy EMC.

Can IBM's Watson -- known for its prowess in the medical and financial fields -- be a jack of all trades?

CEO Virginia "Ginni" Rometty announced on Tuesday that the company is launching a 2,000-strong business unit focused on cognitive computing. The mission: to help businesses in every industry figure out how they can apply IBM Watson technology to their specific business requirements.

Rometty made the announcement at the Gartner Symposium ITxpo in Orlando, Fla., where one of the central themes is how cutting-edge technologies, such as artificial intelligence and data analytics, will be crucial business differentiators in the digital era.

"This ability to make things think will now permeate business," Rometty told the audience. "Once digital, how do you differentiate? I want you to think of digital business plus digital intelligence -- this is the new era of cognitive."

Michele Goetz, analyst at Forrester Research, said the steps IBM plans to take in order to scale out its Watson supercomputer to more businesses -- building a team of 2,000 consultants, incorporating cognitive functionality into all its products and building relationships with its customers -- are timely.

"The opportunities in publishing, automotive, food and beverage, and the services industry as a whole are ripe for both augmented workforce intelligence, and optimal engagement between digital/machines and humans," Goetz said in an email.

She pointed to  AP's "robot journalists," IBM Chef Watson, and shopping and fashion virtual assistants as examples of early cognitive deployments across a variety of industries, but she also said that IBM's Cognitive Business Solutions group has a ways to go before cognitive computing is a mainstream business technology. "Real growth and adoption will occur when cognitive computing becomes much less complex to adopt and manage -- consumability is key," Goetz said.

As enterprises continue to investigate how cognitive computing can be applied to their business strategies, processes and problems, Goetz advises CIOs to pay attention to the following:

  • Holistic cognitive environments: Look at how combining particular cognitive capabilities can create a richer experience for the customer. "Where today you may invest in better suggestive searches for products, tomorrow that would be combined with content creation and visualizations of customer profiles," Goetz said.
  • Training and oversight: Goetz said that developing and training cognitive systems is difficult and complex. "[The difficulty of the task] often inhibits the time to value or, more importantly, the time to scale to a production capability," she said. Thus, it's up to enterprises to be on the lookout for improvements and efficiencies in how cognitive systems are developed and trained in order to meet business goals. "This means that cognitive systems have to simplify the environment and feedback of 'black-box analytics' in order to allow [enterprises] greater transparency and training mechanisms, without a lot of IT and consultant overhead," Goetz said.  
  • Scale across topics and bodies of knowledge: "Look to scale beyond tight business metrics for single processes," Goetz advised. An example of a missed opportunity would be a cognitive system that helps customers find the best option for home insurance, but doesn't offer them the same type of experience to cross-sell life or automotive insurance.

CIO news roundup for week of Oct. 5

Here is more technology news from the week:

  • Apple says goodbye to VMware: CRN reported this week that Apple decided not to extend its four-year-old contract with the server virtualization provider, opting instead to save $20 billion and ramp up deployments of KVM, an open source alternative to VMware.
  • Dell is reported to be in advanced talks to acquire EMC. A deal between the two technology giants would answer years of questions about the fate of both companies, according to The New York Times.   
  • The European Court of Justice, the EU's highest court, struck down Safe Harbor, a U.S. data-sharing agreement between the U.S. and Europe, ruling that it violated regular citizens' privacy rights. For years, Safe Harbor allowed technology companies to transfer customers' data across the Atlantic without their permission.
  • Microsoft held its massive devices event earlier this week, where the company speedily unveiled a wide range of hardware, from the Surface Book to the Lumia 950 and more. The Verge's Vlad Savov, who described the show as "the most exciting and intriguing event years," put together a list of memorable quotes from the event.

Check out our previous Searchlight roundups on fingerprint biometrics in the wake of the OPM hack, and why CIOs should be paying attention to the hybrid cloud approach.

Next Steps

Find out more about how IBM Watson can achieve commercial success on sister site SearchDataManagement.

Learn more about the potential impact of automated systems on enterprises at Data Mill.

Dig Deeper on Enterprise artificial intelligence (AI)