The world of artificial intelligence is rapidly growing and improving every single day. The latest innovation in the field of computational science comes in the form of advanced computing and data analysis that will help ordinary people solve complex problems. And IBM is the company behind that new product called Watson Analytics.
In a report written by Ron Miller of techcrunch.com, Watson Analytics is a cloud application that does all of the the heavy lifting related to big data processing by retrieving the data, analyzing it, cleaning it, building sophisticated visualizations and offering an environment for communicating and collaborating around the data.
As Eric Sall, VP of Worldwide Marketing for Business Analytics at IBM, puts it, “People understand they should be making better decisions to leverage data and analytics, but the reason they don’t is it’s too hard.” In other words, it means that getting answers by analyzing big data today requires access to vast resources, a team of developers and data scientists, etc… That can take days or weeks and in today’s business climate, that’s just not acceptable. People shouldn’t have to beg for access to the information they need to do their jobs.
That’s where Watson Analytics jumps in. It aims to remove the barriers indicated above. First of all it’s in the cloud, so the user doesn’t have to worry about back-end infrastructure, and there is no need of any developers and data scientists because the software is taking care of all of that.
The user can start with an existing data source such as Salesforce.com CRM data or the user’s own data can be imported. Eric Sall also says that the base product comes with connectors to many popular business tools. Once there is a data source, you can ask a question, explore the data to see what you can find serendipitously or you can use one of the story templates that comes with the product, which Sall says takes you down a path to explore the data in a standard kind of way.
If the user is looking at sales data, for example, chances are there are some standard questions to be explored and the template takes the user there. Any question can be asked as well and Watson will process those questions and deliver an answer. Often though, Sall says, business users are looking at data and they don’t really know what to do with it or where to start precisely because they lack the training and understanding. The templates provide a way to get users going when they don’t know what to do by providing a base set of information and visualizations.
And here’s where IBM’s offer becomes original: The version is free! Yeah, that’s right. Eric Sall says they are offering a free version that’s free forever in the IBM Cloud Marketplace. He sees this as removing a barrier to access and says the free version is actually pretty sophisticated.
The upgrade will offer premium features such as additional storage and direct connections to enterprise repositories, which many companies will want to access for their data analysis.
Sall admits this is a big change in sales strategy from men and women in blue suits selling to the CIO or IT pros, but he says the company really wants to push this product to as many people as possible and they believe the freemium model is a way to get it out there where they can upsell to departments and companies once individual business users or departments are comfortable with it.
The digital market approach is really part of the overall IBM cloud strategy. Watson Analytics is itself delivered on the Softlayer platform, the infrastructure provider IBM purchased in June, 2013. It will also be offered as a service through the Bluemix Platform as a Service developer platform to provide a way for developers and other interested parties to build Watson Analytics into third-party applications. Sall says data providers are a big focus of this effort and they hope to see them integrating into Watson Analytics in the future.
He says this new cloud approach reflects where the world is going and where IBM needs to be as a company if it wants to survive. “It’s where we have to go as company. We can’t pretend the world’s not changing, Of course it’s changing,” Sall said. And delivering a cloud product built on their own infrastructure platform, using the freemium model shows that IBM is trying to do business in new ways.
The product goes into Beta this month and they are shooting for general release by the end of the year. As a cloud service, it will run on a variety of platforms including tablets, smartphones and PC/laptops, but there are no dedicated apps yet.
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