IBM's CIO says Big Blue is at work on a project to use its Watson artificial intelligence technology to help IBM salespeople better hawk the company's wares.
As part of its move to smarter computing, IBM is looking at using its
breakthrough Watson technology internally to help better equip
its salespeople to sell IBM hardware, software and services.
At a recent luncheon in New York City
to discuss IBM's Smart Computing strategy, IBM Vice President and CIO Jeanette
Horan said IBM is doing several things to enable its staff to make better use
of unstructured data, and one of them is to use the company's Watson
technology. Watson is the computer system IBM designed that won a "Jeopardy!"
challenge against some of the game show's biggest winners. IBM calls Watson a
workload-optimized system designed for complex analytics, made possible by
integrating massively parallel Power7 processors and IBM's
DeepQA question answering software. Watson applies advanced natural
language processing, information retrieval, knowledge representation and
reasoning, and machine learning technologies to answering questions.
"We're looking at a project to do an
internal Watson to look at all the information our salespeople need and to take
all of that information and build a source of information for our people,"
Horan noted that IBM has been able to
bring together multiple sources of information, such as customer information,
market information, pricing and more. "We need to understand how to bring al
this information together and to get rid of all the rows and columns and be
able to use unstructured data," she said. "We want to have our salespeople ask
an unstructured question and get an answer. ... You have to continue to evolve
your body of knowledge."
IBM officials have said the first
business application of the company's Watson technology will come in the health
care field, where Watson could serve as a physician's assistant or as part of
evidence-based or collaborative medicine solutions. IBM also identified other
potential business applications for Watson, including technical support for
help desks, call centers and the like; enterprise knowledge management and
business intelligence solutions; and government solutions for improved
information sharing and security.
Guru Rao, an IBM Fellow and chief
systems engineer in the IBM Systems and Technology group, said, "Watson is a
way of not providing just search and retrieval, but a way to create structure."
It is critical, Horan said, that IBM show
its customers that it is able to use its own technology and processes to
transform itself as evidence that it can do as much and more for them. Prior to
becoming IBM's CIO, Horan was vice president of Enterprise Business Transformation
at Big Blue. Yet, she still drives IBM's transformation agenda and helps
oversee a technology strategy aligned with the business that meets both the
growth and productivity commitments of IBM's 2015 road map.
"Within IBM we have a broad application
portfolio, and our challenge is to do more with less as our partners are
looking for agility and at how IBM is leveraging technology," Horan said. As
such, IBM is employing a lot of virtualization technology, but that is not
enough, Horan said. "So we are deploying more cloud technology, like our
business analytics cloud."
After IBM acquired Cognos, Horan said
many internal IBM groups were creating their own Cognos systems, "and we said
there's got to be a better way." With so many groups doing their own thing, "we
realized we had multiple versions of the truth. But we wanted to get to a
single version of the truth."
So IBM built a Cognos-based analytics
cloud known as Blue Insight. Announced in 2009, IBM's Blue Insight is the
world's largest private cloud computing environment for business analytics,
Horan said. Blue Insight can access business intelligence from hundreds of
databases-more than a petabyte of information-and make it available to users on
their desktops. A petabyte of information is equivalent to 300 billion ATM
At the end of 2010, Blue Insight had
165,000 users and more than 100 data warehouses ported to it, IBM said. By the
end of 2011, Blue Insight will be accessible through IBM's intranet to more
than half of the company's 427,000 employees. To date, some of the achievements
of Blue Insights include on the spot skills gap analysis by HR professionals,
cash position forecasts by IBM treasury analysts, and marketing trends for
IBM's marketing teams. And these analyses that used to take weeks or months to
perform now only take hours or minutes, IBM said.
Moreover, Horan said IBM also has made
use of the company's development and test cloud to provision resources to IBM
developers that build and maintain the company's 5,000 internal applications.
Because testing needs can vary and fluctuate so broadly, Horan said IBM needed
to be able to offer greater flexibility to development teams. With the cloud,
IBM can scale up to support large teams or scale back as needed.
"We have a cloud set of systems
available for development and test with self-service provisioning," Horan said.
Darryl K. Taft covers the development tools and developer-related issues beat from his office in Baltimore. He has more than 10 years of experience in the business and is always looking for the next scoop. Taft is a member of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and was named 'one of the most active middleware reporters in the world' by The Middleware Co. He also has his own card in the 'Who's Who in Enterprise Java' deck.