IBM Launches $1B Watson Business Unit

By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2014-01-08 Print this article Print

Named after IBM founder Thomas J. Watson, IBM Watson was developed in IBM’s Research labs. Using natural language processing and analytics, Watson processes information akin to how people think, representing a major shift in an organization’s ability to quickly analyze, understand and respond to big data. Watson’s ability to answer complex questions posed in natural language with speed, accuracy and confidence is transforming decision making across a variety of industries.

However, despite its capabilities, the complexity of the Watson solution has sparked criticism by some. David Lloyd, CEO of virtual agent provider IntelliResponse, said Watson does not offer what companies need. “For the average retail bank or fast-growing startup, Watson is like buying a Formula One car for your 20-minute commute,” he said.

Lloyd, who works every day with companies seeking to improve their online customer service, says while Watson's advanced cognitive reasoning may be a cool novelty, the high price tag, granular answers and time investments necessary to train such a complex system don’t make sense for them. Their customers either want a real person to hash out a complex issue, or they’re task-oriented: they want a single right answer to their question to get in and get out, no bells and whistles, he said.

Meanwhile, IBM has partnered with a range of health care organizations to transform how medicine is practiced, paid for and taught, via Watson-powered solutions. This includes collaborations with Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, WellPoint, the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, and the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine of Case Western Reserve University.

In May 2013, IBM released the Watson Engagement Advisor, a product that helps businesses deepen and redefine engagement with customers. IBM is now working with top brands who are exploring how Watson can help them engage customers, including The Nielsen Company and Royal Bank of Canada.

In November 2013, IBM announced it would make Watson available as a development platform in the cloud, enabling software application providers to build a new generation of apps infused with cognitive computing intelligence. This includes the Watson Developers Cloud: a cloud-hosted marketplace where application providers can tap into resources for developing Watson-powered apps, including Watson's API. Three partners will go to market in 2014 with Watson apps, from  Fluid to transform how consumers shop, from MD Buyline to help hospitals procure devices, and WellTok to enable health plans to engage their members. More than 760 applicants have shared their ideas for creating cognitive apps that redefine how businesses and consumers make decisions.

IBM collaborated with eight universities to develop Watson’s capabilities. Over the past three years, IBM has introduced through its Academic Initiative a range of academic programs to prepare students to become tomorrow's cognitive computing leaders. This includes Watson-focused case competitions, with the University of Connecticut (UConn), University of Rochester and University of Southern California (USC). IBM also works with schools such as the University of Michigan and UConn to develop Watson-inspired curriculum, while offering faculty grants to fuel additional coursework. Other academic ventures include the Watson internship program and IBM’s donation of Watson technology to Rochester Polytechnic University.


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