IBM: 8 Questions With Watson's Big Boss

Mike Rhodin, senior vice president of IBM's new Watson Business Group, discusses Big Blue's motivation behind the formation of the unit.

IBM established a new business unit, the IBM Watson Group, aimed at developing and commercializing cloud-delivered cognitive innovations based on the company's Watson technology. The unit, which will reside in New York City's Silicon Alley, represents a major move by IBM to focus on cognitive computing and to attempt to move it out to the masses. The unit will be responsible for delivering a new class of software, services and apps that think, improve by learning, and discover answers and insights to complex questions from massive amounts of big data.

IBM will invest more than $1 billion in the Watson Group, including $100 million for venture investments to support the company's recently launched ecosystem of startups and businesses that are building a new class of cognitive apps powered by Watson in the IBM Watson Developers Cloud.

The IBM Watson Group is headed by Michael Rhodin, who most recently served as senior vice president of IBM's Software Solutions Group, responsible for delivering industry-specific solutions in high-growth areas such as business analytics, Smarter Commerce, Smarter Cities and social business. Rhodin spoke with eWEEK Senior Editor Darryl K. Taft to share some perspective ahead of IBM's announcement of the Watson Business Group on Jan. 9.

How deep is IBM planning to go with cognitive computing?

We think cognitive computing is one of the most important innovations in IBM's hundred-year history. So we're pretty deep here. This is a big deal for us. As you know, we don't create groups just to announce something. This is moving around officers of the company, so this is something that's taken very seriously. This is something we think is the beginning of an entire new era of computing. And as we have been the mainstay in the previous two generations of computing, we don't plan on giving up that title.

How can you compare this to other major initiatives IBM has undertaken?

If you compare it to other eras of computing, if you go back to the beginning it was all about tabulating equipment. It was mechanical devices that counted stuff. In the '50s we started down the road of electronic generally programmable computers with the launch of the mainframe. Those are the only two previous generations; this is the next. So this is pretty significant.

The technology involved in Watson is primarily organic to IBM, but do you anticipate acquisitions being a part of this new direction for Watson?

Acquisitions have always been part of our model. And you've seen me over the last couple of years be somewhat acquisitive. But the way I believe the market evolves and best materializes is that a combination of internal R&D and external R&D is always healthy.