IBM announced an expansion of its Watson Analytics academic program, along with a new student version of Watson Analytics.
Last year, IBM rolled out an academic initiative delivering Watson Analytics to more than 400 universities worldwide. With its consumer-friendly interface and natural-language technology, Watson Analytics enables students to tap into the power of cognitive computing with an easy-to-use tool. That ease of use also enables professors to teach students how to glean insights from data without having to teach the ins and outs of computer science, data science or statistics.
“We had this idea of trying to get Watson Analytics into the hands of those students outside the typical analytics or data science backgrounds,” said Randy Messina, worldwide public sector manager of Watson Analytics. “So with Watson Analytics, we’ve been able to reach those non-technical users and [to get] Watson Analytics into the hands of students beyond your typical computer science or technical majors. It requires very little or no analytical skills and training. It was intended for users that want to go beyond Excel, but don’t have the need for data mining or programming training.”
Indeed, the solution goes beyond the traditional computer science and information management disciplines and has been built into curricula for urban planning, marketing, health care and other unique disciplines, Messina said.
For example, when Dr. Robert Hoyt started planning the syllabus for his Health Informatics class at University of West Florida, he recognized that to teach his students—future administrators, nurses and physicians—about the power of data, he needed to bridge a gap in their knowledge about statistics. To do this, Hoyt put together a curriculum that took advantage of the ease of use and power of IBM Watson Analytics, Messina said.
Other examples of universities using Watson Analytics include the University of Connecticut, which is incorporating Watson Analytics into several of its MBA courses. Northwestern University is building Watson Analytics into the curriculum of its Predictive Analytics, Marketing Mix Models and Entertainment Marketing classes. And at the University of Memphis Fogelman College of Business and Economics, undergraduate students are using Watson Analytics as part of their initial introduction to business analytics.
“Professors today spend so much time teaching the clicks versus actually teaching the art of data analysis and storytelling,” Messina told eWEEK. So for them, Watson Analytics is a very easy-to-use tool that they can teach. And they have limited time. So they said with the time they have it’s good to be able to focus on the art of data mining and data analysis versus ‘click here, click here, click here.’ So it’s been built into programs as short as two-weeks long and still been effective.”
Meanwhile, IBM has another goal in mind with the Watson Analytics academic initiative. The company wants to address the data scientist shortage by enabling a broad base of analytics users and creating so-called citizen data scientists or citizen analysts.
“The aim of the Watson Analytics Academic program is two-fold,” said Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT. “First, IBM hopes to drive interest in the study of analytics and data science among young college students. That’s because there’s a gap between the number of qualified data scientists and the number of companies that wish to hire them. But IBM also wants Watson to be the first thing those students think of when it comes to analytics, which is why it’s launching a new student edition of Watson Analytics. IBM won a huge leadership position in analytics with Watson and capturing mindshare among young people is one way to help ensure that success continues.”
IBM Expands Watson Analytics Program, Creates Citizen Data Scientists
Messina said IBM began to see an industry need for more data scientists starting about five years ago. Big Blue’s partners began to talk about their need for more data scientists and IBM began to build up its own corps of data scientists.
“But as a lot of our partners have been able to get a hold of more data and more types of data, they challenged us by asking how could they get analytics into the hands of more users,” he said. “So for us, we saw an industry need. And that is what spurred this student edition. They get our premium edition and they have the ability to not only do data exploration, predictions and dashboarding, but also social media analytics. This is geared toward getting them prepared so when they do graduate they’ll have a leg up and be well-versed on what industry is demanding today.”
The new Watson Analytics Academic Program includes a one-year license of Watson Analytics Professional Edition for up to 100 users at no cost.
“Watson Analytics makes the process of data analysis more automated and is a guide to discovery,” Messina said. “In a computer science class, they want you to show them what’s under the hood. But by no means is Watson Analytics looking to replace some of our other analytical tools like SPSS. We see it as a continuum of analytics. If we can arm your everyday line-of-business users with Watson Analytics, that’s great. That means you’ve got hundreds of more hands that can give you quick insights. The idea is that when all of these people have these insights, you can then take that information to your coveted data scientists who will then run their assumptions under a bigger gun. Those data scientists will use another, more powerful tool to validate those assumptions.”
Moreover, the new student version also provides universities with access to Twitter data as well as data from external data sources including DashDB, IBM Netezza and more at no cost, with the goal of creating a first line of data analysts or citizen data scientists, Messina said.
“Industry today is hands-down telling us that data scientists are overwhelmed,” Messina said. “If they could have a front line that could actually qualify some of these assumptions, they could then focus more of their time on mission-critical stuff. And that to us is pretty important.”