IBM Launches $1B Watson Business Unit

IBM announced a new home for its Watson cognitive computing system along with a $1 billion investment and two new Watson-based products.

As part of an ongoing effort to continue to advance and monetize its Watson cognitive computing technology, IBM announced the opening of a new business unit focused on the technology along with two new Watson-based products.

IBM announced it will establish the IBM Watson Group, a new business unit dedicated solely to the development and commercialization of cloud-delivered cognitive innovations. The move signifies a strategic shift by IBM to accelerate into the marketplace a new class of software, services and applications that think, improve by learning, and discover answers and insights to complex questions from massive amounts of disparate data, the company said.

Moreover, IBM will invest more than $1 billion into the Watson Group, focusing on development and research and bringing cloud-delivered cognitive applications and services to market. This will include the establishment of a $100 million venture investment fund to support IBM’s recently launched ecosystem of start-ups and businesses that are building a new class of cognitive apps powered by Watson, in the IBM Watson Developers Cloud.

The IBM Watson Group will be led by Michael Rhodin, who most recently served as senior vice president of IBM Software Solutions Group (SSG), responsible for a portfolio of key IBM products such as business analytics, Smarter Cities and social business solutions.

"In just three years, IBM has transformed Watson from a quiz-show winner, into a commercial cognitive service breakthrough that is helping businesses engage customers, health-care organizations save lives and entrepreneurs build businesses," Rhodin said in a statement. "This is a pivotal moment: the new era of cognitive computing is happening right now and IBM is investing to not only win the market, but spark changes that improve lives, spur innovation and transform industries and professions."

Rhodin told eWEEK IBM views cognitive computing as perhaps the next of what have been tectonic shifts in IBM’s history and technical direction. The first was tabulating systems, upon which the company was founded in 1911 as the Computing Tabulating Recording Company. The second came in the 1950s with electronic programmable mainframe computers and the third is cognitive computing, he said.

“We think cognitive computing is one of the most important innovations in IBM’s history,” Rhodin said. And with the pledge of a $1 billion investment, IBM is putting its money where its mouth is. Other technologies IBM has pledged $1 billion to have included Linux and flash storage. The company has invested much more than that on the cloud and analytics with acquisitions and R&D.

The IBM Watson Group will have a new headquarters at 51 Astor Place in New York City’s “Silicon Alley” technology hub, leveraging the talents of 2,000 professionals, whose goal is to design, develop and accelerate the adoption of Watson cognitive technologies that transform industries and professions. The new group will tap subject matter experts from IBM’s Research, Services, Software and Systems divisions, as well as industry experts who will identify markets that cognitive computing can disrupt and evolve, such as health care, financial services, retail, travel and telecommunications.

The Watson Group’s headquarters will provide a client solutions center, serving as a place for IBM clients to experience cognitive technologies and learn how they can help transform their businesses. In addition, the headquarters will host a design lab for continuously enhancing the user experiences for cognitive applications and services used by IBM clients and partners.