IBM Launches Watson Analytics for Business Users

IBM's new cloud-based Watson Analytics service—its biggest analytics news in a decade—puts predictive analytics in the hands of business users.

Watson analytics

IBM today launched Watson Analytics, a new cloud service that takes the power of IBM's Watson cognitive computing technology along with Big Blue's predictive analytics capabilities and puts them in the hands of business users.

Watson Analytics will be available for beta test users within 30 days, and available to all IBM business clients with a freemium version beginning in November 2014, according to Eric Sall, vice president of IBM Business Analytics, in an interview. IBM also intends to make Watson Analytics services available through IBM Bluemix to enable developers and ISVs to leverage its capabilities in their applications.

At a Sept. 16 launch event in New York City, IBM officials said Watson Analytics may be the company's biggest analytics announcement in a decade. Watson Analytics is a natural language-based cognitive service that will provide instant access to predictive and visual analytic tools for businesses, Sall said.

"When it comes to analytics, people understand the real value of using data to make better decisions," Sall said. "It's hard to get to the data and most analytical tools require a certain level of knowledge. It's hard to figure out where to start. For most people, they have to rely on an expert – whether that's a data scientist or some other specialist."

Indeed, according to analysts, only a small fraction of business people use powerful analytics tools as part of their decision making today. Watson Analytics is designed to make advanced and predictive analytics easy to acquire and use for anyone.

"Watson Analytics approaches it from a business person’s perspective," Sall said.

The first release of Watson Analytics will include a freemium version of the service designed to run on desktop and mobile devices. Watson Analytics offers a full range of self-service analytics, including easy-to-use data access, data refinement, and data warehousing services that make it simpler for business users to acquire and prepare data—beyond simple spreadsheets—for analysis and visualization that can be acted upon.

"We plan to make the freemium offering very functional because we want people to have access to how it works," Sall said. "We want to get it into your hands because we believe that once you see how it works you’ll see a million ways to use it."

Sall said Watson Analytics heavily leverages IBM's SPSS Analytic Catalyst engine, as well as Watson's cognitive technology, along with IBM collaboration and visualization technology.

Moreover, IBM Watson Analytics uses natural language to make interaction with powerful, predictive analytics easier with the ability to understand key questions, such as: What are the key drivers of my product sales? Which benefits drive employee retention the most? Which deals are most likely to close?

And unlike analytics offerings designed primarily for data scientists and analysts predominantly focused on visualization, IBM Watson Analytics automates steps like data preparation, predictive analysis, and visual storytelling for business professionals across data intensive disciplines like marketing, sales, operations, finance and human resources.