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.
IBM Launches Watson Analytics for Business Users
Watson Analytics provides a unified experience that brings together a complete set of self-service enterprise data and analytics capabilities on the cloud. Business professionals identify their problem and Watson Analytics helps them source the data, cleanse and refine it, discover insights, predict outcomes, visualize results, create reports or dashboards, and collaborate with others.
The service’s predictive analytics automatically surfaces the most relevant facts and uncovers unforeseen patterns and relationships. This process sparks new questions and better insight, directing users to variables or parts of their business that matter most.
And because of its natural language capabilities, Watson Analytics speaks the language of business and people by enabling users to simply type in what they would like to see. Watson Analytics produces results that explain why things happened and what’s likely to happen, all in familiar business terms. And as business professionals interact with the results, they can continuously fine-tune questions to get to the heart of the matter.
“Watson Analytics is designed to help all business people – from sales reps on the road to company CEOs – see patterns, pursue ideas and improve all types of decisions,” said Bob Picciano, senior vice president of the Information and Analytics Group at IBM, in a statement. “We have eliminated the barrier between the answers they seek, the analytics they want and the data in the form they need. The combination of Watson-fueled analytics to magnify human cognition, the vast potential of big data, and cloud-scale delivery to PCs, smart phones and other devices is transformational.”
IBM said most analytic offerings assume users have data ready for analysis, a clear idea of the type of analysis needed, and the skills and time to build a model for analysis. However, most business users have none of these things. Data prep and loading can represent 60 percent or more of the time in an analysis project. Business users can then struggle with figuring out what analysis would be relevant and how to tell the story in a report or diagram. Watson Analytics automates these steps to accelerate a users’ ability to get to the answers they’re seeking, IBM said.
“We see this as something for a motivated user who wants to do analysis,” Sall said. “And this motivation is based on the technology we use in our personal lives where we’re able to find an answer to anything very quickly. But that’s not always readily available in your work environment. That’s what Watson Analytics brings. There’s a new attitude for people in companies to be more self-reliant.”
User organizations upload their data to the service, which then automatically begins to find relevant information about the data, Sall said. “We’ll also be making data available from external data sources as well as from internal ones,” he said. “And within large companies their IT departments can create trusted data sources and make them available to Watson Analytics users.”