IBM Stays the Course With Watson

IBM executes on its Watson playbook – enhancing the cognitive computing technology, broadening its developer ecosystem and investing in startups.

IBM continues to focus heavily on its Watson cognitive computing system and is looking for Watson to be a factor in driving up to $20 billion in revenue by 2015.

Last week at both its IBM Pulse 2014 and the Mobile World Congress (MWC) conferences, IBM made Watson-related announcements aimed at helping to gain traction for the technology. At Pulse, IBM announced that several IBM Watson applications running on Power Systems will be available on IBM's SoftLayer cloud in the second quarter of this year.

SoftLayer's first service built on Power Systems will be IBM Watson solutions followed by additional offerings leveraging Power Systems' advantages of optimization for data and analytics performance.

The preliminary set of planned offerings includes Watson solutions such as the Watson Discovery Advisor, Watson Engagement Advisor and the Watson Development Cloud, which is a platform-as-a-service (PaaS) technology that contains the technology, tools, SDKs and APIs that enable third parties to design, develop and deploy cognitive applications.

At MWC, Big Blue launched IBM Watson Mobile Developer Challenge, a developer contest that encourages mobile developers globally to create mobile consumer and business apps powered by Watson. The move is part of IBM's newly formed IBM Watson Group aimed at fueling the push to get cognitive computing apps into the marketplace. IBM's Watson cognitive computing innovation represents a new class of services, software and apps that analyze, improve by learning, and discover answers and insights to complex questions from massive amounts of disparate data.

However, despite company efforts to continue to build the Watson ecosystem, some observers continue to question IBM's ability to execute on its Watson strategy. Last month, Manoj Saxena, former general manager of IBM's effort to commercialize Watson, left the company to join a venture capital firm. Just what could this mean for Watson?

“I think it is a case of skills and scale," said Rob Enderle, an ardent IBM watcher and principal analyst with the Enderle Group. “Manoj is better for early stage and while the effort was in startup mode. IBM needs to transition this effort into one of the major pillars of the company and the politics of doing that alone suggest a different kind of executive—one that is more global in scope, far more politically adept, and used to building large enterprises. I doubt Manoj would have been good at or even enjoyed what will come next in building out this new vastly more powerful unit and was wise to move to a VC where his skills will be better utilized."

Moreover, according to IBM insiders, the focus on Watson continues unabated. Saxena is now a managing director of The Entrepreneur's Fund, a Silicon Valley-based VC firm that primarily invests in early-stage enterprise software companies, where he will be focusing on cognitive computing and investing in startups that will leverage Watson. Saxena also will serve as an advisor to Mike Rhodin, an IBM senior vice president who heads up the new IBM Watson Group.

“I see this as a chance to participate fully in the next phase of cognitive computing innovations," Saxena said in a post on IBM's Smarter Planet blog. “I will be dedicating my time to seeding startups that will apply cognitive computing innovations, along with cloud and B2B technologies. This new role is a natural extension of the work I have been doing to create and expand a Watson ecosystem—championing entrepreneurs who are building a new class of cognitive apps powered by IBM's Watson cloud platform."