IBM Teams on First Watson Application in Africa

IBM and Metropolitan Health of South Africa have teamed to create a new health care customer service service based on Big Blue's Watson cognitive computing system.

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A week after opening its new Watson headquarters in New York City, IBM has announced the first commercial application of its Watson cognitive computing system in Africa—a health care system.

IBM and Metropolitan Health are working on a new system to enhance and personalize health services in South Africa and drive outcomes-based services to citizens on the African continent. IBM's Watson is a computing platform able to interact in natural language.

Metropolitan Health, a business unit of MMI Holdings, is a large medical schemes administrator in South Africa. The company provides administration, managed care and wellness services to more than 20 medical schemes or funds, comprising various blue-chip organizations and government departments, covering millions of lives across South Africa.

"IBM Watson and cognitive computing are helping us do more than simply fix basic breakdowns in treatment paths; we're 'leapfrogging' to deliver a market leading health outcome to the public," said Dylan Garnett, CEO of Metropolitan Health, in a statement. "We intend to transform every customer interaction with insightful data and deliver the best personalized services and care available."

As digital platforms evolve with online, mobile and social media channels, companies like Metropolitan Health need to deepen their interactions with customers and transform the way they provide marketing, sales and service, IBM said. Consumers expect brands to know them individually and deliver personalized interactions and self-service options.

"Putting Watson into the hands of customer service advisors is a critical milestone towards improving how we stay well and live smarter," said Mike Rhodin, senior vice president of the IBM Watson Group, in a statement. "Metropolitan Health's innovative application is a good example of how Watson's cognitive intellect has the potential to empower individuals and organizations. Today's announcement is a great testament to Metropolitan Health, which prides itself on product innovation and customer engagement."

The IBM Watson Engagement Advisor can transform the way individuals and companies interact over the lifetime of a relationship. Used by customer service agents or directly by customers, and delivered through the cloud and via mobile devices, Watson Engagement Advisor helps enterprises meet growing customer expectations as organizations seek to better understand customers based on their past history; engage individuals wherever, whenever and however they choose; and gain insights from big data to make evidence-based, informed decisions.

IBM Watson Engagement Advisor is being configured, trained and introduced into the Metropolitan Health customer services environment, where more than 12 million client interactions are handled each year.

IBM Watson will work as a "virtual coach" assisting customer service agents with inquiries. Watson can sift through the equivalent of about 1 million books—or roughly 200 million pages of data—and analyze this information to provide precise responses in less than 3 seconds.