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.
IBM Teams on First Watson Application in Africa
Customer service agents will be able to use Watson’s ability to rapidly sift through vast amounts of information, analyze it and supply evidence-based responses to questions, providing more precise and comprehensive information to customers. This will enhance the consistency of responses, as well as reduce the response time.
“We believe Watson will enable our customer service agents to make better decisions, ultimately driving better health outcomes for the public,” Garnett said.
As Watson learns, it will be able to anticipate the “questions behind the questions” and prompt agents to proactively share information. This allows for all relevant information to be provided in one call, which would normally require two or three follow-up calls. This saves time for both customers and agents. Over time, Watson will be taught to respond, where possible, directly to customer enquiries, and the convenience of having access to health and wellness information 24/7 will be made possible, IBM said.
“This is a continuation of our journey to deliver improved health and wellness outcomes-based services,” Garnett said. “It reinforces our commitment to providing more targeted, personalized services to customers that help them live smarter.”
Metropolitan Health is among the first companies globally to adopt cognitive technology to enable new and improved ways of meeting customer needs. The company will further augment the power of Watson with an extensive portfolio of IBM capabilities, including business consulting, advanced analytics, health care informatics and IBM Research assets, IBM officials said.
IBM launched its Watson Engagement Advisor in May of 2013 at its IBM Smarter Commerce Global Summit. Watson can proactively engage with a business’s customers and continuously learn from interactions, any time and any place, providing fast, accurate and personalized interactions. The IBM Watson Engagement Advisor helps companies make their interactions count by knowing, delivering and learning what each customer wants—in the context of their preferences and actions—sometimes before even the customer knows it themselves.
According to IBM, some of the factors that make the time right for a Watson advisor for commerce include that millennial consumers will comprise nearly half the workforce by 2020—using paychecks for major purchases that require top-flight customer service—from cars to insurance policies; there will be more than 10 billion mobile devices by 2016, outpacing the human population; and a recent IBM study of 1,700 chief marketing officers revealed that 65 percent of CMOs feel underprepared for the growth of choices that today’s empowered consumers have for communications channels, such as smartphones and tablets.