IBM Launches Cognitive Business Solutions Unit

Tapping into its vast Watson cognitive computing expertise, IBM announced a new services unit focused on cognitive computing solutions.

Cognitive business solutions

Taking advantage of learnings from its experience with its Watson cognitive computing system, IBM today launched a consulting organization known as IBM Cognitive Business Solutions.

IBM CEO Ginni Rometty announced the new initiative today at the Gartner Symposium in Orlando, Fla. IBM Cognitive Business Solutions taps into IBM's success with Watson and analytics and draws on the expertise of more than 2,000 consulting professionals spanning machine learning, advanced analytics, data science and development. Supporting these professionals are industry and change management specialists that will help to accelerate customers' journeys to move to cognitive business.

Cognitive computing represents an entirely new model of computing that includes a range of technology innovations in analytics, natural language processing and machine learning. Industry analyst firm IDC predicts that by 2018, half of all consumers will interact regularly with services based on cognitive computing.

IBM is looking at its Cognitive Business initiative as the successor to the company's previous strategic initiatives, including e-Business and Smarter Planet. As with e-Business in 1995, and Smarter Planet in 2008, this initiative will drive everything the company does, IBM said.

"This touches every part of IBM, and every IBMer will be dedicated to it—from embedding intelligence in our products and services and collaborating with thousands of clients and partners, to making IBM itself the premier example of a cognitive enterprise," said John E. Kelly III, senior vice president of IBM Research, in a blog post on the move to cognitive.

With e-Business, it was about the internet transforming business. That was former IBM CEO Lou Gerstner's vision. Smarter Planet was based on new opportunities created by the world becoming instrumented, interconnected and intelligent.

However, now two things are happening. The first is that big data has exploded as a challenge and an opportunity, and the second is that there is an emergence of a wide range of cognitive technologies that move IT's potential to a new level. About 80 percent of all the available data–images, voice, literature, chemical formulas, social expressions, etc.—is out of reach for most companies to analyze. IBM, along with some others, is scaling expertise to close that gap. That is why IBM built and acquired technology to continually enhance Watson to be able to do things like "see." That's also part of why IBM spent $1 billion to acquire Merge Healthcare in August.

"Whether this becomes the 'next big thing' for IBM depends on a lot of factors," said Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT. "I believe that the company has made a continuing, strong case for the technological innovation of its cognitive developments and solutions. But I also think that the success of those offerings will depend in large part on how well businesses and end users understand the value that cognitive tools and processes offer. If IBM can effectively deliver on its promises enabling 'citizen' data scientists, cognitive computing could very well become as big or bigger than e-Business and Smarter Planet."

IBM's vision for cognitive builds on Smarter Planet, with big data and intelligence driving this new chapter of IBM's transformation. Now cognitive business can be applied to everything from healthcare to retail and sports, and IBM can help clients transform by becoming cognitive businesses.

Indeed, IBM's efforts with cognitive business build into Smarter Planet and actually does a better job of addressing the "smarter" part, said Rob Enderle, a longtime IBM watcher and founder of the Enderle Group.

"Much of Smarter Planet was about instrumentation, but it lacked the intelligence to really drive decisions automatically from the data gathered," Enderle said. "This initiative adds the intelligence part effectively making Smarter Planet more real and certainly more achievable. The big problem with big data was the huge focus on acquiring data and the lack of focus on making sense of it. This latest effort is focused on the 'making sense' part and is critical to actually getting positive results from these incredibly expense big data projects. In the end this is a critical step to taking business and government towards making their big data efforts pay back the huge investments that have been made in this space."

A survey of more than 5,000 C-suite executives to be released this fall by IBM's Institute for Business Value (IBV) finds that executives from the highest-performing companies place significantly greater priority on cognitive capabilities than peers in market-following enterprises.