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#IBMWoW: Cloud and Data: The Foundation for Cognitive Business


Second keynote at IBM’s World of Watson is on the role of cloud and data as the foundation for cognitive systems and businesses. Bob Picciano from IBM’s analytics business kicked things off. Bob began with a discussion of how IT’s value has changed – from a focus on processing and how fast/cheap it can be done to a focus on how much insight can be generated. From a process economy to an insight economy. Unless you get insight out of your IT investment then you are going to fall behind. Watson and Cognitive, he says, changes  fundamentally how you get insight from your data. It changes the kinds of data that can be used and how quickly and effectively that data can be turned into insight.

As this change happens, cloud and data technology must evolve too. IBM is announcing many new DB2 features for analytic processing in cloud deployments as well as an ever increasing set of analytic services on Bluemix, IBM’s cloud platform. Plus IBM is investing heavily in data and analytics open source programs like Apache Spark.

IBM is also taking advantage of the ever increasing compute power. Tools like Watson Analytics leverage this compute power and Watson’s cognitive approach to make it easier for folks – citizen analysts as they call them – to analyze their data and make analytic decisions. Not only making it easier for people to analyze the data for themselves but also visualizing and packaging it up to share as storybooks. IBM is now focusing on data engineers and data scientists as well as app developers to see how these technologies can help them also.

With that, Bob announced the IBM Watson Data Platform, the on-ramp for a cognitive business. It is designed to change how people interact with their data by using Watson to drive a new kind of data platform:

  • Multiple professionals can collaborate on a common platform (metadata, governance) while still using tools for their specific role
  • Cloud makes this scalable and accessible and delivers tremendous power
  • Open Source to leverage core open source programs and be open to integration with others to ensure every approach can be pulled together.

The platform is driven by cognitive and AI to deliver an immersive data analysis experience based on an open and open-source platform. The platform contains a set of services for data as well as higher level services like Watson Analytics.

Rob Thomas demonstrated the new platform. A data scientist can use The Data Science Experience to pull in various data sources, analyze them and visualize the result, in 3D if he wants. He can annotate and extend this as he works. The platform allows a real-time collaboration so he can show his boss, using the visualization as a frame for the discussion.

  • First the platform presents a palette to access data and ingest it with built in metadata and lineage creation.
  • Second, data discovery tools allow this data to be explored
  • Third, collaborative tools allow this to be shared
  • Fourth, this needs to be deployed and so IBM has launched a new Watson ML service.

Watson ML is available to the Data Science Experience as well as more generally on Bluemix and through integration with Watson Analytics.

Stories about the way the Toronto Raptors and RSGmedia use the new platform followed, focused particularly on collaboration and easy access to a wide range of data presented using compelling visualizations – maximizing the ways data can be used. RSGmedia summarized their four keys to success:

  • Data Layer based on IBM Watson Data Platform
  • Modeling and algorithms with Spark and Python
  • Interactive user engagement with Watson Analytics
  • Packaged up as offerings customers can consume

IBM sees a high performance, cloud-first platform that supports collaboration is critical to success with data – to making data accessible and usable.

Next the CEO of The Weather Company came up to talk about data, especially to fast moving streaming data. He brought on American Airlines to talk about the importance of weather data. Weather, of course, is a huge deal for an airline. American uses the data and services of the Weather Company (and embedded people) to predict weather patterns and see when to stop, when to re-start etc. No obvious use of Cognitive here – just a description of Weather Company services, though he says they are starting to include more cognitive and predictive analytic capabilities in their services such as providing better bots for weather e.g. in Facebook Messenger.

For some reason, the Weather Company bit of IBM is working on the new Watson Ad capability. This is designed to provide interactive ads powered by the Watson engine for conversation and natural language handling. This is designed to deliver a more conversational interface for advertising, making them more interactive and compelling. An interesting approach that might make ads a lot more engaging. Not sure why Weather powers these Ads though….

Last section is about the role of cloud in all of this.  Robert LeBlanc comes on stage to talk about the IBM cloud and how it is designed to support this new cognitive era. In conversations with clients, he says, the focus is not about cheap any more, not about cost reduction, but has shifted to adding value. The ability to rapidly build cognitive applications on the Bluemix cloud is a key focus, with new services being added to cope with new data (such as video) and provide new ways to analyze this data. Bluemix is designed to provide cloud-based processing while ensuring that companies continue to own and get value from their own data.

IBM is also delivering an increasingly wide variety of services on a wide variety of hybrid clouds as well as on-premise or completely in the public cloud. IBM offers 48 global data centers to make it easy to host and access your data where you want. As applications have to be reworked to take advantage of cloud and analytics, IBM has tried to focus on open APIs so that you won’t need to rework things. The Bluemix garage methodology is also available to help organizations make the most of these capabilities. SAP joined IBM on stage to talk about how the IBM cloud is being leveraged by SAP with hundreds of clients moving their SAP capabilities to the IBM cloud.

During the last 10 minutes, an IBMer has been working away adding image processing to an existing app. A quick demo followed showing how the image recognition was able to identify hail damage from drone photos and then estimate repair costs. He trained Watson using photos of damage and no damage in a few minutes. Once Watson could recognize the hail damage it could be included in the app using Bluemix and available APIs.

And that’s a wrap for the keynotes.