Adam Gartenberg's Blog

Business Analytics and Optimization, IBM and Social Marketing

Introducing Watson Analytics: Analytics for Everyone

When you've got a new solution being compared to the transformational power of the spreadsheet and the iPhone, you just might be on to something.

From Steve Lohr in The New York Times:

Developing technology is one thing; democratizing it is another. The latter involves finding the innovation that opens the door to widespread adoption with usefulness and usability.

In the personal computer era, it was the spreadsheet that transformed a hobbyists’ plaything into a must-have machine in corporate America. In mobile computing, it was Apple’s iPhone that brought the smartphone to the masses, establishing a new model for the gadgets as both smart and easy to use. In the era of big data, start-ups and big companies are in hot pursuit of a similar breakthrough, a vehicle to bring modern data analysis and prediction to the rank and file of business.

IBM thinks it has an answer, called Watson Analytics, which it announced on Tuesday. The offering is a software service, delivered over the cloud. As its name suggests, Watson Analytics is a result of a collaboration between teams from IBM’s data analysis group and its Watson unit, which has been built into a business in the three years since Watson beat human champions in the question-and-answer game “Jeopardy.”

At its heart, Watson Analytics is designed to let the average business person pose questions in plain language (e.g., “What high-value customers am I most likely to close sales with in the next 30 days?” “Which benefits drive employee retention the most?”) and get back results as automatically analyzed by the Watson Analytics software, presented through a user-friendly visualization (see below for some examples).

Because getting data into a typical analytics system is often half the battle, Watson Analytics will come with connectors, allowing end users themselves to connect with or upload data from Salesforce, Google Docs, Oracle, Box, Cognos or from spreadsheets.  

Now, let's get the buzzwords out of the way:  
  • It's cloud-based (delivered on IBM's SoftLayer platform), which means you don't need to harangue your IT department to find a server, provision software, and get it up and running.  No delays - just sign up and get going.
  • It's freemium, which means that you don't have to first start by trying to scrounge up a budget.  Start using it, see the value firsthand, and then take your business case forward should you want to extend beyond the included capabilities.
  • It's all about helping you make sense of Big Data, which should be a given, with IBM's deep history and research in this space.

I was at a marketing analytics seminar last month and during a break struck up a conversation with someone in a similar role to mine at a mid-sized manufacturing technology company.  He shared that he was jealous that as an IBMer I would naturally had access to tools like Cognos and SPSS.  His main holdbacks?  No Ph.D.s to help him develop analytic models, and no budget to buy the software.  All I could say at the time was stay tuned....

Watson Analytics will be available in beta this month, with general availability planned for November.


Watson Analytics in action:
 (Additional images on Flickr)
watson analytics sales
watson analytics predictive
watson analytics by brand


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