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IBM Watson Analytics

A first glimpse at the tech giant's new analytical tool

A first glimpse at IBM’s Watson Analytics
John McConnell

An Analytical Tool for the Business User. It isn’t a new idea … more a nut that many of us have been trying to crack for many years. Today, of course, this problem is more pressing than ever. There are more questions that can be answered with analytics, more data to analyse and fewer trained analysts to go round. And, as IBM rightly point out, analysts (and other data specialists) can be a bottleneck in the process.

Where we’ve seen it work in the past it has typically been where a software app – rather than a tool (like IBM/SPSS or SAS) – has been designed to a sufficient level of specificity for a particular use case. Apps like…

On-line GIS mapping for local planners that run sophisticated sustainability models under the hood.
Statistical testing software for Biochemists where the statisticians wrote the embedded statistical decisions. For example should this be a parametric or non-parametric test.
Push-button apps that run daily sales forecasts and stock plans for store managers.
And so on.

With a very specific application you can constrain the problem space and pin down the functionality including the data structure.

Watson Analytics is much more ambitious than that. It sets out to be more things to more business users. It does look to address various domains; financial services, marketing and so on. But it is planning to attack all of them at the same time.

We know that data is usually the main issue and WA promises to make a broad range of data sourcing management with “Embedded information services”. This is the first value proposition with the tag line “Get better data”.

The other 3 key functional areas – and propositions – are:

Predictive Analytics. “Think ahead”
Automated Intelligence. “Understand your business”. More of the “Watson” bit (we assume)
Visualisation “Tell a story”.
Can IBM really deliver all that to the line of business user? It does feel like this is an important product development for them and that means a lot of brainpower and cash are probably being invested in it. Adding the prestigious IBM Watson brand to it also means they won’t want it to fail.

We were also curious about how closely linked it is to the broader IBM Watson project. The cognitive learning methodology that famously won a special episode of Jeopardy in the US. Our sense is that Watson is becoming an umbrella term for a set of tools and technologies that embrace the idea of expert learning in software. Watson Analytics patently has that but we’re not clear how much of it there is versus more prescribed (but doubtless sensible and helpful) hard-coded rules.

Did we mention it is in “The Cloud”? Well of course it is!

All in all we can’t wait to work with the beta.

A link to the IBM page on Watson Analytics