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March 06, 2012

Mr. Watson Goes to Wall Street

Seems like eons ago since IBM’s precious brainchild, Watson, efficiently laid the smackdown on human quiz show champions for the man versus machine segment of Jeopardy. Now, just one year after its moment in the global spotlight, Watson is finding a new, more subdued way to shine—this time as the head of big business decisions at banking giant Citigroup.

According to reports this week, Citigroup, which ranks among the largest lending institutions in the United States, will be bringing Watson on board to advise the company on portfolio and client risk.

The company will use the analytical talents of the IBM-built super to make these risk assessments and to turn blink-of-an-eye calculations on individual customer needs (and associated financial and personal data) into highly tailored (or, if you lean on the paranoid, creepily astute) personal banking experiences.

If you ask IBM, Watson is certainly not undergoing any sort of personality crisis by trading in its TV celebrity status for a job at a bank. It was never built just to act as mainstream proof of the possibilities of computing for television audiences, after all.

The quiz show appearance was just the last notch in a long tapestry of orchestrated moves (marketing and otherwise) to bring businesses closer to the realization that real-time analytics on vast amounts of data is not only possible, but is key to having the superhuman ability to compete.

One of the interesting elements about the announcement of Watson’s new job on Wall Street is the business model that it will toil under. According to reports, “Watson the financial assistant will be delivered as a cloud-based service and earn a percentage of the additional revenue and cost savings it is able to help financial institutions realize.”

IBM sees a future for Watson that has the word “billions” attached to it, and as Bloomberg’s Beth Jinks noted today, “Parts of Watson could already be combined with other IBM technologies to help banks with regulatory compliance by surveying internal documents and flagging those that seem amiss.” Jinks continued, noting that “Watson was designed to be loaded with information rather than grapple with a live streaming feed, making it likely IBM will partner it with other technologies.”

The company has already found compelling use cases for Watson in healthcare, but if the price is right (and it seems like it could be) financial services could be where the fruits of the massive IBM labor that bore Watson could be best plucked.

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