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May 21, 2013

Watson Moves Into the Call Center

Isaac Lopez

Today, IBM announced that their cognitive computer system and Jeopardy star, Watson, is expanding its reach from healthcare, across the enterprise, where IBM says customer service will be a priority.

The new service offering, dubbed “IBM Watson Engagement Advisor” will be offered to enterprises to provide their customer-facing personnel with the big data crunching power of Watson to service customers in real time. The company says that customer service reps will be able to access Watson through a cloud-delivered service in order to provide fast, data-driven answers to customer inquiries. The so-called “cognitive system” will also be accessible as a direct, customer-facing application on mobile devices.

Manoj Saxena, General Manager for IBM says that their target market for Watson is what they refer to categorically as “information-intensive industries.” According to Saxena, these industries include healthcare, insurance, banking, telecomm, and retail where there is a lot of big data for organizations to gain intelligence from.  “Businesses are dying of thirst in an ocean of data,” he commented. “Watson can serve as a desalinization plant, to take all the big data and start putting it in context in a way that is consumable by end users.” 

According to Craig Hayman, General Manager of Industry Solutions at the company, IBM has invested over $3 billion dollars in Watson’s development to date, and sees a $132 billion dollar market opportunity as they open up Watson to new markets.  IBM expects a significant part of that capitalization to come from enterprises looking to implement the Watson offering in their call centers and customer service operations.

“Many customers engage with a brand through a call center, and we have learned that technology can really assist how brands engage in the call center,” explained Hayman. “The customer has a lot of information, and perhaps the call center agent has the least amount of information, and that leads to frustration.”

During the press briefing, the company referenced a study that they conducted of 1,700 CMOs, which they say revealed that 65% of those surveyed say that they feel under prepared for the “growth of choices that today’s empowered consumers have for communications channels, such as smart phones and tablets.” IBM expects that Watson can provide relief in this arena.

The core value prop that IBM is chasing, says Saxena, is helping the engagement process around service. He says they are finding a dichotomy that exists, where on one hand, customers are sharing more information about themselves (through tweets, Facebook, emails, online reviews, etc.), while at the same time, quality of service is going down. Saxena says that there is a feeling among customers that they are sharing more but getting less. He says that IBM believes that Watson could be a great answer to lubricate this tension through agent assisted service or direct customer interaction.

In order to achieve this, he said that IBM has had to go to the drawing board to work on delivery by reducing the footprint of Watson – “from what I call a master bedroom down to a double door refrigerator. Now it’s down to one Power 750 server, which is about 9-inches high, 18-inches wide, and 28-inches deep.” He boasts that along with the footprint reduction, the system is now 240% faster than the Watson model that was showcased on Jeopardy.

“The Watson engagement product that we’re offering is a SAAS offering – it can be delivered through an IBM cloud, or as an on-premise solution, and it can sit in the hands of a customer through a mobile phone or a tablet, or it can be used by a call center agent to assist a customer.”

This implementation employs what Saxena calls a sprayer-type architecture through the cloud. “If you spray more load on it, it will pull in more ‘baby Watsons,’” he commented referencing its scalability.

Manoj says that IBM’s goal in working with adopters of the Watson technology is to have it installed and ready for use in 6 weeks, and deliver break-even ROI to those customers in 6 months. He says that the Watson engagement is broken into two parts, the first being a 45-60 day process with line-of-business executives deciding on use case selection for their organization. The second part of the engagement is the building, teaching and running of Watson.

IBM says that they have ten customers at this time, including ANZ, Celecom, HIS, Nielsen and the Royal Bank of Canada.

Related Items:

Watson: Coming to a Cloud Near You 

Chaotic Nihilists and Semantic Idealists 

Watson Goes Undefeated in Three-Night Jeopardy Series