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September 17, 2014

IBM Moves to Make Watson Accessible to the Masses

George Leopold

IBM is promising data crunching for the masses with its Watson Analytics natural-language cognitive service.

The big data leader said Sept. 16 the extended release of the cloud-based analytics service promises to broaden access to predictive and visual analytic tools. The free version 1 release will run on desktops as well as mobile device, IBM said.

The self-service analytics package includes data refinement and warehousing services that would allow users to move beyond simple spreadsheets to analyze and visualize data.

IBM said its new analytics service seeks to reach underserved users beyond data scientists and analysts by automating steps like data preparation, predictive analysis and visualization. The target market for the new service is data-intensive jobs like marketing, sales, finance and human resources.

Along with greater use of natural language interfaces, the analytics-for-the-masses service uses “guided” predictive analytics to help users uncover relevant facts buried in data along with unforeseen patterns and relationships.

“We have eliminated the barrier between the answers they seek, the analytics they want and the data in the form they need,” Bob Picciano, senior vice president of IBM’s Information and Analytics Group, claimed in a statement unveiling the new data service.

The company argues that most business users lack the data analysis skills required to build models for analysis. It cited statistics claiming that data preparation and loading account for at least 60 percent of the time required to complete a data analysis project. The rest of the time is spent figuring out which analysis is relevant to a particular project and how to report analysis results.

IBM claims it new service can automate many of those steps, making them transparent to users so they can get to the answers fasters.

It is also touting the service’s natural language processing capability as a way to translate analysis results into terms familiar to specific businesses. IBM said users can continually fine-tune queries to uncover key insights along with unexpected patterns and relationships. That approach will level the playing field for all users of predictive analytics, predicted the company.

IBM said Watson Analytics will be hosted on its recently acquired SoftLayer cloud platform and also will be available through the company’s cloud marketplace. The new service also will be made available through the IBM Bluemix platform designed to help developers build, manage and run cloud-based applications.

In January, IBM unveiled what it dubbed the next phase in the evolution of information technology, “cognitive era.” By design, the Watson machine “learns by experience and it learns from interaction, and by design, it gets smarter over time and gives better judgments over time. We took Watson on because it is built for a world of big data,” explained IBM CEO Ginni Rometty during the rollout of what has morphed into the Watson Analytics service.

At the time, IBM introduced a basic visualization package geared toward data scientists. The new service unveiled this week is intended to make it universally accessible, the company hopes.

IBM said Watson Analytics would be available for beta testing within the next 30 days. A free version will be available to IBM business clients beginning in November 2014.

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