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October 30, 2014

IBM Embraces the Twitter Fire Hose

IBM dove headfirst into the Twitter-sphere yesterday when it announced a “landmark partnership” with the social media giant. The union will see Big Blue helping its blue chip customers perform sentiment analysis upon Twitter’s fire hose, with the goal of helping them make better business decisions.

The joys and fears of 300 million people are embodied within the Twitter fire hose, which streams at the rate of about 6,000 tweets per second, or 500 million messages per day. Twitter, you will recall, acquired Gnip earlier this year to enable it to provide more powerful analytics to go along with the fire hose.

While some denigrate it as dirty and rough and rife with useless comments that are unfit for business analytics, the Twitter hose is nevertheless a much sought-after commodity, particularly among a certain set of companies, predominantly those in consumer-facing industries who can benefit from pivoting on a dime in reaction to fast-changing customer sentiment.

IBM provides hardware and software to many of these mammoth corporations in retail, travel, and banking (and many, many billions of dollars’ worth of services). Despite its recent troubles, the 103-year-old company is still considered the preeminent provider of enterprise IT.

But this emerging world of social media and big data analytics is a different animal, and IBM is still trying to find its footing here, which is why we saw CEO Ginni Rometty on stage at IBM’s Insight 2014 show in Las Vegas this week, talking about the new partnership with Twitter.

It’s all about taking “the public pulse of the planet,” says Rometty. “Twitter provides a powerful new lens through which to look at the world–as both a platform for hundreds of millions of consumers and business professionals, and as a synthesizer of trends,” says Rometty, who’s also IBM’s chairman and president.

The partnership has three parts. For starters, IBM plans to offer Twitter data for its cloud analytic services, including Watson Analytics and its data refinery business, as well as the Bluemix cloud platform as a service.

Next, IBM and Twitter will work to deliver a series of industry-specific apps infused with the Twitter goodness. The first one will be based on an existing IBM app for sales and marketing, called ExperienceOne. Finally, the agreement has IBM Global Services implementing custom solutions that use logo

Dan Vesset, vice president of IDC‘s Business Analytics practice, says the Twitter partnership make a lot of sense for IBM. “It plays into the trend of pulling third-party content and integrating it with enterprise’s internal content to fuel some of these analytic applications,” he tells Datanami. “I would expect IBM to have other relationships like that as well for other sources of content.”

The partnership could help customers in various ways. Manufactures could mine tweets to determine demand and thereby optimize their inventory levels, while consumer electronic companies could use the analytics to assist product development.

You can look at Twitter data as a source for all kind of things, including risk management and fraud detection, Vesset says.  “Or maybe with Watson, as IBM gets deeper into the healthcare field, you could use Twitter to see early signs of an outbreak or a disease,” he adds. “It could provide early warnings for manufactures for recalls if people start tweeting problems with a specific product, if it’s trending.”

But don’t expect to see IBM offering Twitter feeds for backoffice applications running on mainframes or AS/400s anytime soon. As Vesset sees it, this new data as a service (DaaS) business IBM is building will be pointed mostly at users of existing BI and analytics tools, such as the Cognos and SPSS product lines, the Unica or Coremetrics products, or the as-yet-to-be-released Watson Analytics product.

The IT giant also sees using Twitter to predict long-term trends, and to drive real-time demand forecasting based on things like weather patterns. IBM already does super accurate weather forecasting using supercomputers, so mining Twitter for how people feel about the weather could be useful for customer-facing companies.

At the event in Vegas, Rometty sounded bullish about the Twitter prospects. “Data is the phenomenon of our time,” she said. “Twitter has created something extraordinary. When you bring this together with other kinds of information and leverage IBM’s innovations in analytics, Watson and cloud, business decision-making will never be the same.”

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