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October 14, 2015

IBM Watson Targets ‘Self-Serve’ Analytics

In another attempt to extend its cognitive computing model beyond IT administrators to business users, IBM said it is expanding it Watson Analytics platform to include data discovery models along with natural language processing, data visualization and predictive analytics.

In trumpeting Watson’s new data discovery and question-and-answer capabilities designed to speed the delivery of self-service analytics, IBM (NYSE: IBM) also announced that half a million users have so far registered to use the Watson Analytics service introduced last year. The expanded offerings announced on Wednesday (Oct. 14) are designed to move cognitive computing into the mainstream.

The expanded data discovery and natural language capabilities include access to new data connectors intended to leverage more external data like social media content into business analytics. The expanded capability includes access to a batch of IBM and third-party data sources, including its DB2, Informix, Netezza, SQL and dashDB databases.

The Watson Analytics upgrade also includes enhanced ability to securely connect to corporate data from the cloud via Dataworks, IBM’s cloud-based data refinement and access service. The connection upgrade is based on Secure Gateway technology that establishes a link between on-premise databases and Watson Analytics. The tool automatically encrypts data and uses Docker application containers to transport it through a dedicated connection.

Meanwhile, the new interactive data discovery models are based on what IBM calls “expert storybooks” developed with industry partners. The storybooks are designed as guides to help users gain insights from different data sources. The resulting patterns and relationships could then be used for predictive analytics.

The storybooks developed with partners ranging from Deloitte and the American Marketing Association to The Weather Channel and Twitter (NYSE: TWTR) focus on everything from the effectiveness of customer loyalty programs to incorporating weather data into revenue analyses.

The new natural language capability is based on IBM’s bet that the shift to self-service analytics models will continue to gain momentum. The company cited projections that “smart data discovery” based on natural language query and search along with interactive data discovery would be among the top business intelligence platforms by 2018.

“By moving analysis to a self-service cloud-based model, business users can streamline analytics projects without investing in expensive and complex IT infrastructure, and ultimately gain insights on critical data, faster,” IBM claimed in a statement.

IBM said the new data connectors and Expert Storybooks for Watson Analytics would be available for beta testing in November.

The company said it also is integrating Watson Analytics into university courses on health care, marketing and management. Participants include: a big data marketing course at the University of Connecticut; a health care informatics course at the University of the West Florida; a management information systems class at Iowa State University; and business analytics course at the University of Memphis’s Fogelman College of Business and Economics.


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