IBM Watson Powers Natural-Language Analytics

IBM Watson

IBM’s Watson artificial intelligence technology is now being used to bring predictive analytics to the masses

IBM is pushing its Watson congitive computing technology to another level with the release of Watson Analytics, a natural-language service intended to make advanced and predictive analytics available to anyone.

Announced on Tuesday, Watson Analytics will be accessible as a cloud-based service, available on desktops and mobile devices, worldwide starting in November. Until now, IBM has built Watson technology primarily into tools aimed at data scientists and analytics specialists in areas such as medical research and financial services, but the new tool is tailored for use by businesspeople with no particular experience with analytics.

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Natural-language interaction

The company’s idea is to make analytics as commonly used as spreadsheets are today. To that end, it includes easy-to-use data refinement and data warehousing services for the acquisition and preparation of data for analysis and visualisation; users can then interact with the service by simply typing in the question they would like to see answered. Responses are also delivered in familiar business language, IBM said.

“Watson Analytics is designed to help all business people – from sales reps on the road to company CEOs – see patterns, pursue ideas and improve all types of decisions,” said Bob Picciano, senior vice president for IBM’s Information and Analytics Group. “We have eliminated the barrier between the answers they seek, the analytics they want and the data in the form they need.”

The company is aiming Watson Analytics at areas including marketing, sales, operations, finance and human resources, and said it can help users narrow down nebulous areas such as key sales drivers, drivers of employee retention, or which deals are most likely to close.

Watson Analytics brings together tools that would ordinarily be aimed at different analysis and data tasks into a unified experience; tasks such as data sourcing and refinement are automated.

Guided analytics

The tool can guide users through the use of predictive analytics to surface key facts and uncover patterns, and includes persona-based business scenarios specific to particular roles. Watson Analytics is to be hosted on SoftLayer and distributed through the IBM Cloud marketplace; IBM said it also plans tomake the service available through Bluemix, enabling developers and ISVs to build it into their applications.

Some of Watson Analytics’ capabilities are to be made available for beta testers in October, with “freemium” and professional packages to launch in November.

IBM last month launched another Watson-based service, Watson Discovery Advisor, as a cloud service. The company said the tool has already been used to help identify promising paths for cancer research.

Earlier this year IBM announced it was investing more than $1 billion (£617m) in a new business unit to explore the practical applications of Watson cognitive computing technology.

Watson has also been built into software-defined storage products that reduce the cost of IT infrastructure by automatically moving data onto the most suitable storage device, while offering infinite scaling across all data types.

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