Until now, IBM has positioned its Watson cognitive computing engine for advanced tasks like aiding in cancer research or predicting the movement of financial markets. But Big Blue also sees more routine applications for the platform, and this week announced a version aimed at helping everyday workers — from sales pros to HR reps -- perform better.
The effort is key if IBM, which has struggled to grow sales in recent quarters, is to realize its goal of making Watson a $10 billion business.
Watson Analytics, as the new offering is called, is cloud-hosted and can be accessed through desktops or mobile devices. A regional sales executive might ask Watson, using natural language queries, to forecast sales trends in her area. Or a human resources manager could ask Watson what benefits are most likely to boost employee retention.
“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 VP for IBM’s Information and Analytics group, in a statement.
“We have eliminated the barrier between the answers they seek, the analytics they want and the data in the form they need,” said Picciano.
IBM said that, in some scenarios, Watson Analytics can respond to queries based on data it already has stored, meaning users do not have to necessarily upload their own data for analysis.
IBM said most business users of analytics don’t have the right data at their fingertips, and that preparing and loading such information represents, on average, 60 percent of time spent on analytics projects. “The combination of Watson-fueled analytics to magnify human cognition, the vast potential of big data, and cloud-scale delivery to PCs, smartphones and other devices is transformational,” said Picciano.
IBM said Watson Analytics will be available for beta testing within 30 days and available to all customers starting in November. The company plans to offer a free version with limited capabilities, and full-featured premium versions.
IBM CEO Ginni Rometty is counting on the Watson cognitive-computing engine to boost the company’s revenues as it transitions away from commodity hardware. Big Blue recently won U.S. approval to sell off its x86 line of industry-standard servers to China’s Lenovo Group.
IBM needs a sales boost. Revenues have been flat (down 2 percent in the most recent quarter) even as EPS has increased on the back of cost reductions and share buybacks.
IBM does not break out sales figures for Watson, but Rometty earlier this year told execs at the company she hopes the unit will be bringing in $10 billion annually within 10 years, according to a transcript cited by the Wall Street Journal. That’s about 10 percent of the company’s current revenues.