IBM introduces Watson to the public sector cloud

IBM has strengthened its cloud computing offerings with a new high-end service that takes advantage of its famed Jeopardy!-winning Watson technology. 

The service, dubbed IBM Watson Developers Cloud, could help agencies by applying Watson’s cognitive computing intelligence to the federal government’s big data problems, from fraud analysis to intelligence surveillance and sensor-gathered data.

IBM is making its Watson technology available as a development platform in the cloud in the hopes of prompting third-party developers to create new applications that take advantage of its ability to learn from its interactions with data and reprogram itself for better results. IBM is providing a developer toolkit, educational materials and access to Watson’s application programming interface. 

Developers that build Watson-powered apps in the cloud can use their organization’s data or they can access the IBM Watson Content Store, which features third-party data. Additionally, IBM has committed 500 subject matter experts to the IBM Watson Developers Cloud effort. 

IBM’s high-profile Watson technology is leading the way towards a new era of cognitive computing systems. In September, Frost & Sullivan recognized IBM Watson Solutions with the 2013 North America New Product Innovation award, which is given to a company with an innovative product that leverages leading-edge technologies and produces value-added features and benefits for customers.

"The IBM Watson Engagement Advisor technology can listen to and respond to a series of follow-up questions and remember the previous questions that were posed," said Frost & Sullivan analyst Stephen Loynd. "In other words, IBM Watson combines technologies that allow the Engagement Advisor to understand natural language and human communication, generate and evaluate evidence-based hypothesis, as well as adapt and learn from user selections."

The announcement of IBM Watson Developers Cloud comes just weeks after IBM forfeited its legal battle against Amazon Web Services to win a 10-year, $600 million cloud computing services contract with the CIA. Analysts said it doesn’t make sense for IBM to compete head-to-head against Amazon on federal deals aimed at the lowest possible price.

"From a pure analytics standpoint, Watson is a great platform," said Shawn McCarthy, research director for IDC Government Insights. "So easing the way that people can have access to what it does is a good thing, and it allows IBM to focus on something it does really well as opposed to playing the commodity game, which is tough." 

The initial target market for IBM Watson Developers Cloud is the private sector, with IBM touting third-party applications in such areas as retail and health care. But analysts say the offering will impact big data problems in the public sector, too. McCarthy sees potential for Watson-powered apps in such areas as fraud analysis, which the White House is ramping up due to worries about scammers taking advantage of consumers signing up for its new health care plans. 

"Fraud issues could be huge. That could be anything from tax issues at the state and local level, to unemployment or other benefits — anything that people can dream up for fraud," McCarthy says. "A good analytics solution can help unravel where A and B don’t exactly line up."

Another possible application of the IBM Watson Developers Cloud is entity analytics, which is used by the Department of Homeland Security to find patterns in data by looking for commonalities about entities, whether they are people, phone numbers or license plates. 

"A good example of entity analytics is when a credit card is used here and goes to this address, and the address is suspicious because a phone call made from that address was used to contact a criminal or terrorist network," McCarthy explains. "Entity analytics is about comparing many sources of data and looking for commonalities and patterns. What Watson has is the ability to learn from the data flowing through it, so it could learn that this address is associated with this group of friends." 

About the Author

Carolyn Duffy Marsan is a writer based in Milwaukee, Wisc., covering enterprise technology.

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