Watson returns with mission to make analytics easier

IBM introduced Watson Analytics, a new service for its Watson platform designed to ease the technical requirements and data grooming needed for advanced analytics.

IBM introduced a cloud-based analytics service for Watson, its cognitive computing platform and famed “Jeopardy!” champion. The new offering, Watson Analytics, uses natural language processing to handle some of the complexities of preparing data for business and IT analytics processing.

The firm said Watson Analytics would ease the amount of technical skills and data grooming required, making predictive analytics easier to acquire and use.

Instead of having separate analytics tools for different kinds of data tasks, Watson Analytics broadens the query response in a “seamless, unified experience that brings together a set of self-service enterprise data and analytics capabilities on the cloud,” IBM said in its announcement.

IBM outlined a Watson-enabled process for Watson query response, in which users identify a problem, and Watson begins a series of steps including data sourcing, cleansing and refining, discovering insights, predicting outcomes and visualizing results.

IBM said most analytics offerings assume users have their data ready for processing. “However, most business users have none of these things,” IBM noted, adding that finding and prepping data eat up 50 percent of the time spent on an analytics project.

In contrast, Watson Analytics “automates these steps to accelerate users’ ability to get to the answers they’re seeking, quickly and on their own,” IBM claimed.

IBM pitched its announcement to business professionals, but other disciplines, including government and education users, are potential customers. The company has worked to get earlier versions of Watson technology used in government, especially in the sphere of healthcare analytics.

 “Watson Analytics is designed to help all business people … see patterns, pursue ideas and improve all types of decisions,” said Bob Picciano, senior vice president of 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.”

Submitting questions to Watson is iterative, according to the announcement.

Watson Analytics incorporates natural language processing so business users can ask the right questions and get results in terms familiar to their business that can be read, understood or interacted with.

As users interact with the results, “they can fine tune their questions and the data to surface the most relevant facts and uncover unforeseen patterns and relationships, which will enable predictive decision making for all levels of users,” the company said.

“It’s a fundamental departure in the power that each user can have at their fingerprints,” Alistair Rennie, IBM general manager of business analytics, told Forbes. “It’s like how people got comfortable with spreadsheets over time.”

The first release of Watson Analytics will include a “freemium” version of its cloud-based service designed to run on desktop and mobile devices, IBM said.

IBM said Watson Analytics would go live in November, at which point it will able to be used at no cost for a set number of data sources according to PC World. Users would be charged for data sources added thereafter. 

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