IBM, one of the most deeply conservative of all tech companies, just made a massive institutional move by investing millions of dollars into a freemium, cloud-based data visualization product and predictive analytics platform.
Today, the company is announcing Watson Analytics, which is designed for use inside sales, marketing, and human relations departments. From press previews given before launch, the platform seems to be directed squarely at current users of Oracle, SAS, and Tableau analytics products. Google also offers similar products via its Public Data Explorer and Fusion Tables.
Eric Sall of IBM Business Analytics told Co.Labs that the freemium product was created to get Watson “into the hands of as many people as possible,” and that the company would charge for add-ons such as extra storage space and integration with other enterprise services. He added that the software was designed to give instant answers in a business context. While the company does not have smartphone apps planned at this time, the platform will be available to mobile users through an HTML5 interface.
It’s also another signal of IBM’s desire to put Watson, an intelligent computer known mainly for Jeopardy appearances and oddly delicious food recipes, into as many industry verticals as possible. The industry climate for the computing giant is bad enough that a book called The Decline And Fall Of IBM was released earlier this year; IBM has funneled $1 billion into Watson, partnered with third-party developers to build an app ecosystem for the product, and has begun aggressively positioning it within the health care industry.
For potential clients, IBM’s selling point is that Watson lets anyone ask questions, in natural spoken or written language, that the software then answers based on a corpus of text it trains itself to read and categorize. A partnership with Bon Appetit magazine, for instance, automatically generates recipes based on a user’s parameters; a prototype product being tested at the Cleveland Clinic lets clinicians turn electronic medical records (EMRs) into visual timelines of a patient’s health.
The Watson Analytics platform, which the company characterizes as their biggest analytics announcement in a decade, is designed to automate data formatting, predictive analytics, and data visualization for employees without statistics, design, or programming backgrounds. Based on IBM’s SoftLayer platform, the software package lets users upload data sets, which are automatically formatted and then can be queried either through natural language requests or visual manipulation. Although I was not able to try the platform prior to launch, it appears to operate in a manner similar to Siri’s natural-language processing of information.
Because tablets and smartphones are increasingly becoming a part of the post-BlackBerry business environment, analytics providers are racing to make sure data can be processed on iPads or Androids just as easily as on a desktop computer.
IBM says beta testers will be able to try Watson Analytics within 30 days, and that a freemium model will be available starting in November 2014. Beta tests can be accessed here.