How Watson the supercomputer will change business.
Watson, the computer that trounced Jeopardy champions, is helping solve new and different problems through “cognitive computing.”
Oncologists, for example, are asking Watson for second opinions on treatment recommendations. Retailers are interpreting social data. Call centers are using it to predict customer questions and give faster answers. And a railway executive is expecting Watson to soon detect faulty sections of track.
Watson digests massives amount of information, especially natural language, and “learns” by reprogramming itself as it receives more information.
- In May, IBM introduced the first product it expects to be rolled out in volume: the Watson Engagement Advisor. The supermarket chain Kroger is testing it in call centers; right now Watson is consuming all of Kroger’s customer information. Imagine that a customer calls in with a question about where he can use the points from his Kroger fuel rewards program. A call center employee would ordinarily have to skim the program rules, find instructions about where points can be used, and review the customer’s account. That’s hard to do in a few seconds. That’s why half of the 270 billion annual calls to call centers, according to IBM, either are unresolved or require supervisors to get on the line. Soon a Kroger call center employee will be able to hit an ASK WATSON button to provide faster, more accurate, and more helpful support. Says Kroger chief information officer Chris Hjelm: “This can make everybody an expert.”
CEO Ginni Rometty believes the enterprise of the future will be defined by three characteristics:
- First, data will drive every decision. Take, for example, managing attrition, an area long considered as much art as science. How do you keep talented people from leaving? In 2011, IBM launched a pilot program in one division, using Watson’s technology, to answer that question. The program examined the obvious factors, including compensation, benefits, work-life balance, and opportunities for career development. But it also made connections to data that humans might not consider. For example, the software noticed that a woman working as an industry consultant was making social media connections with people who work on cloud computing. To keep her engaged, IBM assigned her a new mentor who was senior in its cloud business. “Not only did the attrition reduce by 75%,” says Rometty of the pilot, but “what we spent in the right places went down by $100 million.” (That number factors in what it would cost to recruit, replace, and train people over several years.) IBM now uses this process throughout the company.
- Second, Rometty predicts that companies will use their wealth of information to create new types of goods and services. To help that along, she says, IBM will open pieces of Watson’s software code to outside developers by the end of the year so they can fuse their own good ideas with it.
- Third, according to the CEO, the new enterprise will make a giant leap in its ability to nurture one-on-one relationships directly with consumers. Whereas today a business can slice and dice data to the point that it can target, say, a 23-year-old single female college graduate in St. Paul, the volume of data and the ability to manage it will escalate to the point that a company can target, say, Cindy Davis of 110 Maple St. in St. Paul.
IBM is also collaborating with its clients and opening new possibilities for consumers.
Bridget van Kralingen, head of IBM’s business consulting division, describes a smartphone app (she says it works in the lab but hasn’t yet been commercialized) that scans a grocery store’s cereal selection and tells shoppers which option is healthiest.
Collaboration between consultants, researchers and customers is fueling this ongoing innovation.
(via CNN Money, IBM’s massive bet on Watson - Sep. 19, 2013)