Analytics for All? – IBM’s New Watson Analytics Storybooks and Services

By Charles King, Pund-IT, Inc.  October 14, 2015

Since the rise of interest and innovation in big data technologies, vendors have faced a singular challenge – how to make information access and analysis so easy that virtually anyone can benefit.

The potential upsides are very real. First and foremost, simplified solutions could substantially accelerate the time-to-value that companies achieve from investments in analytics offerings, services and tools. But just as important is the fact that doing so can enable and empower entirely new classes of what market research firm Gartner calls “citizen data scientists.”

That reflects a deeper challenge that analytics-using organizations face– finding (let alone employing) enough qualified data scientists to get projects off the ground and paying business dividends. While simplifying the accurate analysis of increasingly complex information sources could be revolutionary for businesses and consumers, it is anything but easy.

This is why the vast majority of existing analytics tools and solutions are mainly designed for dedicated data scientists. But it is also what makes IBM’s new Watson Analytics Expert Storybooks and services so intriguing.

Storybooks are no fairy tales

So what exactly are Expert Storybooks?

In essence, they are tools designed to help workers quickly get up to speed in using Watson Analytics to explore information sources and solve specific kinds of business problems. Use cases, applications and information sources vary widely, depending on both individual companies and their particular needs.

For example, a small- to medium-sized organization might use Expert Storybooks to explore issues on social media sites and other publicly available data sources. Related to this point, IBM has increased data connectors to a wide variety of popular third party sources, as well as its own IBM DB2, IBM Informix, IBM Netezza, IBM SQL Database and IBM dashDB.

Another approach concerns so-called “data-less” apps that, because they don’t require information to reside directly on the endpoint device, are valuable for use on mobile solutions, including smart phones and tablets. In other scenarios, larger enterprises could benefit from Storybooks that support deep integration with and analysis of private data assets, as well as dedicated applications developed in-house.

Good examples of these offerings include some of the initial Expert Storybooks developed by IBM Watson Analytics partners, including Deloitte (incentive program effectiveness), Intangent (the influence of pay, performance and credit risk in lending) and MarketShare (the impact of industry trends on investment strategies).

IBM is also offering a new solution for securely connecting from the cloud to corporate data. Based on the company’s Dataworks service, the new offering leverages IBM’s Secure Gateway technology to create a secure tunnel between on-premises databases and Watson Analytics. It automatically encrypt the data being examined, then utilizes Docker containers and a dedicated connection to ensure secure analysis.

This won’t be on everyone’s wish list but it should pique the interest of enterprises interested in highly-secure, hybrid cloud-based analytics services and processes.

Final analysis

IBM also noted that during its first year of service, Watson Analytics has garnered over half a million registered users, and offered testimonials from a dozen organizations, including MinterEllison, the Mears group, Mueller, Benco Dental and Legends that are using the service to derive insights and improve business results.

So is the era of the citizen data scientist truly and fully upon us? Not quite yet.

While the rapid uptake and popularity of Watson Analytics is certainly impressive and underscores market research suggesting that data analysis is shifting rapidly to self-service models, the program’s half a million sign-ups represent just a small fraction of the business professionals that IBM’s corporate customers employ. It also seems safe to say that the majority of these are employees who are already engaged in analytics efforts of some kind.

In other words, it’s a promising beginning but we’ll first have to see if sign-ups for Watson Analytics remain on their rapid pace. Moreover, it will be critical to keep an eye on how the new Expert Storybooks are faring as the program evolves in the coming months and years. If the Storybooks deliver as IBM and its partners advertise, demand should strengthen over time, creating a virtuous circle that benefits end users and their employers, as well as the developers who create these learning tools.

Overall, Expert Storybooks qualify as a logical next step in the evolution of Watson Analytics. The journey to fully empowering citizen data scientists will be neither short nor simple. But making hard work easy has long been a specialty of IBM’s. That Watson Analytics should become part of this tradition, with the help of Expert Storybook developers, seems both appropriate and entirely likely.

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