IBM Insight 2015 – Connecting Cognitive Business Solutions and the “Insight Economy”

By Charles King, Pund-IT, Inc.  October 28, 2015

It’s always worth noting when a vendor changes an established, well-known brand. IBM’s done its share of this, and its latest transformation is on display this week at the IBM Insight 2015 conference in Las Vegas.

If you’re not aware, until last year IBM Insight was Information On Demand (IOD), an annual conference that brought together the company and the customers and partners who leverage IBM’s sizable portfolio of information management solutions, services and tools. In IBM parlance, this includes traditional relational databases, data warehouse and business intelligence offerings, as well as the company’s continually growing family of analytics technologies and solutions.

So what transformed IOD into Insight? The emergence of considerable new IBM cloud and cognitive computing elements that complement its analytics offerings. The pace of that progress has accelerated considerably during the past year. In fact, earlier this month, IBM launched a Cognitive Business Solutions organization, the industry’s first consulting practice dedicated to the transformative value of cognitive computing technologies and processes.

As a result, IBM’s Cognitive Business provided the central focus and theme of Insight 2015. Does this make sense beyond the realm of marketing and public relations? Yes, indeed, especially if you consider IBM’s moves and positions in these areas.

Since 2005, IBM has invested over $25B in external acquisitions and internal R&D focusing on analytics, resulting in one of the industry’s strongest analytics product and services families. Add to that the company’s recent initiatives and investments related to Apache Spark, a highly-scalable open source general processing engine that’s compatible with Hadoop clusters and can also support workloads, like streaming, SQL, machine learning and graph processing.

What about cognitive technologies, like the company’s Watson platform, the winner of a widely watched series of matches with former Jeopardy! grand champions in 2011? Since then, IBM has been developing more than 100 APIs and solutions based on the platform, including Watson Health and Chef Watson. What Watson and other cognitive technologies add to the analytics mix is the ability to simplify complex processes and transform end users’ experiences, allowing sophisticated information analysis to enrich far larger numbers of a business’s employees and its interactions with customers.

Bringing IBM Cloud into the game considerably broadens the geographies and applications where analytics can be deployed, benefitting the company and its customers and partners in the process. The result of these innovations is what Bob Picciano, SVP of IBM Analytics, called the Insight Economy, a commercial opportunity that places previous company initiatives, including Information On Demand and eBusiness, firmly in the rear view mirror.

Turning investments into insights

So what’s been happening in Vegas related to IBM’s Insight Economy? Numerous announcements and events, but three stand out:

  1. IBM’s new Insight Cloud Services uses information about people, events and location from external sources like Twitter and The Weather Company to deliver data and data science-based insights about businesses, helping them find new demand signals and act with greater clarity and confidence. Insight Cloud Services are designed to be deployed quickly so they can be ramped up for use in action-oriented decision-making. They can also be embedded in mobile apps, enterprise applications and business processes.
  2. Related to this, IBM announced that it will acquire The Weather Company’s B2B, mobile and cloud-based web properties, including WSI,, Weather Underground and The Weather Company The TV segment – The Weather Channel – will not be acquired but will license data and analytics from IBM under a long-term contract. The two companies’ technologies and expertise will provide the foundation for the new Watson Internet of Things (IoT) Unit and Watson IoT Cloud platform, building on a $3B investment commitment made by IBM in March 2015. According to IBM, the deal will extend the reach of its cloud data services capabilities and expand The Weather Company’s business capabilities and consumer reach on a global scale.
  3. During its 13-week beta, IBM’s new Spark-as-a-service (IBM Analytics on Apache Spark on the IBM Bluemix developer cloud) garnered over 3,000 developer users. The new service is now commercially available. Plus, IBM has redesigned more than 15 of its core analytics and commerce solutions to take advantage of Apache Spark’s notable performance qualities. The new SPSS on Spark solution is an impressive example of this effort.
  4. IBM’s new Datacap Insight Services leverage leading technologies in both the company’s enterprise content management and governance portfolio and developments around machine learning and natural language processing. The new service allows businesses to scan, automatically classify and understand any document according to format and structure, along with words and numeric information. As a result, instead of being overwhelmed with paperwork, IBM customers can accurately determine the nature of printed documents and quickly take the best and most appropriate actions.
  5. IBM’s new Cognos Analytics platform which delivers a user experience based on the self-service design principles of Watson Analytics. IBM Cognos Analytics combines self-service and managed data analytics capabilities to support new features, including intent-driven modeling, smarter search that works in-context and a single environment for all types of business reporting.

Final analysis

In short, Insight 2015 finds IBM making its way to and through the Insight Economy by leveraging its own and others’ innovations. The new Insight Cloud Services is a good example of this, as it aims to extract considerable value from both social and technical data, then help customers build business-changing services around those insights.

The new Datacap Insights Services offering is more of an all-IBM show, as it leverages assets acquired in its 2010 purchase of Datacap but essentially transforms them through more recent technological developments and investments. Somewhat similarly, the new Cognos Analytics platform takes one of IBM’s best known solutions for garnering business insights and, by leveraging user-friendly design principles from Watson Analytics, makes it more accessible to wider business audiences.

IBM’s acquisition of The Weather Company’s B2B, mobile and cloud-based Web properties complements the company’s Insight Cloud Services and also underscores just how serious IBM is about the Insight Economy. How so? Weather has a huge impact on people and businesses, to the tune of half a trillion dollars annually in the U.S. alone. Adding data, coding and cognitive innovations to the world of weather prediction will benefit people and organizations worldwide.

The massive popularity of The Weather Company app (fielding over 26 billion queries daily) makes the acquisition a terrific resource for pursuing those goals. Plus, the clear relevance of The Weather Company’s information resources to scores of global markets and industries, including transportation, insurance, energy, public utilities, construction, communications and travel should enable numerous Cognitive Business opportunities for IBM. It will also significantly enhance the company’s Watson IoT efforts, providing it a serious leg-up on competitors.

IBM’s new Spark-as-a-Service offering is an interesting hybrid. IBM’s enthusiastic interest in Spark, including more than 15 company products now built on the platform, is perfectly natural given the technology’s considerable processing benefits (10X to 100X faster than Hadoop MapReduce). But since Spark is completely compatible with Hadoop data, the result is anything but an either/or proposition for enterprise customers. Instead, it is more about the developer’s or organization’s performance demands, and the size/type of data and workload requirements.

Those qualities, along with the flexibility and scalability of Spark, makes it a natural fit for IBM, especially given the richness of the company’s software, hardware and cloud assets. Spark complements the company’s analytics efforts and investments and should be extremely attractive to IBM’s enterprise customer base. Many of those companies have data assets whose volume and complexity are well suited to Spark, a point that likely inspired many of the developers who signed up for IBM’s Spark-as-a-Service beta.

The initial uptake of the Spark-as-a-Service beta bodes well for the company, but it’s not the only innovation or highlight coming out of Insight 2015. IBM’s announcements at the conference, including The Weather Company acquisition, and the Insight Cloud Services, Datacap Insight Services and Cognos Analytics offerings show that the company’s Cognitive Business efforts and its concept of an analytics-driven Insight Economy appear deeply anchored in business reality.

That makes IBM’s Cognitive Business a worthy successor to previous company initiatives, like Information On Demand and eBusiness, but it also portends good things to come for IBM and its customers and partners.

© 2015 Pund-IT, Inc. All rights reserved.