by Kendall Hatch • @Kendall_at_WIS

You’ve heard of Watson; but how can cognitive computing work for your business?

Published June 05, 2015


There’s no question anymore—cognitive computing is here to stay. During May’s World of Watson event, IBM announced that it was welcoming 270 new commercial partners to the Watson Ecosystem, an amalgamation of developers and entrepreneurs creating Watson-powered apps on the Bluemix platform.

The development came just a few years after Watson burst into the collective consciousness of most of the population, when it bested two of the top contestants in the history of the “Jeopardy!” game show.  Now, before the ink even dries on the definition of cognitive computing, IBM and hundreds of other firms are implementing new and interesting ways to utilize smart machines, as the enterprise tries to navigate a nearly endless realm of new ways to use and process big data.

How much of this is flash vs. substance? Watson is fast becoming a household name, but who are the other players in this space? What industries stand to benefit most from cognitive computing solutions? First, let’s back up.

What is cognitive computing?
Cognitive computing technology fits primarily in one of three categories under the general umbrella of “Smart Machines,” says Jamie Popkin, Managing Vice President of Data Management Strategies at Gartner. There are machines that are “Movers”—autonomous vehicles or robots; machines that are “Doers”—machines that leverage physical human activities to perform tasks; and “Sages”—systems that learn content using context, environments, and patterns to enhance human performance with cognitive tasks.

Watson and other related technologies fit squarely under the “Sage” category. Traditional content management systems employed a number of different indexing schemes to manage large data sets and when queried, would answer with a set of data or documents that could potentially be related to the query. Popkin says traditional enterprise content management could be likened to a card catalog—you’d narrow your search down to a still-somewhat-large set of documents that match your initial query, but have to find a specific document and then pore over it to answer your original question.

“What Watson and other cognitive programs are trying to say is that they have in effect, read all the books, they’ve processed all the books, and now you’re able to ask them a question against the content, and they’re going to try to give you an answer, instead of giving you a list of books,” Popkin says.  “And that’s really important.”

Where does cognitive computing work?
Cognitive computing works in environments where there is unstructured information—or information that isn’t tucked into neat rows and columns. The 270 new commercial partners announced at World of Watson run the gamut, although the medical industry stands out as a particular hotbed of innovation.

  • aims to provide customer relationship management solutions to healthcare providers. Its new Watson-powered app, hc1 Patient Insights, uses analytics and personality insights to guide further patient interactions.
  • CaféWell Concierge, a Watson-powered app by Welltok, provides a way for Centura Health to offer guidance to patients with heart conditions. The app monitors a user’s health profile and makes recommendations based on health and responds to natural language inquiries.
  • Talkspace sets out to revolutionize the delivery of online mental health services by using Watson technology to better match patients with licensed therapists. The platform also allows therapists to leverage insights about a patient’s personality, thinking style, and stress levels when providing support.

Other additions to the Watson ecosystem span an array of industries, from music and entertainment to oil and gas to veterinary medicine and hospitality.

BONUS SIDEBAR: 5 tips for working with IBM Watson

Who are the other players?
Although Watson might be one of the most recognizable names in the cognitive computing space, IBM is by no means alone in a market that continually gains steam month-over-month. Deloitte estimates that the market will be worth $50 billion by 2018, so the space is ripe for innovation.

Cognitive Scale, which offers enterprise cognitive computing solutions, recently launched CognitiveU, a training program to help businesses harness the power of cognitive computing. Digital Reasoning’s Syntheses solution uses cognitive computing to monitor employee communications with technology that’s capable of analyzing human language data. Saffron Technology’s Associative Memory has found uses in healthcare, manufacturing, energy and risk management. uses cognitive computing to function as a personal assistant, scheduling meetings on a user’s behalf. Other tech giants like Google and Amazon are putting massive amounts of resources toward cognitive computing.

Where to from here?
There’s a lot of new buzz around cognitive computing, but treating it as a fad would be a mistake, says Popkin.

“I don’t think there is any turning back from this. We have the ability to really get our arms around the vast volumes of information that we’re creating. We’re developing the tools that are allowing us to process it and make sense,” Popkin explains. “You don’t hear a lot about the same information overload that we used to hear about because the technologies are giving us some really powerful tools to access the content directly and derive meaning from it. I think it’s early, but it’s going to persist and be a long-term capability.”

One of the real stumbling blocks in the near future, he says, is the rate at which the technology is outpacing its use in the business world. Companies that have spent years or even decades honing business practices and customer engagement processes might be slow to completely upend major portions of their operations, even if it means greater insights and efficiency.

“Now you have this situation where you say, ‘Ok, what if I could provide new data, more data, different data”—how would you change the business process? Would you add in predictive analytics or prescriptive analytics? Would you interface with your customers in a different way?” Popkin asks. “I think the phase we’re in is still a relatively early phase because businesses, whether at the industry level or at the individual company level, have to figure out how to adapt and manage this wealth that’s been given to them.”



No one has commented on this item.