IBM Hopes In­dian Businesses Warm Up to ‘Ad­vi­sor’ Wat­son

Co feels su­per­comp’s cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties will help it make a dent in In­dian mar­ket

The Economic Times - - Companies - NEHA ALAWADHI

In­ter­na­tional Busi­ness Ma­chines (IBM) sees huge po­ten­tial for its Wat­son su­per­com­puter in the In­dian mar­ket in the role of an ad­vi­sor or help­ing businesses in­crease com­pe­ten­cies, even as the com­pany tests the scal­a­bil­ity of the tech­nol­ogy by us­ing it in­ter­nally.

“Clearly there is de­sire. Now it’s up to us to get from that de­sire and in­ter­est to mean­ing­ful use cases that have busi­ness jus­ti­fi­ca­tion,” said Michelle Unger, world­wide head of sales for Wat­son En­gage­ments at IBM, talk­ing about the po­ten­tial In­dian mar­ket for Wat­son.

A lot is rid­ing on Wat­son for IBM — it is a big part of chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer Vir­ginia Rometty’s turn­around plan for the com­pany — which in Jan­uary said it would in­vest more than $1 bil­lion on the su­per­com­puter sys­tem.

Wat­son, which uses cog­ni­tive tech­nol­ogy, has the abil­ity to store in­for­ma­tion and learn from its mis­takes, much the same way as hu­mans do. It shot to fame in 2011 when it beat the top con­tes­tants on the Amer­i­can game show “Jeop­ardy”, which in­volves con­tes­tants fram­ing the ques­tion for a gen­eral knowl­edge clue pro­vided in an­swer form.

The tech­nol­ogy ser­vices provider, how­ever, is now keen to make Wat­son com­mer­cially vi­able for cus­tomers around the world, and is tak­ing it to de­vel­op­ing coun­tries such as In­dia. The fo­cus ar­eas in the coun­try will not be “any­thing dra­mat­i­cally dif­fer­ent” from their strat­egy world­wide, which in­cludes the govern­ment, health­care, fi­nan­cial sec­tor, star­tups and tele­com com­pa­nies as po­ten­tial cus­tomers, said Unger.

She also did not rule out the pos­si­bil­ity of tak­ing this tech­nol­ogy to tra­di­tional In­dian in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy play­ers and ri­vals such as In­fosys and Tata Con­sul­tancy Ser­vices. “I cer­tainly see there’s a lot of ef­fi­ciency we could bring to their pro­cesses us- ing cog­ni­tive tech­nol­ogy. And these ef­fi­cien­cies can ei­ther mean more profit, or make them more com­pet­i­tive,” Unger said. As an ex­am­ple, she said these com­pa­nies could use Wat­son’s ca­pa­bil­i­ties to man­age their hu­man re­sources helpdesk pro­cesses. One of Wat­son’s ma­jor sell­ing points is that it can read and un­der­stand nat­u­ral lan­guage, but cur­rently works only in English. Unger is con­fi­dent it can be trained to un­der­stand the nu­ances and slang of In­dian English, which will help it in­ter­act with cus­tomers in the coun­try bet­ter. Wat­son has found ap­pli­ca­tion in study­ing and gath­er­ing in­for­ma­tion for cur­ing cancer in the United States. In Fe­bru­ary, it also an­nounced a 10year ini­tia­tive in Africa to help in health­care, ed­u­ca­tion, wa­ter & san­i­ta­tion, hu­man mo­bil­ity and agri­cul­ture in the con­ti­nent. IBM, which is fac­ing stiff com­pe­ti­tion from nim­bler ri­vals Ama­zon.com Inc and Google Inc, is now host­ing Wat­son on the cloud to make it more ac­ces­si­ble for its cus­tomers. With a work­force of over 400,000 as per its last an­nual re­port, does IBM not see fer­tile ground to test Wat­son’s abil­ity? “You bet!” said Unger. Through a pi­lot project called “Wat­son on Wat­son”, IBM is en­cour­ag­ing its em­ploy­ees to ask any­thing about the tech­nol­ogy, the dif­fer­ent kinds of ser­vices avail­able and also sug­gest fur­ther uses. It will be rolled out to the en­tire com­pany at the end of June, said Unger.

Wat­son, uses cog­ni­tive tech­nol­ogy that has the abil­ity to store info and learn from its mis­takes much the same way as hu­mans do

Wat­son shot

IBM now

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