The Business Value of Cognitive Computing

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business value of cognitive computingby Jelani Harper

IBM Watson occupied center stage at IBM’s recent Insight 2014 conference. As a number of speakers from diverse industries and organizations revealed at a session entitled “Putting Cognitive Computing to Work: What Will You Do with Watson?” Cognitive Computing has been primed to deliver the enterprise business value.

Cognitive Computing is the technology based on Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence that enables systems to draw parallels between experiences and data sets to draw logical conclusions.

Watson, IBM’s premier Cognitive Computing offering, has made significant headlines regarding its cognitive capabilities with its landmark victory on Jeopardy!, forays into the culinary arts, and impressive funding for its trademark The Watson Group, which recently moved into its new headquarters on Astor Place in New York City. It has also been deployed in various realms of research.

Cognitive Computing, however, is no doctrinaire concept; Watson probably demonstrates this point best. When properly applied, its numerous assets can add palpable business value to the enterprise by utilizing advanced analytics, an integrated view of disparate data sources, numerous Cloud applications and more.

Natural Language Processing

Watson’s cognitive abilities are perhaps best augmented by its capacity to utilize Natural Language Processing (NLP), which may be the crux of its system. NLP enables Watson to understand, draw conclusions from, and communicate in the natural language that humans use everyday—and which is found in any number of text messages, tweets, emails, and documents that constitute a large part of existent data (both Big Data and otherwise). This facet of Watson enhances its value to the enterprise because it allows for a form of expression that is native to end users and has recently come to include English and a host of other foreign languages such as Spanish, Portuguese, and Japanese.

Beyond Search

Search is perhaps the most widely used analytics mechanism found today. It guides a number of Business Intelligence and basic computing/internet functions. Analytics facilitated on a Cognitive Computing system such as Watson, however, are able to improve on the capacities of search in a number of ways. Despite search’s enduring nature for producing data that is relevant to a particular inquiry, it cannot analyze nor provide contextual value, identify trends, or understand the relationship between different results.

Watson Analytics

Watson Analytics—which will soon be released to the general public—can leverage all of the aforementioned capabilities that search cannot, which helps to provide a celerity and relevance that yields greater insight and ease of use. After a question is issued to Watson Analytics, a hypothesis and a response is generated; the latter includes the system’s confidence level of the response. Finally, the technology elucidates the various steps that were required to generate the response, which likely involves the analysis of disparate data sources and the drawing of conclusions between them.

These analytic capabilities are enhanced by Watson Explorer, a service that significantly expands multiple aspects of Data Discovery, navigation, and search. This tool enables users to parse through both internal and external data (and their sources) via a fully integrated view of both. It also provides for the content analysis and aggregation of unstructured data (which is distinct from machine-generated, semi-structured data), while enabling access to a number of cloud oriented services.

The Cloud

Watson has myriad applications and platforms that users can access through the Cloud, which only enhances its ubiquitous accessibility and rapidity while greatly reducing the number of resources required of the enterprise to utilize its cognitive capacity. Its Cloud deployment is one of its most utilitarian aspects that are helping to expand its burgeoning ecosystem, which has come to include a growing number of organizations in vertical industries throughout the private and public sectors. There is also a Developer Cloud associated with Watson that facilitates the means by which developers can generate new apps to solve business problems and improve organizational processes. Moreover, Watson Developer Cloud is loaded with a host of cognitive services that directly relate to core data driven processes for the enterprise, including the aforementioned question and answer process, user modeling, relationship extraction, and more.


Watson has several specific functions that are germane to the finance industry. Users can leverage the platform to obtain a unified view of customer portfolios, potential investments and other investors that include virtually all data accessible through the internet and through additional data sources. Such data can include news and weather reports, sentiment data analytics based on sources such as Twitter and others, and the integration of this information into a single view that greatly assists the ability to identify opportunities and factors that most readily affect investments. Significantly, such analysis includes the most up to date information from external sources that is available. Certain applications offer recommendations and explain how they were derived.

Banorte, one of the largest banks in Mexico, is looking to implement Watson in its call center. According to Chief Technology Officer Guillermo Guemez, the platform is projected to increase employee efficiency and reduce training periods from eight weeks to two weeks. By delivering employees the same access to information at the same speeds, the gap between call center employees is predicted to decrease as well. More importantly perhaps, the bank is anticipating a decrease in call times and a reduction in the number of calls that were escalated.

Health Care

The benefits of Watson to the health care industry are nearly identical to—and as viable as—its benefits in various areas of research. Pathway Genomics is a genetic testing company that issues recommendations to facilitate personalized preventive care to patients. In doing so, it is responsible for analyzing extreme amounts of data encompassing genome sequencing for millions of people, their respective lab work and insurance information, as well as traditional medical school information and that found in external media sources. Michael Nova of Pathway Genomics observed that Watson makes such a process manageable because:

“The only way to do that is to have some form of Artificial Intelligence like Watson. We couldn’t do it any other way. It’s taking [data] from a bunch of different sources, then making relationships between all these different sources to give you personalized information about yourself.”

Administration / Human Resources

Enterprises can also utilize Watson’s Cognitive Computing capabilities internally to assist with administration and human resources processes. Watson can combine any variety of external data sources to help elucidate personality traits and characteristics of potential job candidates by analyzing data generated by and about such people through external data sources. Doing so increases the likelihood that newly hired employees are aligned with an organization’s values and company culture.

Expanding Expertise

The core of the potential and kinetic value of Cognitive Computing that the numerous uses of the deployment of Watson have demonstrated goes beyond mere insight and the abetting business problems and processes. It actually pertains to an enhancement of the way that knowledge is both transmitted and applied, the benefits of which are largely unlimited. In understanding the pragmatic application of Watson and Cognitive Computing for the enterprise, one actually begins to understand the full potential for data to shape business and operations processes. According to IBM Watson Center’s general manager of engagement Steve Cowley:

“Humans from all walks of life are interacting [and] building new relationships and systems that enhance, scale and accelerate their expertise. We refer to this as the democratization of expertise—taking expertise that was previously available only to the few and bringing that to the masses. It’s having a dramatic impact on businesses, professions and indeed whole industries. It’s happening today, and it’s happening at unprecedented speed and scale.”

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