by Ryan Kim
Originally published on May 20th, 2011 on GigaOM
On the same day that IBM passed Microsoft in market cap, Big Blue showed how it will ride the growth of big data to continue its momentum. IBM announced a new $100 million investment for future data analytics along with new services and software aimed at helping improve data analysis and new services for IT professionals.
The news, shared at an event at its Watson Research Center, highlights the work IBM has done in assembling a broad portfolio of big data tools for enterprise customers. It has spent $14 billion in the last five years on two dozen acquisitions. Increasingly, the company sees its future pinned to its ability to help customers manage and learn from the vast amounts of data produced today.
BigInsights software, which is based on Hadoop, analyzes and stores petabyes of data, is updated with new data governance and security features along with more developer tools and easier enterprise integration.
IBM said it was also investing $100 million to fuel research on massive-scale analytics through advanced software and services.
The goal is to put all of this analytics work together into tools that help companies and clients anticipate the future, said Steve Mills, senior vice president and group president of IBM Software & Systems. He said companies are looking for better headlights to illuminate where they’re going and where they need to go.
“The more predictive you can be, the faster you can move, the better value you can extract from your business,” Mills said.
One key tool in IBM’s growing arsenal is Watson, the natural language system that won a much publicized Jeopardy challenge against former champions. IBM officials on Friday shared more how the system can be used to help companies ingest and analyze data and flesh out intelligent insights. David Ferrucci, IBM fellow and principal investigator on the Watson/Deep QA Project, said Watson’s first job will be in health care, which is fitting because Watson is built to handle information in a similar way to how doctors narrow down diagnoses for patients. He said the system essentially analyzes questions by generating queries against a number of sources and creating hypotheses that are scored on a variety of factors.
Ferrucci said IBM was able to feed Watson medical specific domain information and turn it into a budding physician’s assistant after just three months. He said Watson will be able to collaborate with doctors, helping surface possible diagnoses, ask for additional information and learn from feedback from doctors.
The future of Watson within IBM is still being sorted out and reflects the new challenges for the company, said Katherine Frase, vice president of emerging technologies and industry solutions. The company is still figuring out how it will mix and match its big data tools with Watson and what kind of business models and arrangements will work for customers. She said Watson will get deployed in two or three custom pilot programs this year in health care and likely in financial services. But it’s still unclear how Watson will ultimately get sold to users, as an entire unit, as a modular piece paired with other tools or perhaps as a cloud service.
“The problem is what should we try first and what business scenario do we do first?” she said. “He have a lot of technical and strategy work to do. But it’s a good problem to have.”
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