IBM Watson Analytics Goes Public - InformationWeek
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12/4/2014
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IBM Watson Analytics Goes Public

IBM opens beta use of its cloud-based, freemium data analysis service. Will natural-language interaction simplify number crunching?

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Watson Analytics, the natural-language-based number-crunching aid that IBM announced in September, is now available for trial use in the cloud, the company announced on Thursday.

Watson Analytics will let users upload their data and start exploring by typing questions in English. The service streamlines and simplies what's typically a complicated process, IBM said, by automatically spotting interesting correlations and exceptions within the data you load. It also suggests data-cleansing steps and the best data-visualization approaches to use in various analysis scenarios.

The promises must be compelling, as more than 22,000 would-be number crunchers have registered to use the beta service, according to IBM. For now it's a beta sandbox that's entirely free. Once the freemium service is generally available, IBM said it will start with free use for individuals, who will have access to all data refining, visual analysis, predictive, and collaborative capabilities.

[Want more on Salesforce.com's data-analysis simplification approach? Read Salesforce.com Wave Analytics Cloud: Pros & Cons.]

IBM has not offered general-release dates or pricing details, but the company said premium users of the service will be able to analyze higher volumes of data and more data sources, including live links to sources such as data warehouses and cloud sources.

Despite the Watson branding, the service is not the same as IBM's cognitive computing technology, so training is not required, but IBM said the service will "learn" about customer data sources over time. Behind the scenes, the service combines technologies that IBM has been working on for some time.

InfoSphere Data Refinery services, for example, are used to assess the data that you upload and automatically suggest corrections, such as deleting duplicates or merging records that appear to be related. A Catalyst Engine developed for IBM's SPSS software automatically find correlations and trends in data. Cognos Project Neo technology come into play to automatically suggest which type of visualization to use to best illustrate a trend, outlier, correlation, or other trait.

IBM isn't the only vendor trying to streamline the data-analysis process. Qlik recently released simplified Qlik Sense data-visualization software while Salesforce.com is promising simple, four-button analysis in mobile apps through its Wave Analytics Cloud. And Microsoft has tried to improve on its widely used Excel spreadsheet with complementary, cloud-based tools including Power BI.

These latest efforts show that BI and analytics software never lived up to the promise of "democratizing data analysis."

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Doug Henschen is Executive Editor of InformationWeek, where he covers the intersection of enterprise applications with information management, business intelligence, big data and analytics. He previously served as editor in chief of Intelligent Enterprise, editor in chief of ... View Full Bio

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David F. Carr
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David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
12/8/2014 | 9:53:48 AM
Watson brand dilution
Does strike me the run a risk of undermining the Watson brand when they attach the label to a nifty analytics tool that has little or nothing to do with their big data/cognitive computing tech.
Li Tan
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Li Tan,
User Rank: Ninja
12/8/2014 | 8:38:15 AM
Re: Watson Rocks
It's glad to hear that Watson is available as beta and initial user experience is good. The natural language learning and machine learning are important trend, which we should pay attention. For Watson, it means that the more you use it, the smarter it will become.
Susan Fourtané
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Susan Fourtané,
User Rank: Author
12/7/2014 | 12:08:13 AM
Re: Watson Rocks
TerryK, 

How nice feedback, and Watson Analytics is only to get better and better as well. Since I had a login problem I haven't been able to try it yet so what you said is really nice and encouraging. :)

-Susan
I give
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I give,
User Rank: Moderator
12/5/2014 | 3:52:13 PM
PS to Laurianne Re: Watson Rocks
No need to write any code, which is my primary criteria.  Even Excel is too darn demanding esoterically for me to "excel" as a user.
I give
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50%
I give,
User Rank: Moderator
12/5/2014 | 3:43:16 PM
Reply on Approachability: Watson Rocks
Laurianne, some business users are more analytically motivated and talented than others no matter what silo they are in. For those who don't shy away from Excel and Powerpoint, yet are not "power users", know what they want in a spreadsheet and how to get it there from other places, and understand the essentials (that is understand the essentials, not merely having been exposed to the basics) of statisitical analysis, Watson is for them.

It will be great for skilled and aggressive data hounds in small organizations, at for/non-profit organizations alike, who have neither the time, training, or budgets to support dedicated stat software or time for endless spreadsheet and graph manipulation.

As always garbage in garbage out, and frequent niave "findings" by new initiates in a subject area.  Watson is a terrific tool IMHO, but it takes an artist to make art, not just the canvas, paints, and brushes.  Really knowing what you have going into Watson will still be needed in order to get something worthwhile to come out.  BUT, you might get some surprise and delight as well, as I have.  I suppose it would be taken for granted by someone who started using it as an eighteen year old.  LOL
Charlie Babcock
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Charlie Babcock,
User Rank: Author
12/5/2014 | 2:31:27 PM
Analytics rule, long live Watson
If very many data analysts are having experiences like TerryK's below, Watson is going to outlive its namesake, IBM founder Thomas J. Watson, who died at the age of 82..
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
12/5/2014 | 11:29:23 AM
Re: Watson Rocks
@TerryK, thanks for chiming in. How approachable do you think it is for business users?
TerryK876
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TerryK876,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/5/2014 | 9:16:37 AM
Watson Rocks
As one of the 22,000 users since the beta release a week or so ago - every day and in every way I feel better and better about Watson.  As a professional analyst, I find Watson at once both humbling and scary.
danielcawrey
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danielcawrey,
User Rank: Ninja
12/4/2014 | 7:56:02 PM
Re: This is a broad data-analysis studio, not just a data-visualization tool.
The more BI and analytics services that are available, the better.

 IBM wants to offer the highest technological value it can and then charge for it. That's what it is doing here, and this will probably work out pretty darn well for them. 
D. Henschen
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D. Henschen,
User Rank: Author
12/4/2014 | 12:10:28 PM
This is a broad data-analysis studio, not just a data-visualization tool.
I registered for the beta some time ago and got my first crack at Watson Analytics this morning. As the screen shot above shows, there are plenty of tutorials available. That's either a warning sign (you mean it's not intuitive enough to use on its own?) or an indication that IBM is being extra careful to offer plenty of training wheels.

Thus far I've only watched the tutorials (and haven't loaded and analyzed data), but my initial impression is this is more like a data-analysis studio rather than a simple data-analysis tool. You're presented with multiple data-loading and data-cleansing options followed by multiple data-analysis options and use-case scenarios. It may feel intuitive to a data analyst, but I'm thinking business users will need some time to get comfortable.
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