IBM launches new IT management services platform powered by Watson

Thanks to 30-plus years of operational data derived from thousands of clients worldwide, the company's new Watson-powered services platform aims to bring automation to more sophisticated tasks.

IBM has announced the launch of a new cloud-based services platform powered by Watson, enabling organisations to autonomously manage their IT operations.

The IBM Services Platform with Watson -- designed for organisations with hybrid cloud infrastructure -- is touted as being able to preempt, proactively resolve, and prevent problems from occurring in the future, as well as provide IT teams with real-time visibility over their hybrid IT environment so that they can make faster, data-driven decisions, the company said.

The addition of Watson, which IBM said serves as the "cognitive insights engine of the platform", brings automation to more complex tasks such as continuous compliance, autonomous governance, and self-service and automated provisioning.

"The future of IT is cognitive; it's driven by big data. It's about ensuring an IT environment is up all the time and is able to scale up to the needs of today's digital business. This is the industry's first platform that brings hybrid cloud management, automation, and Watson-based cognitive capabilities together," Dr Gopal Pingali, VP and director at IBM's Global Technology Services Lab, told ZDNet.

"For example, not only does the platform detect that there is an incident and automatically resolve it; it learns about new incidents that are not yet automated and suggests an automator that can be developed to address the [new] incidents."

IBM's data lake, which is built on systems operational data gathered from the company's 30-plus years of experience in "data intensive" industries such as banking and retail, serves as the "data foundry" for the new platform.

"We know the best practices in terms of automators that have worked in other situations, so [the services platform with Watson] can recommend the most relevant automator for a particular client based on the rich history of data we have through our work with thousands of other clients," Pingali said.

He added that IBM has the "largest footprint of automation" in the industry.

"We have been automating over 300,000 endpoints across 800 clients. We have automated the resolution of over 10 million incidents," Pingali said, adding that this number is growing at about 1 million incidents per month.

With the new Watson-powered platform, IBM claims automation tools can do more than execute simple instructions; it can run diagnostics and execute actions to address the root causes of issues; unstructured emails and chats can be read in natural language; and resulting insights can be used to resolve problems without manual intervention.

While the platform eliminates the need for human intervention in most cases, Pingali said there will be cases where "rare" issues surface that require a human to be in the loop. In those cases, the human can consult with Watson -- in a conversational format -- to identify the best resolution.

"It's about augmenting human intelligence to both take care of mundane work and to help with more sophisticated questions," Pingali said.

"They can get [the rare issue] resolved faster by having an interactive chat, a question and answer session with Watson. The backend IT helpdesk person can also get help in identifying the best solution for a particular problem.

"A very interesting thing we are doing is also having Watson be able to help in the design of solutions, so it can read proposal documents, understand the requirements, and brainstorm with the architect on the solution architecture."

Organisations that are locked in with other cloud vendors can use the new services platform, Pingali said.

"We are talking about managing a customer's traditional IT environment on premise, managing private cloud, managing public cloud, both from IBM and from other vendors. We work across many cloud providers. It's about bringing consistent management across this complexity," Pingali added.

US food delivery services giant Sysco, which performs 150,000 deliveries every day, has reduced critical issues by nearly 90 percent and reduced average the time to solve issues from 19 hours to 28 minutes by using IBM's automation tools, Pingali said.

The launch of the services platform is supported by a recent IBM survey that found that about 50 percent of CEOs plan to adopt cognitive computing by 2019, and they expect a 15 percent return on their investment, the company said.

In April, IBM announced the launch of its Watson-powered cognitive marketing service for marketers looking to tap into behavioural analytics to increase the success of targeted, personalised campaigns.

IBM Watson Marketing Insights uncovers key patterns and common behaviours in customers by examining their interaction with an enterprise through email and social media, as well as stored information, which can then be used to predict the success of a campaign. The service's cognitive computing abilities, together with continually changing data sets, also updates key patterns and trends over time.

IBM also revealed earlier this year how its cognitive computing facilities were being put to use in the fight against eye disease. By using deep learning and visual analytics, IBM researchers were able to quickly diagnose and classify diabetic retinopathy in patients without the need for extensive tests.

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