IBM forms Watson Business Group: Will commercialization follow?

Big Blue will plow $1 billion into the newly formed Watson Business Group in a move that could bolster the commercialization of cognitive computing.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

IBM on Thursday outlined plans to form the Watson Business Group, a division aimed making its Jeopardy winning cognitive computing application more of a commercial success.


At an event in New York Thursday, IBM CEO Ginny Rometty and executives will outline the master plan for Watson. Like IBM's push into analytics, cloud and mobile commerce, the Watson Business Group will get similar investment. Big Blue said it will invest $1 billion into the Watson division including $100 million to fund startups developing cognitive apps. 

Read: IBM Watson: How the Jeopardy-winning supercomputer was born, and what it wants to do next


IBM said the Watson division, based in New York City's Silicon Alley, will have about 2,000 employees focused on software, services, research, experts and sales people. IBM's Watson commercialization efforts have reportedly struggled and account for only $100 million in revenue over the last three years, according to a transcript obtained by the Wall Street Journal.

Watson has initially been focused on healthcare, but also has applications in insurance, financial services and other verticals. The biggest challenges to date for Watson have revolved around implementation and tailoring its artificial intelligence for new industries.

IBM plans to speed up Watson usage by turning it into a cloud service that can be used in the pharmaceutical, retail, banking, media and education industries. The idea is that Watson can be a natural language tool for research and development and an advisor in various industries.

The Watson division will be led by Michael Rhodin, former senior vice president of IBM's software solutions group, which includes analytics, smarter cities and social business.

Specifically, IBM is launching the following Watson cloud services:

  • IBM Watson Discovery Advisor is aimed at pharmaceutical, publishing and education research. The promise here is that Watson will wade through search results to deliver data and context faster for researchers.
  • IBM Watson Analytics Advisor is designed to be used by enterprises to send questions and raw data sets to Watson and allow the system to deliver insight.

It's not like Watson has been a complete non-starter---pilots in Memorial Sloan Kettering, Wellpoint and Cleveland Clinic are promising---but commercialization efforts needed more structure. A new unit will provide the IBM support---software, research, hardware and services---that Watson will need to be fully commercialized.

The Watson Business Group will break down into four groups:

  • One focused on research and development on cognitive computing.
  • Another aimed at applying Watson to new industries to "disrupt and transform how business is done."
  • An implementation group to ensure Watson has services support to keep customers satisfied. 
  • An engagement team to sell and market Watson.


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