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IBM: Watson Analytics breaks down big data barriers for SMBs

IBM says that while most large companies are already utilizing big data in some way, SMBs are falling behind.

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Last week's launch of Watson Analytics, IBM's cloud-based analytics service based on the Watson cognitive computing platform, was hailed by Big Blue as a big data game changer that would bring data analysis to the average business user.

But while much of conversation focused on easing analytics for use in the enterprise, IBM is also marketing the service to companies of a lesser size — SMBs.

"Large companies are further along in adopting analytics, while SMBs are falling behind," said John Mason, GM of IBM's midmarket business. "With Watson Analytics, we are really trying to make the power of an analytics solution more accessible."

The freemium pricing model is the obvious tactic IBM plans to use to accomplish the data democratization fete, as it gives users a taste of Watson's natural language querying and cognition capabilities at not upfront cost.

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IBM is still mum on the package details of Watson Analytics, but it's likely that the freemium version will include connectors to basic data sources such as CSV files, while the upgraded fee-based version will connect to a more robust pool of SMB data sources such as accounting software, CRM and HR tools. IBM's theory is that the free version will entice users to want to drill deeper into their data, and eventually pay to do so. 

"It is a very aggressive strategy for IBM," said Eric Sall, VP of worldwide marketing for business analytics at IBM. "It puts the power of analytics in anyone’s hands. And it's appealing to the SMB market in the sense that they can leverage the product for free, and then as they use it more and more they will realize that they want to upgrade."

Beyond pricing, however, Sall outlined a few key areas where IBM is targeting the SMB market.

First is the automation aspect, which Sall said is particularly useful for SMBs, where workers are often juggling several roles at once, making it difficult to focus on the complexities of big data.

"We're trying to anticipate a user's needs by pushing out what is relevant to what they are trying to do," Sall said. "Watson holds your hand and takes you down the analytical journey — it is really trying to take the pressure off of users."

IBM is also hoping SMBs will appreciate Watson's familiar, unified user interface. Sall said that not only is the UX "very visual," but also intuitive.

And much of that intuition is tied to Watson's natural language processing. It allows users to ask Watson questions in plain English, which the system then translates into a data language for querying.

"This is really powerful stuff for a small business user," Sall said, "because they are thinking about the business problem and not the technology."

And because Watson Analytics is a cloud service, Sall said there are no barriers for SMBs wary of investing in expensive infrastructure.

"It's all part of removing the barriers for business users," Sall said. "It removes the barrier of data preparation and understanding — and ultimately it removes the price barrier by making it so that they do not have to purchase anything."

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