IBM's Watson unit turnover: Worrisome or the norm?

IBM's Manoj Saxena, the guru behind Watson, has left to go to a venture capital fund. Is the jump worrisome or just the realization that new skills are needed to make Watson a real business unit?
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

IBM's Manoj Saxena, who oversaw development of Watson's artificial intelligence technology, has moved on to a venture fund. But that move may not mean that the Watson unit is twisting in the wind.


Big Blue has a huge bet---$1 billion or so---to make Watson a real product line that brings in an era of cognitive computing. So when Saxena quietly jumps ship to join The Entrepreneur’s Fund (TEF) it's a big deal.

Saxena will be an advisor to Watson chief Michael Rhodin, according to the Wall Street Journal. But that move won't stop the worries.

Also: IBM courts mobile developers for Watson platform

I'd argue the worries may be a bit overblown. Yes, Waston needs to prove itself as a business. Yes, IBM needs developers on board and has to turn cognitive computing into something that enterprises will covet. But Watson doesn't have a technology development problem right now. Watson has a marketing, productization and sales issue.

Saxena is a development guru, but it's unlikely he can sell Watson. At some point, technology has to exit the playing Jeopardy and whiteboard phase and into real sales. In other words, Watson's development requires a new set of skills now.

If IBM is lucky, Saxena can use its Watson knowhow to invest in companies that'll drive the cognitive computing ecosystem. Perhaps, IBM's Watson shuffle is worrisome, but it may be premature to ring any alarm bells.

Previously: IBM's Watson Group invests in Welltok | IBM Watson heads to Africa with $100m investment | IBM CEO Rometty: Watson, cognitive computing mainstreaming begins | IBM forms Watson Business Group: Will commercialization follow?

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