September 26, 2017. Technical Data Intelligence Author: John Watkins

De-mystifying IBM’s Watson Technologies

The IBM cognitive technologies are an incredibly dynamic and quickly developing area, so it is quite likely that the following material is already a little out of date. To account for this, wherever possible, I have provided links which the reader can use to get the very most up to date information.


What is Watson and Cognitive Computing?

For many people, Watson is that talking computer that beat the top two Jeopardy players in a face-to-face showdown.

IBM will tell you that “IBM Watson is a technology platform that used natural language processing and machine learning to reveal insights from large amounts of unstructured data.”

Strictly speaking, Watson describes a collection of cognitive computing solutions – that is, solutions that perform their tasks using human models of thought 1, including the ability to:

  • Understand and use natural language in text and speech
  • Employ human models of search, such as heuristics or rules of thumb
  • Explore and analyse data, identify patterns, recognise relationships in data, form hypothesis and articulate conclusions. All controlled by confidence levels and certainty measures.
  • Learn by experience, create new rules, add or modify previous knowledge and modify behaviour.

However, IBM Watson is a broad-church - the Watson brand has been applied to a number of products, not all of which are truly cognitive solutions but which often use advanced analytics techniques to appear to be smart.

On a side note, the name Watson is not based on the sidekick of Arthur Conan-Doyle’s famous detective Sherlock Holmes, it’s is in fact inspired by the name of IBM’s first CEO – Thomas J Watson.


Watson Products, Solutions and Services

The Watson family is an incredibly fast growing product suite as you can see below. I’ve touched briefly on each product but to find out further information please visit the links available.

Watson Analytics - Uncover new insights quickly and easily with automated data analysis, automatic visualisation and predictive analytics.

Watson Company Analyser - Company analysis; reduces the time and effort to collect, digest and synthesize information for building strategic business relationships.  

Watson Engagement Advisor - Bringing intelligence to automated self-service through interaction with customers, listens to questions and offers solutions. Engagement Advisor learns with every human interaction and grows its collection of knowledge, quickly adapting to the way humans think.  

Watson Explorer – Takes customers beyond enterprise search by accessing and analysing structured and unstructured content. Allows anyone in the enterprise to analyse any data source, identify patterns and relationships, identify insights and take better informed actions. 

Watson for Finance - IBM is partnering with financial institutions to teach Watson the business of retail and institutional banking. The ability to consume vast amounts of information to identify patterns and make informed hypotheses naturally make Watson an excellent solution to help make informed decisions about investment choices, trading patterns and risk management.

Watson for Health Care - Is pioneering a new partnership between humanity and technology with the goal of transforming global health. Cognitive systems that understand, reason and learn are helping people expand their knowledge base, improve their productivity and deepen their expertise. With cognitive computing, we are now able to see health data that was previously hidden and do more than we ever thought possible.

Watson Knowledge Studio - Supervised machine learning enabling subject matter experts and developers to teach Watson the linguistic nuances of industries and knowledge domains.

Watson for Oncology - Gives oncologists the assistance they need to make more informed treatment decisions. Watson for Oncology analyses a patient’s medical information against a vast array of data and expertise to provide evidence-based treatment options.

Watson Developer Cloud – Use Watson to build your Apps. Enable Cognitive Computing features in your App using IBM Watson's Language, Vision, Speech and Data APIs. These APIs can be added to your code to add specific Watson capabilities to your solutions. The Watson APIs are available within Bluemix, and are grouped under:

  • Language
  • Speech
  • Vision
  • Data Insights

How the Channel can Leverage Watson

So which Watson solutions can business partners actually resell?

  • Watson Explorer (on premise)
  • Watson Developer Cloud (API subscription)

Which Watson solutions can business partners incorporate into their own Solutions?

  • Watson Explorer plus Watson Developer Cloud as an Embedded Solution Agreement (ESA)
  • Watson Explorer alone as part of an ESA agreement or an Application Specific Licensing (ASL) solution
  • Watson Developer Cloud, purchase a subscription from Bluemix and incorporate Watson APIs into the solution

The BP solution must undergo an IBM verification process in order to use any Watson branding on their solutions.


Which Watson Services can Business partners leverage? 

Watson Academy for enablement through PartnerWorld Use Case Workshop.

Once the business partner is enabled and has their use case defined, there is a technical hand holding for the build of the MVP, then the same for the build of their product.

There is also access to the partner rooms at IBM Hursley so that the business partner can develop on IBM systems, giving them greater access to support and resources.


As I mentioned at the start of this article, the world of Watson is extremely face-paced and things are changing rapidly. We'll aim to keep your updated with significant changes to the portfolio and be sure to check out the links featured here to find out more information. 


1. There is some significant debate in the IT world about whether Watson is a truly cognitive technology in a purist Artificial Intelligence sense; it’s possible to simulate “intelligent computer behaviour” by throwing massive modern computing power at a problem. However, pragmatically Watson as a brand has caught the imagination of a massive potential customer base, and it has provided new computing models for solving a large range of tasks that have previously been considered difficult or even impossible to solve.

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