Archive for September 2014

Quick Thoughts on Watson Analytics


IBM has had a ton of announcements around Watson, their cognitive computing platform. A couple of weeks ago it was Watson Discovery and earlier this week it was Watson Analytics. Still a Beta program, Watson Analytics is a cloud based cognitive computing analytics package with a user friendly interface. It is an important step in the evolution of cognitive computing platforms for the following reasons:

  1. It makes it easy for anyone to use cognitive computing. Truth be told, a lot of cognitive computing have been science experiments. They relied on teams of Ph.D-type data scientists to build models, extract and import data, and build a presentation layer for mere mortals. Watson Analytics allows people with expertise in something other than statistics and data models (in other words, real domain experts) to take advantage of the power of a cognitive computing platform. This is step one in the democratization of these platforms which might actually lead to mainstream adoption.
  2. Democratization also means lower cost. Let’s face it, the cost of all those Ph.Ds is not trivial. If a business user can do much of the work then it will cost less to leverage cognitive computing for business purposes. If you look at the use cases most vendors cite (and I have no reason to disbelieve them) they are extremely science heavy such as curing cancer (no joke!) or exploring for natural gas.
  3. Which brings up the use case question. Can cognitive computing have use cases beyond esoteric, science heavy applications? Watson Analytics looks to bring cognitive computing to the masses of business users, greatly expanding the use cases. The featured demo was, in fact, a marketing application. With Watson Analytics, IBM is attempting to make cognitive computing relevant to more business users.
  4. Danger Will Robinson! Ultimately, Watson Analytics represents a competitive danger for other vendors and, hence, an opportunity for businesses. It’s not big data analytics companies that should be worried though. The majority of analytics needs is just crunching big volumes of data in known models. The bigger problems will be for data integration vendors, especially those that integrate structured/transactional and unstructured data. Tools that help walk you through the data to build a static model will become obsolete or have limited uses cases when Watson Analytics can build a dynamic model for you. This is not a “today” problem for data integration vendors but one looming on the horizon.

The one thing I dislike about Watson Analytics is that it’s not at general availability yet. IBM has a tendency to take it’s time getting products to market. Markets are like dogs – once you show them the treat you can’t hold it back too long. Otherwise, they lose interest, find a “treat” of their own, or simply bite your hand. I’ll admit, though, that Watson has moved at something nearing light speed for a company like IBM. Here’s to hoping that the agility of the Watson Group can get Watson Analytics out of Beta soon.

What Do Analysts (Like Me) Look For?

This is an excerpt from a larger paper (maybe ebook) I’ve been writing on how companies interact with industry analysts. It is especially useful to companies that can’t seem to get traction with analysts. If you think that you can’t get the attention of analysts because your company is too small, the analyst business is a racket, your PR person is lazy and stupid, etc. then read this and see if it applies to you. There’s a good chance it does. Most analysts are bombarded with briefing requests from companies who seem to have no unique value i.e. are me-too companies.


Analysts look for a number of elements when looking at a company and product. Probably the most important is unique business value. What does this product or company bring to customers that no other does? How will they shake up the market? Unique value comes from a variety of sources but especially:

  • An exceptional product or feature. What about the product makes it special to customers? If a product can solve a difficult problem that no one else can, there is unique value. When products entertain, that too generates important value. Keep in mind, technology is not a product. Technology enables products but products are something people can use and will pay money for.
  • A disruptive business model. Many of the greatest companies are built on boring products but new business models. A company that can produce, sell, or distribute the same product in a new way will often beat their competitors. Amazon is a good example of a company that has done this several times. When they started selling books to people it was nothing new. Selling books over the internet, which allowed for rock bottom prices and unlimited selection, was very new.
  • New forms of operating a business. Delivering best in class service and support, superior manufacturing quality and speed, and high degrees of customization are all bound tightly to the operations of a company. Companies with flexible and efficient operations tend to bring customers special value even if it’s not seen that way. Dell, for example, may have started as a company with a unique business model for the time – they were less expensive because they only sold over the phone and then through the internet – but that special value has long passed. Instead, their manufacturing capabilities and efficiencies have allowed them to create highly personalized versions of standard computer products as quickly, efficiently, and inexpensively as if they were standard products.

Besides unique value, analysts will also look for visionaries since these often signal the future of the market. This is especially true of the CEO. If the CEO seems hidebound, it’s likely the company will be equally so and will possess little unique value going forward. Vision is useless, however, if the company cannot execute on the vision. Most analysts will try and understand whether a company has the operational capacity, financial resources, and sheer will to make the vision a reality.


Hope that helps.