MWC 2014: IBM Forges a New Odd Couple – Analytics and Mobility

Brad Shimmin
Brad Shimmin

Summary Bullets:

  • Mobile business intelligence at present focuses on refitting the desktop experience for use “in the field.”
  • IBM’s recent efforts to ply IBM Watson as a driver of mobile app development, however, turns this idea on its head, asking not how something should be built but instead what should be built.

There’s no doubt about it.  Mobile World Congress is cool.  It’s hip, chic, whatever superlative you care to mention in describing the industry’s preeminent mobile show, held annually in Barcelona, Spain.  Where else could you find the introduction of the potentially NSA-proof SGP Technologies Blackphone, a curtain call for last year’s dual-screen darling Yota YotaPhone, or the “smarter than Alex Trebek” Jeopardy contestant-cum-mainframe IBM Watson.  Wait a minute.  IBM Watson?

IBM’s natural language and artificial intelligence powerhouse, Watson, could certainly be considered impressive, perhaps even industry-changing, especially for the enterprise data and analytics marketplace, where the democratization of data (big, small, fast, slow, etc.) is seeking to put business decision-making power into the hands of average business users.  IBM Watson can definitely make a difference there by helping to guide users through the sometimes treacherous dos and don’ts of analytics.  (For more on IBM’s growing support of Watson, see our recent report on the formation of the Watson Group in mid-January.)   However, that does not make Watson cool or even mobile, not by Mobile World Congress standards.

IBM begs to differ.  In a rare appearance, IBM CEO Ginni Rometty actually took the center stage at Mobile World Congress last week to introduce the IBM Watson Mobile Developer Challenge.  This contest seeks to drive developer interest in building Watson-enabled mobile apps.  The idea is to encourage the development of mobile apps that don’t just expose valuable business insights lurking within huge amounts of data, but those that also discover the right questions to ask of that data.  Imagine a sales manager opening up an app much like Google Now and asking the simple question: “What clients should I worry about today?”

Still, I’m not sure how important Watson’s natural language processing capabilities are in this instance.  An analytics query should never be carried out as casually as inquiring about the weather or tomorrow’s baseball schedule.  Actually, I don’t even think mobility is the most important element at play here, except for its ability to liberate data from the confines of both the desktop and the data scientist.  What strikes me as the most important facet of this challenge and its announcement is IBM’s daring vision for Watson itself – to make Watson available everywhere, within line-of-business applications, within highly specialized industries (it’s already at play in the medical field), and of course, within your mobile phone.

It may seem odd to think of Watson in the palm of your hand, but today’s Watson is 90% smaller than its original progenitor, which appeared on Jeopardy.  It’s only a matter of time before elements of Watson will be not just accessible via the cloud, but mobilized in their own right.  In this way, mobilizing Watson will uncover many heretofore unknown use cases and opportunities for business intelligence.  That makes for an excellent opportunity for IBM and the business intelligence vendor community as a whole to democratize data and bring it to a much wider audience.  With this developer challenge, IBM can prove that mobile business intelligence is much more than a slightly diminished but more mobile rendition of the classic desktop user experience.  And that is the very definition of cool.

What do you think?

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