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IBM Insight 2015, day 1: Observations, announcements and insights

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Big Data Evangelist, IBM

IBM Insight 2015 marks the tenth straight Insight conference I’ve attended. In fact, I’ve attended all of them, starting with the Anaheim event in 2006 during my years as an industry analyst—way back when the event was known as IBM Information on Demand.

To say I’m comfortable and familiar with the structure and flow of this annual IBM analytics event would be an understatement. As in recent years, I took my accustomed place in blogger’s row in the EXPO. It was good to see the effervescent Jake Porway emcee this year’s general session, just as he has to great effect in the past. And of course, IBM analytics executives—Bob Picciano, Mike Rhodin and others—provided their usual succinct overview of the challenges IBM customers face and the organization’s strategic investments to address those imperatives. They also summarized investment in the partnerships—Box, Twitter and The Weather Company—that extend and deepen its capabilities.

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My standard practice has been to take notes of the general sessions in the form of my tweets. However, this year I didn’t have to work quite as hard as I have in the past, for the simple reason that a colleague shared the tweeting responsibilities. Louis Cherian, who co-manages the @ibmbigdata channel—and an important colleague in the Technical Marketing sector for IBM Big Data & Analytics Hub—joined me at Insight 2015. Because Cherian handled much of the keyboarding, I took more than my usual share of snapshots with my iPhone and my personal digital camera. I was also on the look out in the Twitter stream for the choicest photographs taken by any of the thousands of other onlookers in the Mandalay Bay EXPO. For example, here is a double selfie with Cherian I took just before the general session started.

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Those who want to watch the general session should check out the replay. For a quick summary, here’s my recap of the key IBM announcements, based on what I jotted down, what Cherian and others recorded in their tweets and the video I reran to double-check everything.

New community

A new IBM analytics solution group that uses cognitive computing, curated data sets, simple application programming interfaces (APIs) and applied data science to extract fresh insights from dark data was announced. IBM Insight Cloud Services provides repeatable IBM Bluemix industry solutions that leverage data sets from IBM Business Partners such as Twitter and The Weather Company. New IBM industry analytics data packages in energy and utilities, government, healthcare, insurance and other sectors support cloud-based explorations by data scientists and analysts.

When sifted through IBM Watson and IBM Analytics for Apache Spark, these curated data sets can guide organizations more rapidly to insights that they can operationalize inside business applications. In keeping with this announcement, Twitter and The Weather Company executives discussed how their organizations’ respective weather and social data sets are helping IBM customers, such as Coca-Cola, to discover practical business insights in rich data sets.

Executives from ecosystem partners GoMoment and Wine4Me discussed how their Watson-driven cognitive applications enrich the consumer experience in the hospitality and wine retailing industries, respectively. And an executive from StatSocial discussed how its cognitive application enables companies to factor personality variables into fine-grained targeting of marketing campaigns to diverse population segments.

New cloud

A new IBM analytics cloud offering places on-demand machine learning, streaming analytics and graph modeling at the fingertips of developers. Analytics for Apache Spark emerged from extensive beta testing as a subscription-based, Bluemix cluster-computing service. In addition, IBM underlined its commitment to Spark in the cloud by announcing the integration of the service into 13 of its analytics and commercial solutions, including its predictive analytics and enterprise content management portfolios. And IBM announced that it has made over 60 contributions to the Spark project and hired 35 new Spark contributors in the several months since announcing its multileveled commitment to Spark.

New solution

A new IBM analytics solution was announced that infers user intent to accelerate visual development of business intelligence (BI) and statistical analysis outputs. IBM Cognos Analytics provides iterative guidance to help knowledge workers develop well-suited models and discover the best data available to find the insights they seek. Smart search capabilities leverage keyword inputs to identify the right menu-driven and other feature options to facilitate development and sharing of the most appropriate analytics outputs without assistance from IT.

For those attendees wanting to go deeper into these and other announcements, there were ample supersessions and breakouts later in the day to satisfy their curiosity. In addition to the announcements highlighted here, plenty of discussion was heard about new cognitive features, industry solutions and insight cloud services introduced into the Watson portfolio to enrich our capabilities and to add value to offerings from Business Partners. And many sessions went into depth on the power of IBM Watson Analytics Expert Storybooks, which IBM introduced just two weeks prior to Insight 2015.

In addition to all this news, fun, entertainment and creative design were rampant in the multimedia extravaganza of the day one general session. Ken Jennings made a cameo appearance in a video, where he teased fellow Jeopardy! champion Watson about the difficulties that cognitive computing applications face in detecting sarcasm. When the system failed to detect a bit of Jennings’ snark, Jennings graciously told the otherwise all-knowing Watson: “I can help with that.”

To illustrate the concept of embodied cognition, a cute Watson-powered robot named Pepper appeared on stage during Rhodin’s keynote. The robot offered the IBM executive helpful guidance in cognitive cooking, comparison shopping, personality insights and much more.

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Last but definitely not least for day one, Weather Underground, a live TV broadcast on The Weather Company’s Weather Channel was delivered from the Great Lawn at Mandalay Bay’s Social VIP lounge. The on-site host of the two-hour broadcast carried on a remote conversation with a meteorologist in the network’s Atlanta studios while also interviewing guests such a Paul Walsh, The Weather Company’s meteorologist who recently authored two blogs on the Hub.

Stay tuned for a recap posting of day two happenings at Insight 2015. And take a look at these on-ramps for each of the new solutions: 

In addition, deepen data science explorations in BIWatson Analytics, the open and unified analytics platformApache Hadoop, and Spark:

And engage with data scientists exploring the use of Spark, machine learning and cognitive computing by connecting live and direct at Datapalooza, 10–12 November 2015, in San Francisco, California.