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Introducing Insight Cloud Services at IBM Insight 2015

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Big Data Evangelist, IBM

If you were wondering whether IBM would make an important announcement at Insight 2015 around the Internet of Things, all you had to do was wait until Wednesday morning. The Internet of Things was at the heart of the announcement that IBM is acquiring The Weather Company’s digital assets. As an IBM analytics senior vice president stated at the start of the general session, this acquisition is fundamental to IBM “building a cognitive business around every connected thing in the Internet of Things.”

With The Weather Company acquisition, IBM gains a high-volume cloud platform that ingests, processes, analyzes and distributes enormous sensor-data sets at scale in real time. The company’s sophisticated models analyze data from three billion weather forecast reference points, more than 40 million smartphones and 50,000 airplane flights per day. This immense Internet of Things data resource enables IBM to offer a broad range of data-driven products and services to more than 5,000 clients in the media, aviation, energy, insurance and government industries. 

Looking beyond this announcement, the large IBM solution strategy is an important component in the Insight Cloud Services (ICS) initiative. Rather than break up IBM’s ICS activities into separate blogs, this week’s events at IBM Insight 2015 can be painted into a larger picture that began long before this week and will clearly deepen in the coming months and years.

Illustrating the posibilities

On day one of Insight 2015, IBM announced that it is establishing a new ICS solution group delivering data-as-a-service offerings for a wide range of industries. The Weather Company and Twitter partnerships are central to the IBM ICS strategy, and the new group’s mission can be defined with the following aims: 

  • Providing customers with easy-to-use, prebuilt cloud services that don’t require deep domain knowledge
  • Protecting customer data by complying with IBM’s highly strict data privacy and security policies 
  • Helping customers integrate external data with their own data to render what’s important to them to use without complexity  
  • Providing customers with specialized analytical models so they can understand context, detect more signals, make high-quality predictions and take enhanced actions 
  • Enabling customers to easily embed data and insights into mobile apps, enterprise applications and business processes
  • Accelerating client discovery of unprecedented insights in unstructured, streaming data of all sorts
  • Providing repeatable IBM Bluemix industry solutions that leverage data sets, including but not limited to The Weather Company–sourced weather data and Twitter-sourced social media chatter. 

As discussed in the day one press conference by Joel Cawley, general manager of the new Information and Insights as a Service group at IBM, the group has responsibility for ICS and has introduced managed cloud solutions on a software-as-a-service basis. ICS solutions leverage cognitive computing, prebuilt analytics, behavioral and predictive insights, curated prebuilt data models and sets, applied data science, simple application programming interfaces (APIs) and advanced visualizations to extract fresh insights from dark data.

Highlighting key solutions

When explored through tools such as Apache Spark and IBM Watson Analytics, these curated ICS data sets can help organizations rapidly turn these insights into disruptive business outcomes. The solutions leverage entity analytics for connecting related data about people, business, geospatial locations and events including client, open and third-party data. These specific ICS solutions were announced on Monday, 26 October 2015, at Insight: 

  • Consumer products: Weather alerts for health and wellness, social merchandising, demand insights and market insights
  • Cross-industry: Weather insights, insights for weather on Bluemix, and insights for Twitter on Bluemix 
  • Energy and utilities: Weather insights and outage prediction
  • Government: Weather insights and weather for emergency management
  • Insurance: Weather insights and weather alerts
  • Media and entertainment: Fan insights for sports and live entertainment and market insights
  • Retail: Social merchandising and demand insights

As I discussed in a blog post summarizing day one at Insight 2015, Monday culminated in the Weather Underground live broadcast from the Social VIP lounge. At that time, little did we in the lounge realize that WUTV would soon become another IBM offering in the growing ICS portfolio. 

Showcasing innovation

With these day one events as a backdrop, the ICS highlight of day two was undoubtedly the Hack the Weather finals. As I reported in the day two recap, the winner was Team Weatherway. Two recent blogs from Monica Fox and me discuss the hackathon that led to this moment. Check out the photo of the team receiving a physically oversized check for $5,000 from Cawley. 

The other finalist, Team SmarterData, was also very strong, and the judges, who included Insight 2015 emcee Jake Porway, said that this decision was difficult. Here is a snapshot of Team SmarterData doing their presentation during the finals. 

If you want to see the presentations at the September hackathon that got both teams invited to Insight 2015, check out these streams of Weatherway and SmarterData. Take a look at yet another shot of the eminently genial Porway, just before the judging commenced. 

And check out this on-ramp to IBM Insight Cloud Services. In addtion, harness the power of IBM Bluemix and Apache Spark to hack weather-related data challenges. Submit your supersmart weather apps in the Sparkathon: It’s Raining Data hackathon. Registration takes place through 20 January 2016. The competition offers $30,000 in prizes.