Becoming a cognitive business: 6 takeaways from IBM Insight 2015

CEO, Amyx+McKinsey

No one in the technology industry is a stranger to change, but data derived from the Internet of Things (IoT) is taking disruption to another level entirely. At IBM Insight 2015, Bob Picciano, senior vice president of IBM Analytics, described the rise of the “cognitive business”—an enterprise that engages with analytics to enhance its customer relations, business processes and decision-making capabilities.

No one knows what the future holds for the Internet of Things, but those who know it best expect that by 2020, the marketplace will be include anywhere from 50 billion to 75 billion connected objects. We can expect such growth to bring unprecedented challenges for hardware manufacturing and development. Indeed, software engineers might need to revamp programs to adequately exploit the attendant influx of data, and innovators will certainly need to wrestle with the changes wrought by analytics.

IBM conducted the Insight 2015 conference with an eye to this coming wave of disruption. Accordingly, the lineup of corporate speakers harmonized on the same theme: Analytics is for everyone, and the viability of a business in the marketplace depends on it. In doing so, the presenters touched on several particularly relevant points:

1. The design process is changing that uses repeated iterations to achieve a workable solution will be supported by massive quantities of data. Data aggregation from diverse sources will form the foundation of everything, from prototyping and manufacturing devices to IT response to security breaches.

2. Its snowing: Text customers about your new movie app
New data streams will inform existing ones. Increasing numbers of corporate partnerships will share data with each other, while also drawing on data freely available from government, social and media platforms, to create exhaustive snapshots of needs, correlations and trends. For an early example, witness the IBM partnerships with The Weather Company and Twitter.

3. AI is interacting with people
Artificial intelligence (AI) is an integral part of deriving value from data, especially as its interactive abilities become ever more effective. Insight attendees were treated to demonstrations of what IBM Watson can do, but even in general, AI is beginning to address a wide range of issues. Natural language ability is laying the foundation for this trend by allowing AI to comprehend and generate unique responses to human speech.

4. Predictive maintenance is solving problems ahead of time
IoT devices and sensors can highlight appliance or home-based problems before serious issues arise. Whirlpool’s Laurent Borne noted that use of IoT sensors in commercial appliances can significantly boost customer satisfaction—such as when, for example, a leaking hose triggers a text message that warns you to fix the problem before the house floods. Ever pulled out an empty milk carton from the refrigerator? IoT sensors could make such occurrences a thing of the past by sending a resupply list when supplies in the cooler fall below preset levels.

5. Complex analytics will be widely available
Remember ENIAC? When the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer made its debut in the 1940s, it largely eased the load on humans who were developing accurate firing tables. Indeed, the most advanced computer systems have generally been used only to address complex issues and have been accessible only to a few. But that era is over. Raj Singh, CEO of Go Moment, elaborated on this point when he described the Ivy virtual concierge app, which has been adopted by more than 20 million customers. Ivy helps guests get what they want when they want it, and it does it using Watson’s natural language API.

6. Cognitive systems will cast new light on dark data
Companies can harvest and exploit enormous quantities of data—but they usually don’t. Partly they don’t because such data exists in unstructured forms—for example, a company might store call center logs or archive sales emails for years without ever bringing it back into the light of day. Such data, called dark data, might be stored but doing little. In some cases, it might even become a liability. However, as cognitive ecosystems develop, captured data is being used to uncover new insights about customers, products, services and businesses, laying entire marketplace ecosystems bare.

Insight 2015 turned attendees on to the most important trends in data usage and management, but it also served as a wake-up call for developers, engineers and technology leaders. As the Internet of Things alters the landscape of analytics, making the most of the data available means changing how we do hardware design, adopting new approaches to software development and being more agile in our technology management than ever before.