Machine learning and cognitive computing have emerged as two of the hottest topics in digital marketing during this year, and look set to dominate much of the discussion in 2017. Yet many marketers are only just coming to an appreciation of technologies that have been under development for more than a decade.

In large measure, that is because practical applications for cognitive computing through platforms like IBM’s Watson have emerged only in recent years.

These issues were covered in detail at a recent series of senior executive round tables hosted by IBM and ADMA in Sydney and Melbourne.

In simple terms, think of Watson as a very large computer system that sits in the cloud and has advanced cognitive capabilities — including the ability to ingest data, learn from that data and then provide answers by interacting in a variety of ways with people and systems.

Most famously, it lets users talk to it in plain speech.

These abilities — learning and human interaction — are often thought of as artificial intelligence or virtual reality. It is better to think of them as augmented reality, as their primary benefit is to assist and augment human intelligence.

Watson sits at the heart of IBM’s cognitive strategy, and it allows people to interact in an intelligent way with IBM‘s offerings and products. There are cognitive solutions beyond the Watson platform, however it is fair to say that Watson is the core system that delivers the most advanced solutions today.

So how is IBM extending Watson into the market? There are three ways.

First, Watson is a series of application programming interfaces (APIs). For organisations with their own digital applications, this is a relatively easy and inexpensive way to integrate cognitive capabilities into their own digital applications. For example, a company could choose to plug in to Watson for its speech recognition, or to help recognise and tag images.

The goal here is to make it easy for organisations to work with Watson and help them get started.

The second way we are helping to extend Watson is by building it into our products.

Take a marketing cloud, for instance, which many companies have acquired. An important part of a marketing cloud is the analytics services it provides for marketers, and increasingly we are building Watson capabilities into our cloud to augment these services.

In the past, IBM has typically worked with large government and enterprises. That’s why our traditional client base — in banking and governments and other large organisations — is always well represented in what we do.

These days, however, as we are delivering cognitive capabilities into software-as-aservice apps, those barriers of entry are coming down and opening up opportunities for companies with which we have not traditionally worked in the past.The third way we are extending Watson is through our partners — many of whom, because of the nature of their business and their scale, are more nimble than an organisation with 380,000 employees with IBM.

We are making cognitive services available to third parties as a way of unlocking and unleashing their creativity and helping them to help their clients.

Marketers can expect to see a lot more from IBM. You will see cognitive capabilities embedded into our commercial products. Just as importantly you will be able to build cognitive capabilities into your own systems as you compete against the ever-rising tide of customer expectations in the competition for a greater share of wallet.

About the Author

Tim Doidge, IBM’s Watson Marketing and Watson Commerce Manager, ANZ. IBM is a corporate member of the Which-50 Digital Intelligence Unit. Members contribute their expertise and insights to Which-50 for the benefit of our senior executive audience. Membership fees apply.

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