IBM invites partners to get cognitive with Watson Build

LAS VEGAS — The emergence of Watson and the cognitive computing movement as IBM’s big push has certainly been the major message at the company’s PartnerWorld Leadership Conference here, as has the push by IBM to make a pretty “out there” concept real to a broader swath of its partners. It will continue that push Thursday as it invites attendees to try their hands at their own Watson-powered project with what it calls the Watson Build.

The concept was built out of the company’s own internal Cognitive Build effort, which saw about 75 per cent of IBM’s global workforce, regardless of technical background or not, get the training basics they need, then group up to identify opportunities to either offer a new service or reinvent and refine an existing internal IBM service or process. Winning apps will be made available in the future on the IBM Marketplace online.

Watson Build combines elements of a hackathon, jam session, and Shark Tank-style business pitch show, with some training and education sprinkled on top for flavour. It starts at PWLC with the education element, and encouraging attendees to think about what they can do differently for their clients with the data-crunching and machine learning capabilities of Watson. Partners will then have the opportunity to “build out” their ideas, ultimately putting their ideas forward for consideration to Big Blue.

Top ideas from each geography will be developed further by the creating partner with help from IBM, leading to the top seven getting a chance to make their Dragon’s Den/Shark Tank pitch for why theirs is a good solution to bring to market. Those solutions will be ultimately built out by the partner with IBM’s help, and will have the chance to go to market on the Marketplace. All viable solutions brought forward will be offered at least some degree of incubator support from IBM in hopes of ultimately developing new market-worthy applications from them.

The effort is a key pillar in IBM’s effort, omni-present at this event, to get partners familiar, and comfortable, with the workings of Watson — not just from a marketing pitch perspective, but from a technological and business processes perspective. The message to partners is being repeated in various forms from almost all presenters at the event — “Now is the time for you to really understand Watson.”

And clearly, the company feels the best way for partners to get in-depth with Watson is to “get dirty” in building out a real solution with the cloud-based thinking machine. It echoes the advice from Jamie Mendez, director of PartnerWorld marketing at IBM, on how a partner that has heretofore been uninvolved with Watson can get their foot in the door.

“Start with one idea, build it out, build industry expertise, and build a practice area,” Mendez suggested. “It’s all about about the proof-of-concept. Use that as a stepping stone to get into the next steps. Start with something very small, and grow it from there.”

Mendez suggested partners set up workshops with customers to further identify any of their problems — those under the purview of IT and those that have previously been outside of it — that can be solved by applying data, or even those that have been previously solved, but can be “solved better” with the help of the cognitive engine.

At this point, she added, IBM has “hundreds of stories” about how cognitive can be applied to business, ranging from obvious and relatively small incremental changes in business processes, to taking businesses in completely new directions. Those, she said, can serve as inspiration for partners to think through their own customers’ current and potential opportunities.