In this series, we’re examining the underpinnings, the infrastructure that gives rise to marketing technology. Today, we’ll examine one of the most advanced powerhouse players in infrastructure provision: IBM Bluemix.
IBM Bluemix is a relative newcomer to the scene; IBM’s technology hasn’t always been available to developers except for the largest companies; only in the last two years has it truly become generally available. Let’s take a look at the pieces that are relevant to us as marketers and marketing technologists.
Great data platforms help us maintain clean, compatible data and permit us to choose just the right data from enormous raw pools.
Inside IBM Bluemix, we care most about these data offerings:
- Structured data storage with cloud databases like SQL DB, ClearDB (MySQL), DB2, and PostgreSQL
- Unstructured data storage with Apache Hadoop, ElasticSearch Compose, and MongoDB
- IBM DataWorks for integrating and ingesting multiple third party data sources
- File and binary data with IBM Object Storage
IBM’s Bluemix cloud offering is the most robust in terms of database technology, but offers little in file and binary storage. For marketing technologists seeking file storage, they may need to use Amazon S3 or Google Cloud Storage.
In terms of database technology, advanced marketing technologists will want to pay special attention to the Spark/Hadoop combination, combined with ClearDB, as a comprehensive, flexible way to store and process large quantities of data.
Marketing technologists may also find additional benefit in DataWorks, for integrating and normalizing multiple, disparate data sources.
Great analysis platforms take in many different kinds of data, clean it up, normalize it, and spit out answers in multiple formats, from reports to charts to interactive visualizations.
Inside IBM Bluemix, we care most about these analysis offerings:
- Apache Spark, for large-scale analytics on unstructured data
- BigInsights for Apache Hadoop, for API-based analytics of unstructured data
- Streaming Analytics, for processing streaming data in real-time
- IBM Graph, for large-scale network and graph diagrams
- Presence Insights, a mobile analytics platform that permits marketers to understand mobile activity on maps
- Insights for Twitter, a direct connection to the Twitter firehose and large-scale assessment of content
IBM boasts more analytics solutions for marketing technologists that are directly relevant to our work than any other provider. Some services, such as Presence Insights, don’t have a comparable competitor in the marketplace, making them especially appealing.
Marketers will want to pay special attention to Presence Insights. Despite the name, Presence Insights is very much an analytics tool, and a powerful one; if you’ve used heat maps to diagnose your website, Presence Insights can do the same for the real world.
Insight platforms combine our analysis of what happened and blend it with analysis of unstructured data to help us explain why something happened.
Inside IBM Bluemix, we care most about these analysis offerings:
- Predictive Analytics, for forecasting and analyzing structure, normalized data
- Watson Concept Insights, to explore and dissect unstructured text for analysis and prediction
- Watson Natural Language Classifier, a text prediction tool to help suggest how language sounds and what to reply with
- Watson Relationship Extraction, a text extractor which analyzes and finds relationships between entities in unstructured text
- Watson Retrieve and Rank, a predictive application which learns from existing data and creates a mathematical model for projecting forward
Marketers will find the greatest benefit in the Watson Insights applications above; each of these is powered by Watson’s machine learning technology. We face unprecedented amounts of unstructured data like Facebook posts and blog posts; the ability to process and extract meaning at scale from them is critical.
For example, a marketer may need to assess a competitor’s blog to understand what topics the competitor blogs about most. Humans can extract meaning from individual documents well, but reading through hundreds or thousands of blog posts would be difficult, if not impossible. Watson Relationship Extraction can do that – and at a reasonable cost.
Strategy platforms help us to understand what to do next. This is the pinnacle of modern computing, artificial intelligence.
IBM’s premier offering for artificial intelligence is Watson, the computer that won Jeopardy against Ken Jennings. Watson offers a variety of applications like Dialog, which conducts natural language conversations with users, and Tradeoff Analytics, which presents actionable analysis given a series of conflicting ranking factors.
The killer app in strategy isn’t Watson, however. The killer app is Bluemix itself, because it provides relatively easy, reasonably priced access to one of the world’s largest, most advanced supercomputers. For the average marketer, Watson removes cost as a sticking point for working with artificial intelligence; the only major barrier remaining is technical talent.
Conclusion: IBM Bluemix is Most Advanced
When we examine the various offerings in IBM Bluemix, we see the most advanced marketing technology stack in the marketplace today. As with Google Cloud, the primary limitation isn’t technology, but the marketer’s experience in working with the technology. If you have technical talent or hire for technical talent, you can leverage the enormous power Bluemix brings to your business.
Many of the application components in Bluemix are offered as standalone products by SaaS vendors; you could conceivably develop better products (like social media monitoring) at a fraction of the cost by tying together Bluemix components. You wouldn’t need to worry about the underlying technology, as IBM provides it at very reasonable costs.
How reasonable are these costs? I’ve been using Bluemix components in my work for over a month now, processing gigabytes of data and using advanced artificial intelligence features. I have thus far spent about $19 – orders of magnitude less than I would have paid for pre-packaged solutions.
In the next post in this series, we’ll wrap up with thoughts about how to use all these advanced marketing technology platforms.
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