My Top Takeaways from IBM World of Watson Day 1

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IBM World of Watson has been a marvelous whirlwind of learning, announcements, and insights. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed learning so many different ways to manage data and analytics and wanted to share my top takeaways from day 1.

The Evolution of Analytics

If you recall, I once posted about the hierarchy of analytics, about how we evolve from collecting stuff to making use of stuff.


Watson’s cognitive computing capabilities are helping us move up the hierarchy. Some of Watson’s predictive analytics and unsupervised learning skills mean it’s legitimately predictive, knowing what is likely to happen.

Watson still isn’t proactive in the sense that it will simply do marketing analytics for us – yet. That said, I don’t think it will be many years before Watson becomes proactive. We marketers should be ready! As cognitive computing advances, we should be focusing our career growth and skills on the strategy of marketing with data-driven insights, the “what” and “why”; artificial intelligence will trivialize the “how”.

Watson Analytics Geo-Spatial Mapping

A much-needed feature is coming to Watson Analytics: intelligent mapping. We have tons of geo-spatial data, from zip codes to GPS coordinates, and plenty of visualization tools can turn them into pretty charts. Not many tools can do distance between points and predictive analytics on those distances. One of the most powerful use cases demonstrated was where to locate a business based on hour-by-hour traffic flows:

I’m looking forward to Watson Analytics’ implementation of predictive mapping. For marketers, we have an enormous amount of geo-data we’re not using at all. There’s bound to be diamonds amidst all our data we will be able to use.

Watson Analytics API

Another long-overdue feature Watson Analytics has needed for a while? An API! We all have lots of data stored in odd places, from SQL servers to Docker containers to social media apps. Until now, we’ve had to extract data manually, normalize it in a data store, and then pass the cleansed data into Watson Analytics. With the new API, we can pass the data directly in and let Watson Analytics figure out what’s usable and what’s not.

The API is live and available to the public today. Once we start connecting our marketing technology to the API, we’ll be able to do predictive modeling and discovery much more easily among all our marketing data sets – and eventually ask Watson to join disparate data sets together for us.

Imagine not having to blend social media data and web analytics data by hand any longer!

Spark and Scala

The last head-shredding moment for me was learning how Apache Spark and Scala work with MapReduce and Hadoop. Spark and MapReduce are two pieces of software which help marketers and data scientists understand massive volumes of unstructured data. Imagine taking every email your customer service center has received and storing it, or every Tweet you’ve interacted with, or every blog post on the planet.

Now imagine using relatively straightforward queries, asking a database to give you useful insights about that massive body of data. How many times does our company name appear? What keywords, entities, and relationships exist between documents, inside our text?

That’s the promise of Spark and Scala – to let us query massive volumes of text without waiting hours or days for an answer. I’m eager to create a server and start loading up data!

The Value of World of Watson

What I value most about events like World of Watson are the recipes. Most of us, I would hope, understand the value of analytics, the value of data. We don’t question why analytics is important to the enterprise. Coming to an event like World of Watson helps us fill in the gaps in our knowledge about what’s possible and how to do it. I’m eager to learn more in the days ahead, and I’ll share my learnings as I do.


IBM has paid for me to attend World of Watson and provide unbiased coverage of the event. They have not provided content for me to publish, but ask that I do publish during the event on blogs and social media in exchange for free admission and travel expenses.

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