IBM Watson CTO: ‘Data is the lifeblood of every business’

14 Jul 2017

Bryson Koehler, CTO of IBM Watson and IBM Cloud, and GM and distinguished engineer at IBM. Image: Luke Maxwell

For our five-minute CIO series, we spoke to IBM’s Bryson Koehler about the future of data in business.

Bryson Koehler is CTO of IBM Watson and IBM Cloud, as well as general manager and distinguished engineer for IBM.

As CTO, Koehler leads the architectural charge to bring together the cognitive and AI computing capabilities of IBM Watson Machine Learning, a cloud-native, infrastructure-as-a-service architecture; data and analytics, the IBM Watson Data Platform; IBM Cloud Video; and The Weather Company.

‘A third of the world’s GDP is impacted by weather every single day’

Future Human

Before joining IBM, Koehler served as CTO for The Weather Company, where he led the company’s transformation by building one of the world’s largest IoT/data platforms — this was an integral factor in IBM’s decision to acquire the company.

He has also served as operating partner with Exigen Capital, senior vice-president of Global Revenue, and guest technology for InterContinental Hotels Group, and has also led teams at Vicorp, USWeb and Arthur Andersen Business Consulting.

Tell me about The Weather Company’s work that made it of interest to IBM?

The Weather Channel was a media business and it had been in business for 20 to 30 years, and we knew we needed to change. And so, the journey to become The Weather Company was the journey about becoming a big data software business, and helping use technology to provide insights to people and businesses to help them make smarter decisions.

If you think about your own life, the weather drives a lot of your decision-making. Am I going to walk to lunch, am I going to have to take a taxi, will I eat outside, what will I do this weekend?

Those decisions in your own personal life are influenced by weather and that trickles down to businesses and so, businesses are heavily influenced by weather.

In fact, a third of the world’s GDP is impacted by weather every single day.

Helping businesses make smarter decisions related to weather was what we turned the business into and that was obviously very attractive to IBM, because IBM is all about using technology to help businesses to become more competitive, more cost-effective, more profitable, to help them to grow and make smart decisions.

And so, it was a very natural fit. The Weather Company has been using machine learning for decades and evolving those models, evolving the skill and capability of our machine learning to help make our forecasts be the world’s most accurate.

If The Weather Company is a metaphor for the journey of data, can other businesses also realise that their data is their unique selling point?

Data is the lifeblood of every business. And, for a long time, businesses spent a lot of time and money putting data into a data warehouse or into a storage system. And then that data would just sit there and collect dust, digital dust. It would just get old. People wouldn’t use it properly. People wouldn’t explore that data. And, to get the insights you need to make those smarter decisions, you have to see data as a living, breathing entity of your business – just like your employees of your business are.

For me, the focus is on bringing The Weather Company into IBM; reworking a lot of our evolution of the Watson Data Platform, Watson itself, the IBM Cloud, all of these things. It’s all been focused on data, because data – whether it is big data or, more and more now, small data; small data packets coming from IoT devices, from sensors, from the iPad, from your phone, from your car, your refrigerator – gives us great insight into the world around us, into your life, and into helping make a better decision for you and the business that you work in.

Where is Watson at in its development as a platform?

There is no one Watson. There is no giant machine that is there. Be it Deep Blue playing chess or Watson playing Jeopardy!, these are great ways to showcase to the general population the capabilities of where AI or machine learning or deep learning all come together.

So, Watson is a cognitive system and it brings together many different variables and many different elements, ranging the full spectrum of machine learning to deep learning, bringing AI to play and bringing it to life in applications.

Watson is a series of APIs; it is a series of capabilities that leverage a full breadth of AI computing, foundational systems and capabilities across the board.

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John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years