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Technology > Marketing Technology

'Jeopardy!' champ Watson to advise clients

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(Bloomberg) — Banking clients at DBS Group Holdings Ltd. will soon get investing assistance from Watson, the same International Business Machines Corp. technology that triumphed over human “Jeopardy!” contestants.

The Singapore-based bank plans to begin using the tool, which can answer questions in conversational language and learn from responses, in the second half of 2014 to aid financial planners in guiding its wealth-management unit’s affluent customers, IBM said today. Watson will analyze large volumes of financial data to help DBS, Southeast Asia’s largest lender, offer more customized service.

The agreement gives IBM a proving ground as it tries to show clients the value of its Watson technology. The Armonk, New York-based company announced today it’s creating a separate division for Watson to spur growth after six consecutive quarters of falling revenue.

IBM will invest more than $1 billion in the IBM Watson Group, including $100 million in venture funding for businesses that develop applications based on the technology. Based in New York with a staff of 2,000, the new unit will be separate from IBM’s hardware, software and services divisions, said Stephen Gold, vice president of Watson Solutions.

“It’s the first time that IBM is bringing together all of the disparate functions that support a business,” Gold said in an interview. “It’s a kind of doubling down.”

High-profile bet

As sluggish demand for computer hardware has dragged down sales, IBM has been selling off businesses to focus on more profitable, faster-growing areas such as data analytics and cloud computing. Watson is one of its highest-profile bets.

Michael Rhodin, senior vice president at the IBM Software Solutions Group, will lead the new division, according to a statement today. Rhodin will continue to report to Steve Mills, the senior vice president for software.

IBM has stumbled amid the industrywide shift into the cloud era, where information is stored online instead of onsite. The transition has eroded demand for traditional hardware and spawned a new crop of competitors. To cope, IBM has spent more than $7.5 billion since 2010 on 43 software business acquisitions since 2010, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

In July, the company purchased cloud-computing storage provider SoftLayer Technologies Inc. for about $2 billion. IBM will adapt Watson’s technology so it can be delivered through SoftLayer’s cloud infrastructure, it said today.

Big data

Watson and other big-data services, which let customers mine vast troves of information to make better decisions, were the company’s biggest focus in 2013, Chief Executive Officer Ginni Rometty said in March. IBM boosted its expected sales from the data-analysis business to $20 billion in 2015, compared with an earlier forecast of $16 billion.

The Watson Group will also include an incubator for businesses to build on the technology, which IBM began offering to outside developers in November. The goal was to have three apps developed on the platform ready to enter the market early this year, the company said at the time.

IBM has received about 750 requests from programmers to build applications, Gold said, declining to comment on the number allowed to use the services.

DBS is willing to invest S$15 million ($12 million) over three years in IBM’s technology, and it plans to extend the Watson service beyond wealth management to its small-business and payment services, Chief Executive Officer Piyush Gupta said today at a briefing in Singapore.

Early engagements

IBM has collaborated on Watson-based projects with health-care organizations, including insurer WellPoint Inc. and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. The company is also working with Nielsen Holdings NV and Royal Bank of Canada on services that use Watson to interact with customers. Those first projects will show other potential clients Watson’s promise, Gold said.

“The immediate focus is to ensure the success of those early engagements,” he said. “It’s a much more interactive way to work with clients and partners.”


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