The IBM Watson PR Blitz Continues

January 9, 2014

Content marketing is alive and well at IBM. I read two Watson related stories this morning. Let’s look at each and see if there are hints about how IBM will generate $10 billion in revenue from the game show winning Watson information system.

The New York Times

“IBM Is Betting Watson Can Earn Its Keep” appears on page B 9 of the hard copy which arrives in Harrod’s Creek most days. A digital instance of this Quentin Hardy write up may be online at If not, contact a Google Penguin for guidance.

The write up contains a quote to note:

Virginia M. Rometty, CEO of IBM: Watson does more than find the needle in the haystack. It understands the haystack. It understands concepts.

The best haystack quote I have heard came from Matt Kohl, student of Gerald Salton and founder of Personal Library Software. Dr. Kohl pointed out that that haystacks involve needles, multiple haystacks and multiple needles, and other nuances that make clear how difficult locating information can be.

The quote attributed to Ms. Rometty also nods to Autonomy’s marketing. Autonomy, since 1996, emphasized that one of the core functions of the Bayesian-Shannon-Laplace-Volterra method was identifying concepts automatically. Are IBM and arch rival Hewlett Packard using the same 18 year old marketing lingo? If so, I wonder how that will play out against the real-life struggles HP seems to be experiencing in the information retrieval sector.

There are several other interesting points in the content marketing-style article:

  1. IBM is “giving Watson $1 billion and a nice office.” I wonder if the nuance of “giving” is better than “investing.”
  2. $100 million will be allocated “for venture investments related to Watson’s so-called data analysis and recommendation technology.” One hopes that IBM’s future acquisitions deliver value. IBM already owns iPhrase, a “smart search system,” some of Dr. Ramanathan Guha’s semantic technology, Vivisimo, and the text processing component of SPSS called Clementine. That’s a lot of in hand technology, but IBM wants to buy more. What are the costs of integration?
  3. IBM has to figure out how to “cohere” with other IBM initiatives. Is Cognos now part of Watson? What happens to the IBM Almaden research flowing from Web Fountain and similar initiatives? What is the role of Lucene, which I heard is the plumbing of Watson?

The IBM write up will get wide pick up, but the article strikes me as raising some serious questions about Watson initiative. There may be 750 eager developers wanting to write applications for Watson. I am waiting for an Internet accessible demonstration against a live data set.

The Wall Street Journal, Round 2, January 9, 2014

The day after running “IBM Struggles to turn Watson into Big Business”, the real news outfit ran a second story called “IBM Set to Expand Watson’s Reach.” I saw this on page B2 of the hard copy that arrived in Harrod’s Creek this morning. Progress. There was no WSJ delivery on January 6 and January 7 because it was too cold. You may be able to locate a digital version of the story at (Same Penguin advice applies if the article is not available online.)

This January 9, 2014, story includes a quote to note:

Michael Rhodin, IBM senior vice president, Watson unit: We are now moving into more of a rapid expansion phase. We’ve made incredible progress. There is lots more to do. We would not be pursuing it if we did not think think had big commercial potential.

We then learn that by 2018, Watson will generate $1 billion per year. Autonomy was founded in 1996 and at the time of its purchase by Hewlett Packard, the company reported revenue in the $800 million range. IBM wants to generate more revenue from search in less time than Autonomy. No other enterprise search and content processing vendor has been able to match Autonomy’s performance. In fact, Autonomy’s rapid growth after 2004 was due in part to acquisitions. Autonomy paid about $500 million for Verity and IBM’s $100 million for investments may not buy much in a search sector that has consolidated. Oracle paid about $1 billion for Endeca which generated about $130 million a year in 2011.

Net Net

Watson has better PR than most of the search and content processing companies I track. How many people at the Watson unit pay attention to SRCH2, Open Search Server, Sphinx Search, SearchDaimon, the Dassault Cloud 360 system, and the dozens and dozens of other companies pitching information retrieval solutions.

I would wager that the goals for Watson are unachievable in the time frame outlined. The ability of a large company to blast past Autonomy’s revenue benchmark will require agility, flexibility, price wizardry, and a product that delivers verifiable value.

As the second Wall Street Journal points out, “IBM is looking to revive growth after six straight quarters of revenue declines.”

IBM may be better at content marketing than hitting the revenue targets for Watson at the same time Hewlett Packard is trying to generate massive revenues from the Autonomy technology. Will Google sit on its hands as IBM and HP scoop up the enterprise deals? What about Amazon? Its search system is a so-so offering, but it can offer some sugar treats to organizations looking to kick tires with reduced risk.

Many organizations are downloading open source search and data management systems. These are good enough when smart software is still a work in progress. With 2,000 people working on Watson, the trajectory of this solution will be interesting to follow.

Stephen E Arnold, January 9, 2014


2 Responses to “The IBM Watson PR Blitz Continues”

  1. site link on March 7th, 2014 1:15 pm

    Hey! Do you know if they make any plugins
    to assist with SEO? I’m trying to get my blog to rank for some targeted keywords but I’m not
    seeing very good gains. If you know of any please share.
    Appreciate it!

  2. Juana on April 1st, 2014 4:52 am

    It’s a pity you don’t have a donate button! I’d certainly donate to this excellent blog!
    I guess for now i’ll settle for book-marking and adding your RSS feed
    to my Google account. I look forward to fresh
    updates and will talk about this site with my Facebook group.
    Talk soon!

  • Archives

  • Recent Posts

  • Meta