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Posted December 4, 2014

IBM Opens Watson Analytics to Public Beta

By Darryl K. Taft

IBM announced that Watson Analytics, the company’s natural language-based cognitive service that provides access to predictive and visual analytic tools for businesses, is available in public beta.

IBM Watson Analytics automates tasks such as data preparation, predictive analysis and visual storytelling for business professionals. The solution is offered as a cloud-based "freemium" service, all business users can now access Watson Analytics from any desktop or mobile device.

Since being announced on Sept. 16, more that 22,000 people have registered for the beta. The Watson Analytics Community, a user group for sharing news, best practices, technical support and training, is also currently accessible, IBM said. This news follows IBM's recently announced partnership with Twitter, which includes plans to offer Twitter data as part of IBM Watson Analytics. A video demonstrating the power of Watson Analytics can be found here.

As part of its effort to equip all professionals with the tools needed to do their jobs better, Watson Analytics provides business professionals with a unified experience and natural language dialogue so they can better understand data and more quickly reach business goals. For example, a marketing, HR or sales rep can quickly source data, cleanse and refine it, discover insights, predict outcomes, visualize results, create reports and dashboards and explain results in familiar business terms.

At its Sept. 16 launch event in New York City, IBM officials said Watson Analytics may be the company’s biggest analytics announcement in a decade. Watson Analytics is a natural language-based cognitive service that will provide instant access to predictive and visual analytic tools for businesses, said Eric Sall, vice president of IBM Business Analytics.

“When it comes to analytics, people understand the real value of using data to make better decisions,” Sall said. “It’s hard to get to the data and most analytical tools require a certain level of knowledge. It’s hard to figure out where to start. For most people, they have to rely on an expert – whether that’s a data scientist or some other specialist.”

Indeed, according to analysts, only a small fraction of business people use powerful analytics tools as part of their decision-making today. Watson Analytics is designed to make advanced and predictive analytics easy to acquire and use for anyone.

“Watson Analytics approaches it from a business person’s perspective,” Sall said.

The first release of Watson Analytics will include a freemium version of the service designed to run on desktop and mobile devices. Watson Analytics offers a full range of self-service analytics, including easy to use data access, data refinement, and data warehousing services that make it easier for business users to acquire and prepare data – beyond simple spreadsheets -- for analysis and visualization that can be acted upon.

“We plan to make the freemium offering very functional because we want people to have access to how it works,” Sall said. “We want to get it into your hands because we believe that once you see how it works you’ll see a million ways to use it.”

Sall said Watson Analytics heavily leverages IBM’s SPSS Analytic Catalyst engine, as well as Watson’s cognitive technology, along with IBM collaboration and visualization technology.

Moreover, IBM Watson Analytics uses natural language to make interaction with powerful, predictive analytics easier with the ability to understand key questions, such as: What are the key drivers of my product sales? Which benefits drive employee retention the most? Which deals are most likely to close?

And unlike analytics offerings designed primarily for data scientists and analysts predominantly focused on visualization, IBM Watson Analytics automates steps like data preparation, predictive analysis, and visual storytelling for business professionals across data intensive disciplines like marketing, sales, operations, finance and human resources.

Watson Analytics provides a unified experience that brings together a complete set of self-service enterprise data and analytics capabilities on the cloud. Business professionals identify their problem, and Watson Analytics helps them source the data, cleanse and refine it, discover insights, predict outcomes, visualize results, create reports or dashboards, and collaborate with others.

The service’s predictive analytics automatically surfaces the most relevant facts and uncovers unforeseen patterns and relationships. This process sparks new questions and better insight, directing users to variables or parts of their business that matter most.

Watson Analytics delivers a unified analytics and data experience on the cloud. Like other IBM Cloud solutions, it will be hosted on SoftLayer and available through the IBM Cloud Marketplace.

Originally published on eWeek.

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