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TechTip: Watson Products

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A couple of articles ago, we looked at what an API was and even what Watson was, but we didn’t get into an example of the kinds of stuff Watson is mixed up in. Stand by to be amazed. 

In a previous TechTip, we started to get into what the new world of APIs allows us to do (interface complex applications, not just point functions, with your custom applications) and what Watson really is (a set of very fast processors running with a parallel architecture, DeepQA, to provide a new way to approach the question-and-answer application). But we didn’t talk about how you can get involved with that world.

After all, you can’t just download a Watson API and be off and running. The API was not developed on Watson so that it could run from your grandmother’s PC or even from your IBM i; it was developed on Watson so it could run on Watson. All of the Watson APIs need the parallel architecture of DeepQA, and that’s running only on Watson (which means both hardware and software). 

So how do you, running on your little old i, take advantage of those APIs? 

Leveraging Watson

Fortunately, IBM is way ahead of you there and already has a way for you to do it. In fact, expanding and simplifying what you have to do to work with Watson is a big priority for IBM. As noted in the recent IBM press release, this is a major area of development. “We continue to advance the capabilities we offer developers on IBM’s Watson platform to help this community create dynamic AI infused apps and services,” said David Kenny, general manager of IBM Watson. “We are also simplifying the platform, making it easier to build, teach and deploy the technology. Together, these efforts will enable Watson to be applied in many more ways to address societal challenges.”

As it turns out, there are really two ways in which you can work with Watson: products and APIs. 

Products is a bit misleading, at least to me. There are no “products” that you buy and load on your machine. Remember, working with Watson means not working on your machine but connecting to a Watson machine and running in that environment. To me, the product is actually more of a service, a SAAS delivery. That’s not bad; it’s just that the word “product” does not really convey much to me.

The APIs are more customizable, and there you will be inserting a snippet of Watson IBM code in your app, but we will talk about them a bit later (like in August). For now, let’s concentrate on the products. 

What’s Available

There are only a handful of products at this time, but they’re ones that fit well into any business: Watson Virtual Agent, Watson Explorer, Watson Analytics, and the Watson Knowledge Studio.

To start your Watson products journey, go to www.ibm.com/watson/ and click on Explore Watson Products.    

Not sure which products really fit for you? Don’t worry. At the bottom of this page is the Finding Your Watson test that will help you decide which products will be the most help to your business. Yeah, like they know more about you than you do…or maybe they do. Anyway, in this and the next TechTip, we will take a shallow but thorough dive into each of these to at least give you a taste of the town.

Watson Virtual Agent

The first product we will look at is a piece of software that is right down the alley for a technology that was built to answer questions. Virtual Agent lets you set up an automated customer call-center bot that will be able to augment your human agents, thus reducing your costs while still providing a high level of customer service.

In many ways, the Virtual Agent will appear just like a human operator. Your customers will be able to use conversational English (other languages are available) to ask their questions, and Virtual Agent will respond in kind so that the customer will be unable to tell that they are being serviced by a bot.   

The Virtual Agent comes coded up with a lot of the basic types of questions that customers ask. Plus, it has industry-specific capabilities that help sharpen it for your environment. To get started, you configure the product by feeding in information about your business. This gives VA the context it needs to do the voodoo that it does so well. Once you have done this, you are ready to go. As you go forward, you may decide that there are certain types of questions that you don’t want VA to answer, in which case, you can have it hand off to a human agent. A metrics dashboard is available to help you see the types of questions you are receiving and to fine tune the types of answers that are given.

And how do you tie this into your web or mobile site? As I said above, just put a few lines of code in the appropriate place. Very simple. 

Current cost for this function per the IBM website is $265 a month per subscription for the standard edition. I am not completely sure how they define a “subscription.” But if you are interested, I am sure IBM would be willing to tell you. There is also a premium version that has additional filtering for questions where security is an issue. 


That’s all for now, but in the next Watson TechTip, we will look at other products that you can get from IBM. I’m going to take a break, but don’t you go changing.   











David Shirey

David Shirey is president of Shirey Consulting Services, providing technical and business consulting services for the IBM i world. Among the services provided are IBM i technical support, including application design and programming services, ERP installation and support, and EDI setup and maintenance. With experience in a wide range of industries (food and beverage to electronics to hard manufacturing to drugs--the legal kind--to medical devices to fulfillment houses) and a wide range of business sizes served (from very large, like Fresh Express, to much smaller, like Labconco), SCS has the knowledge and experience to assist with your technical or business issues. You may contact Dave by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or by phone at (616) 304-2466.

MC Press books written by David Shirey available now on the MC Press Bookstore.

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