Watson for i: Watson Workspace Helps Teams Collaborate Better

Analytics & Cognitive
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A literally hard-to-find Watson product is Workspace, which both offers team communications services and analyzes how members of a team work and interact to improve its own functions.

No matter how independent one's working life might feel, ultimately each of us is part of a team. Team members have to collaborate, and one of the "focus areas" on which IBM is concentrating Watson is collaboration aids. IBM Watson Work is the clearest representation of this emphasis, under which are a number of products that support collaborative efforts. The Watson Work focus area also includes Watson Analytics, with which users can analyze unstructured data to find trends and other useful information in business settings.

Oh Where, Oh Where Has My Little Dog Gone?

One of the more useful products under the umbrella of the Watson Work focus area is Watson Workspace. One of the confusing aspects of Watson Workspace, though, is that it's actually cited by IBM web pages as one of IBM's Collaboration Solutions, which that same Collaboration Solutions page will show you is partly the regrouping of IBM Lotus Notes/Domino products, and those aren't Watson at all.

Except that at least one is. So like Perseus in the minotaur's labyrinth, we must follow the string. As an IBM representative explained to me, IBM Collaboration Solutions are a recently renamed group of products, some of which are our old friends Lotus Notes and Domino, and some of which include newer products. One is IBM Connections Cloud, a service that rolls functions such as email, instant messaging, online meetings, and collaborative document editing into a single service. Another is IBM Verse, a communications product based on email that analyzes how team members interface to improve its (and the team's) performance over time (sounding more Watsonlike here, but it's not specifically called a Watson product nor does any of its descriptions mention Watson analytics capabilities).

And finally, there's IBM Watson Workspace, which does use Watson Analytics, and which explicitly includes "Watson" in its name! So it's a Watson product! Is there a connection to the Watson Workspace page on IBM's web pages for IBM Watson or the IBM Watson Work page? Well, not directly. You have to know that the link to "IBM Collaboration Solutions" on the IBM Watson Work focus area page will eventually lead you to the Watson Workspace page. But trying to find this Watson product starting from the IBM Watson page isn't too straightforward, particularly if you are silly enough to think you can find it by clicking on the "Browse all products" tab on the Watson home page.

OK, enough poking at the IBM piñata for today. It's enough that we've established Workspace's Watson pedigree. So what can this Watson-enabled communications service actually do to help teams collaborate? Quite a bit, as it turns out.

Workspace's Collaboration Features

Watson Workspace is a messaging app with lots of bells and whistles. It's available only as a cloud service, but to access the service there are apps you must download to Mac, Windows, iOS, Android, or web devices. Then you can use any of those platforms to participate.

There are two versions. Essentials edition is the more elaborate one, but there's a lesser-cost Preview version. Both versions offer persistent group chat, one-on-one direct messaging, the ability to search conversation histories, open APIs, and some file storage (although Essentials provides 20 times more per user than Preview). Essentials adds member provisioning and de-provisioning, managed guest-user access, other administrative controls, enterprise-grade user support, and an actual SLA. File-sharing capabilities make it simple for any team member to upload files or images to a common space where all team members can view them. Essential also supports a Single Sign-On capability based on Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML), and XML markup language that lets identity and service providers exchange authentication and authorization information, such as between websites and browsers.

Other features common to both editions are an inline image viewer, device-specific native apps, potential integration with third-party apps, real-time status indicators showing team-member current availability, typeahead search to find people, custom sounds, reference points to previous conversational threads, rich markdown capabilities (e.g., code syntax highlighting), and push, browser, and email notifications for mobile devices. Workspace even supports emojis. But these are just the features one might find on an ordinary wish list for a collaboration apps.

Workspace's Cognitive Features

Where the Watson DNA kicks in is in Workspace's higher-level functions. Over time, Workspace learns how each team member interacts with the others and begins tailoring how it functions for each participant, such as automating everyday tasks. Workspace also includes a feature called Moments, which summarizes conversations in which a particular team member perhaps didn't participate, and uses Natural Language Processing to recognize and highlight information in those conversations so as to point out significant passages to the non-participant. Watson also recognizes key words in the conversation and uses those as titles for individual Moments.

In addition, there's an action fulfillment function that automatically underlines phrases in communications to designate action items for particular team members. Overall, Workspace consolidates multiple conversations from any channel into a single space, highlights the most urgent action items, and helps users find specific content within past conversations. Users can also connect to social-media tools and set calendar reminders.

As a Watson app, Workspace includes the ability that most other Watson apps have of being able to extract useful information from sources such as audio, video, and images, in addition to human conversations.

IBM maintains the Watson Workspace Help Center, where users and other interested parties can find more documentation of Workspace features for both beginners and experienced users, a news and updates page where IBM developers share the latest in Workspace's frequent feature upgrades, and tips on more efficient use of the application.

Augmenting Watson Workspace

Watson Workspace is supposed to support development of custom cognitive applications within it via a program called Watson Work Services. At the time of this writing, web links to that page are unfortunately inoperative. However, there's an IBM Connections Developer Toolkit that lets programmers integrate a wide range of third-party applications with cloud communications services.

In addition, the IBM Connections Solutions family includes Box Relay, an application that lets end users create custom workflows without developer assistance. Box Relay workflow templates can provide automation to document flows, assignments, and other team-related functions. Box Relay lets users track progress of any workflow tasks, identify and remedy bottlenecks, view audit logs that show which team members did what when, and automate repetitive tasks that Watson Workspace might not cover.

By simplifying communication, keeping teams organized, helping members quickly find information they need in the moment, and gradually automating tasks team members perform repetitively, Watson Workspace goes beyond being a team-oriented communications service and moves into the realm of showing how artificial intelligence can be harnessed to help creative people work more efficiently.