IBM expands Watson's presence across multiple industries

IBM's Watson is being tested by numerous clients in the banking, health care and tourism industries

The customer base for IBM's Watson cognitive computing technology is expanding as companies from an increasingly wide variety of industries start to incorporate the service into their businesses.

Watson is being used by organizations in 25 countries, including Australia, England, Thailand, Canada and Spain, according to IBM.

The company has just opened a headquarters for its Watson activities in New York City's fashionable Silicon Alley district, and has established five new Watson branch offices, or as IBM calls them "Watson Client Experience Centers," around the globe.

The Watson service uses natural language processing and machine learning to gain insights from large amounts of data, in either structured or unstructured formats.

Although IBM originally developed Watson as an experimental project, to compete against humans in the "Jeopardy!" television game show, the company has been working to commercialize the cognitive computing technology so it can be used in a variety of industries.

IBM on Tuesday revealed details of how several customers are putting Watson to work, showing that cognitive computing has garnered at least an initial interest among different sorts of businesses. Naming customers also helps other businesses feel more at ease about trying the new technology.

In Australia, the ANZ bank will allow its financial planners to use the Watson Engagement Advisor to help answer customer questions. The idea is that the bank can then better understand what questions are being asked, so they can be answered more quickly.

Also in Australia, Deakin University will use Watson to answer questions from the school's 50,000 students, by way of Web and mobile interfaces. The questions might include queries about campus activities or where a particular building is located. The service will be drawn from a vast repository of school materials, such as presentations, brochures and online materials.

In Thailand, the Bumrungrad International Hospital will use a Watson service to let its doctors plan the most effective treatments for each cancer patient, based on the patient's profile as well as on published research. The hospital will leverage research work IBM did with the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center to customize Watson for oncology research.

In Cape Town, South Africa, Metropolitan Health medical insurance company will be using Watson to help provide medical advice for the company's 3 million customers.

Watson is also being used by IBM partners and startups as the basis for new services.

Using Watson, Travelocity co-founder Terry Jones has launched a new service called WayBlazer, which can offer travel advice via a natural language interface. The Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau is testing the WayBlazer app to see if it can increase convention and hotel bookings.

Veterinarian service provider LifeLearn of Guelph, Canada, is using Watson as the basis of a new mobile app called LifeLearn Sofie, which provides a way for animal doctors to research different treatment options. The Animal Medical Center in New York is currently testing that app.

Watson is also being incorporated into other third-party apps serving retailers, IT security and help desk managers, nonprofit fund-raisers, and the health care industry.

The new IBM Watson headquarters will serve as the home base for 600 IBM employees, who will work to build new Watson services. The company also plans to use the space to host industry workshops, seminars and networking opportunities.

The additional Watson Centers will be located in Dublin, London, Melbourne, Sao Paulo and Singapore.

Joab Jackson covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Joab on Twitter at @Joab_Jackson. Joab's e-mail address is Joab_Jackson@idg.com

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