While attending IBM InterConnect in late February I had an opportunity to sit in on a press conference. The focus of the press conference was primarily around IBM’s efforts related to hybrid cloud solutions, but the thing that caught my attention was a little tidbit mentioned almost in passing about an innovative way students at the University of Texas Austin had applied the power of the Watson supercomputer.
Robert LeBlanc, senior VP of IBM Cloud, and a handful of other executives shared IBM’s vision for hybrid cloud and big data analytics with the media. The press conference ranged from data sprawl, to data visibility, to security and performance. The group talked about a focus on developers and the importance of open standards and more.
Then there was the bit about Watson and the University of Texas. For those who may not know, Watson is a cognitive computing system. It is a supercomputer with an artificial intelligence component that enables is to analyze massive volumes of data, understand complex queries posed in natural language, and respond with evidence-based answers. It learns as it goes.
Watson University Competition
IBM has enlisted the support of companies and organizations around the world to help develop new applications for Watson and push the envelope of its capabilities. One of the programs that helps drive innovation with Watson is the Watson University Competition.
Students participating in IBM’s Watson University Competition were directed to identify and solve an industry-specific challenge using Watson. Students had to work as a team to identify and input relevant data into Watson in order to train the supercomputer to answer questions related to the issue being solved. The students must then develop an app and supporting business plan targeting their chosen industry.
The UT Austin team won the competition with an app called CallScout. The purpose of the app is to help Texas residents find information about social services and programs in their local area. Many Texas residents depend on state resources for housing, healthcare, transportation and other vital functions, but wading through government websites and other information is confusing and makes it difficult for residents to find the information they need. The CallScout app integratesl hours of service, route and map information and other relevant data, and it can automatically deliver push notifications when important details change.
“This is more than a school project for us – it’s about creating a sustainable business that addresses one of the key challenges we all face as Texas residents,” said Bri Connelly, team leader and undergraduate Computer Science student at the University of Texas at Austin. “The opportunity to directly impact citizens of our home state was a huge driving force in our work.”
Watson depends on DevOps
Watson is a powerful platform for analyzing and understanding information. More than any technology or platform that has preceded it, though, Watson also depends on constant evolution. IBM has embraced DevOps principles for developing and maintaining Watson out of necessity. Watson simply wouldn’t be possible and wouldn’t be able to keep up with the pace of ingesting and adapting to information using legacy development models.
The IBM Watson team manages the rapid pace of change using DevOps principles, which are an extension of Agile development methods. Carl Kraenzel, an IBM distinguished engineer and director of the IBM Watson managed services group, explained that effectively maintaining Watson means adopting continuous delivery and continuous availability. “If you don’t approach it the right way, change is a cost driver. It will add cost instead of adding value. DevOps helps us achieve continuous delivery, and DevOps helps us deliver continuous value.”
IBM is a resilient company. It doesn’t have the same dominant role in the tech industry that it once had, but it didn’t just sulk off into the sunset. IBM has adapted and evolved. IBM InterConnect was an excellent demonstration of the innovation and vision driving IBM right now—positioning IBM to play a significant role in the new cloud, mobile, DevOps future. Watson, and the work done by the UT Austin team and other students are perfect examples of what’s possible when DevOps principles and cutting edge technology are applied to help resolve the issues that face mankind.