Executive Summary: In search of revenue for Watson, IBM has just released Discovery Explorer - a cloud-based application that enables researchers to ask questions of Watson. Potentially, answers to these questions can significantly speed up access to relevant research taking place elsewhere -- research that could take much longer to locate manually - if at all. The initial focus is on medical research, where the publications read each month by a practitioner are but a fraction of those published. Time will tell if the results meet expectations.
Of course, even creating amazing tools like Watson does not necessarily make the builder the most qualified to actually figure out how to use/apply the tools. For that, we must turn to practitioners. A case in point: it is well accepted that Stradivari was one of the greatest violin makers of all time - not as well known is that he was considered a quite ordinary violinist. It remained for others -- composers and performers to bring out the magic of his creations -- the genius of the instruments that even Stradivari could not demonstrate. Perhaps Steve Jobs was thinking about this (as well as the potential profits) when he envisioned the App Store and went on to create an entire ecosystem of independent programmers and provided marketing and fulfillment support via the online store. Stunningly, by May of 2014 over 65 Billion iPhone apps had been downloaded -- with Apple taking 30% of all sales revenue as well as the sales of hundreds of millions of iPhones that were driven by app sales. This may prove to be the greatest stroke of genius in the iPhone story.
Are we seeing the beginning of this kind of thinking at IBM? Could be. In addition to putting Watson Discovery Explorer in the cloud for broad/easy/cheap access -- IBM is also introducing a program for universities allowing Watson access for student projects. Both of these initiatives are in fact 'training wheels' for users to become familiar with Watson (even asking Watson a question requires training) and likely imagining 'apps' that are more useful than playing chess or Jeopardy - but invisible to non-practitioners. And therein lies the gold. Unleash the minds of real users - let them think about how to make their work easier/better with Watson. Without this, I believe IBM would be looking at a long bleak journey in search of wider adoption and meaningful revenue.
Watson is potentially one of the most powerful tools to emerge from the tech world, with enormous promise for the next generation of health care computing. The challenge now is to engage practitioners to identify and build "killer" apps -- or in health care, literally "life saving" apps. And that can produce healthy, sustainable revenues for IBM. Stay tuned.
For more info click here for IBM's Press Release