Big Data

IBM and The Weather Company: An IoT Platform for Enterprises

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When IBM announced last October that we were going to buy The Weather Company’s product and technology businesses, reactions were all over the map—from “IBM’s buying a TV station,” (not true), to “IBM is buying into cloud computing,” (not necessary; already there in a big way), to “Watson is going to predict weather,” (sort of).

Today, as we close on the acquisition, we want to share more about how we intend to take advantage of this amazing platform. By combining the technologies and expertise of The Weather Company and IBM, we are creating an Internet of Things platform that’s purpose-built for the enterprise.

Now, our enterprise clients all over the globe will gain access to a next-generation Internet-scale platform similar to those operated by Netflix and Facebook in the consumer realm.

When IBM executives first met with their counterparts at The Weather Company in Atlanta in early 2015 to discuss a partnership, the goal was to gain access to the company’s incredible wealth of weather data. But, immediately, our people realized The Weather Company’s platform had the potential to expand way beyond temperature, pressure and wind speed. This was about much more than weather.

The new enterprise platform, built for the big data/mobile/social era, will gather all types of information from a multitude of sources, synthesize it, analyze it using a wide range of tools, and offer up actionable insights to do everything from running global banks and retailers to managing logistics networks. The platform spans the digital world from tiny sensors embedded in warehouse machinery to the smartphone in an executive’s pocket

The technical visionaries at The Weather Company laid the foundation for a wide range of applications by building an incredibly powerful platform for delivering weather data to businesses and consumers alike. The system collects a tsunami of data from more than 100 sources, including sensors in weather stations, as well as receiving roughly 14,000 weather observations from 700 aircraft daily. Via a popular mobile app, The Weather Company delivers 26 billion location-specific forecasts per day to individuals. This is the epitome of Internet-era scale.

In addition to serving millions of consumers, The Weather Company’s platform offers up business-critical data to airlines, freight haulers, and farmers. Every industry is being revolutionized by data.

It’s built on the cloud using a wide variety of modern, open-source software. The Weather Company’s technology architects added their own secret sauce—which enables the system to aggregate vast quantities of data on the fly, chose the best engine for each analytics task, and deliver actionable insights to peoples’ fingertips when and how they want them. It’s an ever-evolving system—like the weather that it tracks and analyzes.

Going forward, we’ll add a wide variety of IBM technologies to the mix, including many of our analytics tools. (In addition, our IBM Research weather experts will work with their counterparts from The Weather Company to advance the art of forecasting.) At the same time, the next-generation platform will serve as a powerful data-gathering and data-management back end for many of our analytics products and cloud services—useful for business people ranging from expert data scientists to executives who need answers to complex questions on the spot.

Imagine some of the potential use cases:

Safer driving: Collecting and analyzing data gathered from sensors in Internet-connected cars in near real time can be used to provide assistance to drivers in emergencies or to avoid crashes.

Better insurance coverage: Data from sensors in cars, buildings, wearable devices and more will help insurance companies develop a far more accurate understanding of risk so they can better craft coverage offerings.

Truly personal marketing: Data from smartphones, social media, supply chains, and the environment will help retailers understand exactly how to appeal to each individual consumer.

The platform will also support all sorts-of consumer oriented apps, starting with weather-related ones.

But there’s more. IBM is the world-leader in delivering on the promise of cognitive computing. Through our Watson organization and IBM Research, we’re developing computing systems and cloud services that ingest vast quantities of diverse data, reason over it, and learn from their interactions with data and humans. Our goal is nothing less than to transform industries and professions by augmenting human intelligence. This represents the most significant shift in computing in more than 50 years—and it’s happening faster than any previous shift in technology.

Our next-generation platform will provide a tremendous foundation for cognitive services—not just for IoT-based applications but for handling all kinds of data and responding to all sorts of human and business needs. For starters, think healthcare, law, drug discovery, government services and banking. The list is endless.

I think of the opportunity that acquiring The Weather Company’s technology business creates for IBM as “today, the weather; tomorrow, the world.”

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