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IBM Watson Analytics could make the spreadsheet obsolete

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IBM is offering businesses of all sizes the ability to feed data into Watson, promising the supercomputer and Jeopardy champ will churn out predictive analytics and other actionable data to clients with more efficacy and humanity than rival services.

While many analytics platforms currently available to the mainstream have a bias to data scientists, Watson will serve up analytics with businesses in mind, says Bob Picciano, senior VP of IBM's Information and Analytics Group. Watson Analytics was designed for everyone from representatives to CEOs, says Picciano.

"We have eliminated the barrier between the answers they seek, the analytics they want and the data in the form they need," says Picciano. "The combination of Watson-fueled analytics to magnify human cognition, the vast potential of big data, and cloud-scale delivery to PCs, smartphones and other devices is transformational."

Watson Analytics will guide users through the information preparation stage and conclude with storyboarding the processed data into a narrative. IBM says Watson's three standout features are its self-service capabilities, guided predictive analytics and natural language dialogue.

"Business professionals identify their problem, and Watson Analytics can help them source the data, cleanse and refine it, discover insights, predict outcomes, visualize results, create reports or dashboards, and collaborate with others," says IBM.

Watson Analytics' services are offered through a freemium formula -- it'll work for free, accept tips for better performance, or render a full complement of services under a premium contract. It was important to ensure that all organizations would leverage the power of Watson Analytics, according to Alistair Rennie, general manager of business analytics for IBM.

"Essentially, we think freemium is important because this is the type of tool that hasn't been accessible to a wide audience," says Rennie. "We're convinced once professionals get a taste for the base features, they're going to love it and want to use more of the premium features."

The first version of Watson Analytics will be offered to mobile and desktop devices via the cloud, hosted on SoftLayer and available in the IBM Cloud marketplace, according to IBM. Watson Analytics will be available in IBM Bluemix, IBM's platform as a service, which will allow developers and independent software vendors to leverage the supercomputer in their own applications.

Watson Analytics lets every business user harness all the power Watson can deliver, says Rennie, who indicated that it may be about time to ditch the spreadsheet.

"It's a fundamental departure in the power that each user can have at their fingerprints," Rennie says. "It's like how people got comfortable with spreadsheets over time."

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