IBM's Watson Smartens Up iOS Enterprise Apps

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IBM on Tuesday announced that it will incorporate its IBM Watson cognitive capabilities into the MobileFirst for iOS ecosystem to help boost the productivity of the global workforce.

It was a little more than two years ago that the company entered a groundbreaking partnership with Apple to enhance the mobile enterprise space.

IBM executives, speaking at the company's World of Watson conference in Las Vegas, positioned the move as part of an overall rollout of enhancements to IBM Watson technology, which uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to support human interactions with intelligent bots at a scale rarely seen.

"All of this means at its core we're working on Watson to make sure it can read at scale, reason with a purpose, learn with each outcome and interact with us naturally," IBM Watson General Manager David Kenny told attendees at the conference.

The company has optimized several new technologies to work with the iOS 10 speech framework -- including IBM Natural Language Processing, Watson Conversation and other Watson APIs -- enabling millions of workers who use the MobileFirst technology to control apps with simple voice interactions. The improvements are meant to help companies gain more insight into customer behavior and interactions in the field.

The extended relationship with Apple is the most interesting thing that IBM announced at the conference, according to Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT.

"Given Watson's many powerful, often unique capabilities, the move will help MobileFirst apps stand out from the pack, and should entice developers focused on workplace and enterprise apps," he told the E-Commerce Times. "It also reflects another interesting point: that IBM is better at explicating and reinforcing the business value of Apple products than Apple is itself."

One of the new apps that workers can use in the field is Find & Fix, which lets field technicians use an Apple iPhone or Apple Watch to select jobs based on proximity and priority. That's presumably more efficient than going by a preselected schedule to determine how they move from location to location without information on how complex each assignment will be.

Workers also can use the app to get turn-by-turn directions and real-time traffic and parking information. In addition, workers can use the Apple camera built into the phone to scan bar codes and communicate with off-site specialists via FaceTime.

The relationship with IBM is going to be very important for Apple's enterprise business, observed telecom analyst Jeff Kagan.

"Watson will help Apple modernize in advance," he told the E-Commerce Times. "Artificial intelligence is going to transform every industry, including wireless and devices, and that means Apple iOS."

Other uses of Watson technology with MobileFirst include the opt-in Passenger + app, which lets flight attendants get deeper insights into passenger interests while they are in flight, IBM said. Retail salespeople can use the technology to gain insights into customer purchasing preferences, while financial advisors can use it to help make investment decisions.

Since launching the Apple partnership two years ago, IBM and Apple have worked hard to expand the use of IBM technology to the mobile worker, and to get Apple devices into their hands.

"A lot of us thought the real power of this relationship would result from IBM putting Watson behind Siri," noted Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.

"This isn't that, but it is showcasing the power of Watson on the iPhone, and that is certainly a big step in a similar direction," he told the E-Commerce Times.

The companies earlier this year announced an agreement with Alior Bank, based in Poland, to use three MobileFirst apps -- for scheduling, sales and signing up new clients -- along with 1,300 Apple iPhones, iPads and MacBooks deployed to the bank's workforce.

"We have been impressed by the incredibly fast and effective way Apple and IBM have teamed with Alior to design and build the apps, which boost the productivity of our private banking advisors," said Tomasz Motyl, chief innovation officer at Alior Bank.

"They understood our business and easily turned ideas into working solutions -- making the decision to expand our collaboration an easy one," he told the E-Commerce Times.

Our private banking advisors got a modern tool that enables secure insight into the customer portfolio in the way that is the most convenient for the customer -- accessible from anywhere on iPads. Using those apps, advisors provide customers with unique private banking advisory services and more varied offers, tailored to the individual preferences and financial plans of our customers," Motyl explained.

"MobileFirst for iOS apps give to our employees and customers the service they desire, immediately and in context, simultaneously optimizing banking processes and making them more cost effective," he added. "We believe that the introduction of MobileFirst for iOS apps will revolutionize the in-branch experience."

David Jones is a freelance writer based in Essex County, New Jersey. He has written for Reuters, Bloomberg, Crain's New York Business and The New York Times.

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