IBM Watson Supercomputer to Get Call Center Job

By | Jul 19, 2013

After winning a much publicized man vs machine showdown against champions of the TV show Jeopardy! two years ago, IBM's Watson supercomputer has explored various frontiers of artificial intelligence (AI), even trying out as a chef. Medical intelligence has also been a focus for the supercomputer.

Expanding further into new areas of AI, IBM has announced plans for the Watson Engagement Advisor - a smart assistant that replaces ineffective automated customer service systems. Cognitive technology in the supercomputer will help provide intelligent personal assistants to interact with customers and solve complex problems that otherwise require human service agents.

The services can apply to almost any industry vertical, including small and midsize firms that receive multiple customer support calls.

The move seems to be part of a long-term commercialization agenda for the supercomputer - an opportunity for the IT community at small and midsize firms to improve customer relations using advanced computing power.

Watson Ecosystem

Ars Technica notes that the Watson Engagement Advisor is currently in beta testing phase at several banking and customer service organizations and will be adopted by more businesses within a few months. The "Ask Watson" feature will enable customers to speak with the supercomputer for assistance directly from their mobile devices in a conversational style, as if they were talking to a human service agent. It is possible that voice recognition technology will be provided by voice recognition specialist Nuance, which has already signed several patents related to voice recognition products in use by Big Blue.

Since the Jeopardy! showdown, two years of development has made Watson 75 percent smaller and 25 percent faster. The supercomputer was originally designed as a question and answer machine, but the current version is offered as a conversational system capable of engaging in full dialogue to resolve customer queries.

Ask Watson is not the only service midsize IT should look forward to, according IBM chief executive Ginni Rometty. Speaking at the National Venture Capital Association meeting in San Francisco, Rometty announced future plans of launching an ecosystem of Watson services that enables firms to build applications that run on Watson's artificial intelligence engine, much like Linux and Windows OS for enterprise IT users.

Connecting Customers

Technological advancements are driving rapid change in the way businesses interact with customers. Unfortunately, increased dependence on technology for customer support purposes hasn't necessarily translated into higher customer satisfaction. Many automated customer service systems still fail to resolve complex customer queries. In fact, the Ars Technica piece notes that half of 261 billion calls made to call centers globally went unresolved last year. Another area of concern for firms is the exposure to security risks that comes from depending on third-party vendors for sensitive interactions with customers.

The case is even worse for many small and midsize firms that, in an effort to reduce costs, use cheap automated customer service solutions that fail to deliver on par with a qualified human support agent.

For such midsize firms, Ask Watson will present an opportunity for affordable high-powered customer relations software, especially if other vendors get into this market space, as more competition would further enhance product quality and lower costs.

Given the future outlook of automated customer service systems, many midsize IT managers will continue to take advantage of such services in efforts to maintain a competitive edge via advanced customer relationship management and enterprise resource planning initiatives.

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.

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