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Big Blue Raises the Ante on Big Data

Let’s be honest. How many of us would have guessed that IBM’s next corporate acquisition would be in weather forecasting?  That in fact is what IBM just did, announcing it will shell out a cool $2 billion for the digital technology pieces of The Weather Company.

Is this just IBM diversifying? Positioning itself to be the world’s largest weather forecaster? (In case, you know, the IT business goes south.)

What it really is, is a big bet on big data and the practical application of big-data analytics to improving the performance of whole industries. Comments from John Kelly, SVP of IBM Solutions Portfolio and Research, make clear that IBM believes that industries as diverse as airlines, insurance, and retailing, just to name three, may benefit from hooking up IBM’s cognitive computing platform — Watson — to the data that flow daily in immense volumes into the Weather Company’s systems.

With airlines, Kelly said, advanced analytics applied to weather data can “optimize fuel consumption, reduce delays and airport congestion, and improve passenger safety during disruptive conditions.”  Insurance companies, he said, lose over a billion dollars a year to claims related to hail storms alone, and the predictive intelligence derived from weather data could lead to fewer such losses. Retailers, he said, could combine weather, transportation, and social data to “finely tune and maintain availability of vital goods in times of need.”

The Weather Company’s cloud platform, according to IBM, currently powers “the fourth most-used mobile app daily in the United States and handles 26 billion inquiries to its cloud-based services each day.”  With the Weather Company’s assets under its belt, IBM will be able “to collect an even larger variety and higher velocity of global data sets, store them, analyze them and in turn distribute them [to other companies] and empower [them with] richer and deeper insights.”

The Weather Channel® App offers offers an accurate, visual picture of the weather near the user with easy-to-view current and future radar.

What other industries may gain from knowing more about wind, rain, and snow?  With this move by IBM, we’ll likely find out sooner rather than later.

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