A Great Simian or just a Monkey

watson ecosystem

watson ecosystem

Watson Ecosystem, how it works

IBM Watson Ecosystem is a partner program for companies and startups to leverage IBM Watson services. It is also a community, semi accelerator and VC. Monies, where I am a co-founder is a part of the IBM Watson Ecosystem.

Watson Ecosystem is the first partner program I have seen out of the Big Blue that puts both IBM and the partner in the same boat. It is a win-win situation. This for several reasons, I will go deeper into each and every one of them, but a quick list looks like this:

  1. Pure revenue share. If we succeed IBM succeed.
  2. Legal Agreements that are clear with deliverables defined. Never seen such good and straight forward agreements from IBM before.
  3. Dedicated team, both technical and business from the Watson team that really helps and are dedicated especially to you.
  4. A clear process on how to work.
  5. Free access to Watson services and parts of Bluemix.
  6. Potential Joint marketing and PR activities.
  7. Potential financial injection from the Venture Capital arm of Watson (a $100M fund currently)
  8. Potential access to client and the IBM sales-force.

How to become an IBM Watson Ecosystem Partner

This process is for me still a bit blurry. When I tried to submit the formal way with Monies, the site was out-of-order and did not accept any submissions. So I had to use other methods and found a way to get in the door and then I guess we followed the internal IBM process and evaluation with the result of us being approved to join the IBM Watson Ecosystem. The ordinary process does probably look something like this (we only shortcut #1):

  1. Submit your company on the “Join the Watson Ecossytem“-site.
  2. Get contacted by IBM for initial call
  3. Fill in the “Ecossytem Onboarding Partnership”-form (I think it was called Alignment Form when we did it). This docucument describes your business, state, funding, business model, products and how Watson is aimed to be used.
  4. Get Approval / Rejection
  5. If Approved join IBM Partnerworld as an ISV and sign the Watson Developer Agreement.
  6. Get an assigned Watson Solution Architect and a Watson Engagement Manager.
  7. Convert your Bluemix account to a Ecosystem Bluemix account and then start coding, no time to loose.

The pre-requisits and what it takes t be approved are also a bit blurry, but this screenshot might give you and indication at least.

watson ecosystem pre-requisits

How does the overall process look like when you are a part of the Watson Ecosystem?

watson ecosystem process

In the Watson Ecosystem Community you have a dedicated dashboard for your progress and it is also possible to network in the community even though the activity is extremely low, which is too bad actually. There are some supporting documents, guidlines and presentations to help you out.

This is our current progress. Monies currently in the middle of our PoC / Prototype phase.

ibm watson ecosystem

The deliverables are continously followed-up in weekly calls with your Watson Engagement Manager and your Watson Solution Architect. The team we have seems to be a great pair of Watson individuals.

How is it to be a part of the Watson Ecosystem?

Silly headline I know, but since there is not that much info available and not that many companies in the Ecosystem it might be of interest.

To be clear, Monies are currently in the middle of the process of building our first product so I do not have the entire picture yet.

How many companies are in the Watson Ecosystem? Numbers vary. I currently see numbers between 299 and 500. In Sweden it is only Monies and Ericsson and total in Europe 24, for Asia the total number is 11. It is hard to verify the exact numbers, but it is at least an indication. The wast majority of Ecosystem partner are in US. Also worth noting that large global companies like Accenture, Ogilvy / Mather and Softbank all are Ecosystem partners as well.

Is the Watson Ecossytem and IBM startup-friendly for real?

This one is hard to answer. The easy answer is both yes and no. On the surface and in the agreement, the process etc I would say they are startup friendly. In terms of documentations, forms and to some extent technology…they are the same ol IBM. Also when you work with the Watson team in NYC, it is smoother then usual, but it is still obvious that Watson is a part of the Big and very blue IBM. See next section for further details.

What can be improved?

To be clear, I really like the Ecosystem and by no means I want this section to drag this post into a negative spin, but without constructive suggestions on improvement I do not think this post would be taken serious anyway, so….

Lack of startup and entrepreneurial skills

I would say that the biggest disadvantage is that it seems to be too few individuals on the IBM Watson Ecosystem side (and Watson in general) that have actual experience from working with, or have prev built startups. This is a huge drawback. My suggestion would be to recruit heavily in this segment. I get the sense IBM is recruiting young (aka startup friendly people, but that does unfortunately not mean they have the recuired experience needed) externally and senior staff is recruited internally (the oclassic IBM person in suit and all). If this is a good strategy? I would say no. My simple suggestion is, recruit indivuduals that are entrepreneurs, have built startups prior, but see the potential in Watson and feel the urge to join and make a difference by helping others build really really cool things with Watson.

Regional and local presence / knowledge

Another big disadvantage is that it is very much a US play only at this stage. The knowledge and experience from other parts of the world seem to be limited. It would be great if people from the other regions would join and facilitate the Ecosystem partners from their regions. I still think they should be based out of NYC mainly, but local / regional knowledge is never to underestimated.

Watson Ecosystem vs Partner World

This will be a short section. The Ecossytem is nothing like PW. Most of the bad stuff is out and the good parts are still there. The Watson Ecosystem is a partner program on at least somewhat equal terms, I cannot say the same for being a Business Partner in PartnerWorld. Formally I think the Ecosystem is connected or is considered legally a subcategory to PartnerWorld or similar, just guessing. The IBM Watson Ecosystem is a huge step forward in terms of IBM Partner Programs. Keep it up!

What does it cost?

Simply put, it costs hard work and dedication. It also cost you some dependency on IBM, since Watson is an IBM technology that mainly lives on Bluemix. The program is free to join when approved and it does not cost you any money to be a part of the Ecosystem, this with one cavet though, which I have had a few not-so-happy conversations with IBM about. During 2015 they learnt that a some partners do not deliver after they have entered into Commercial Agreement, but still enjoys the benefits of being a part of the program and by that (after a Commercial Agreement is signed) can use IBM in branding and communication, this without bringing in any revenue to IBM. This IBM wanted to correct and during 2016 they have put a small (?!) fee in place if no revenue is generated after the Commercial Agreement is signed. This I can understand, I cannot say I fully agree with the result of the 2015 performance and the implications it has on the 2016 Ecosystem members, but all-in-all not a biggie I would say. The fee is also waived if revenue exists above the fee level.

Naturally IBM needs revenue from Watson and this is done via a 70/30 revenue-share (if a fully Watson dependent application) in your favor, so similar to Apple et al. Straight forward and good business model imho.


Watson Ecosystem is the best partner program IBM has to date. If IBM keeps focusing on IBM Watson as they do, the Watson Ecosystem will be a core companent in that success.

Photo Credit to Henrik Johansson and his photo “Landscape is changing” from Flickr.

ibm watson

What is IBM Watson?

With this post I will try to bring some light on what Watson is. What are the components and products etc. I will also dive into the partner channel and price-model. IBM have really tried to make Watson easy to understand, almost too easy, which is very good, being IBM and all. Watson will likely assist us in ways we have not seen before.

As IBM have described it in the header-image of this post, that I have borrowed:

Watson is a cognitive technology that processes informaiton more like a human than a computer – by understanding natural language, generating hypotheses based on evidence, and learning as it goes. And learn it does. Watson “goes smarter” in three ways: by being taught by its users, by learning from prior interactions, and by being presented with new information. This mean organizations can more fully inderstand and use the data that surrounds them, and use that data to make better decisions

Watson has the ability to reason and work with hypotheses. It means that Watson will not always respond with the, according to the raw data, best suited answer, but will instead reason and weight other dependencies into the picture, just like we humans do.

IBM WAtson.pngAs humans we base our decisions on a wast amount of data, a huge amount of data naturally, but we also take outside things into considerations, that are not pure data, but related info that we kind of know anyway and then we put all the alternatives on the table and reason about the best solution. That is how Watson does it as well.

The impressive thing with Watson is that when most of us actually forget things, Watson has access to all the data, always and dont forget, on top of that he reason and work with hypothesis. A great example here is how Watson works with oncology. Watson has access to huge amount of data and then the entire journal of the patient.

When Watson is asked about the best treatment for the patient he produces a couple of suggestions, including the evidence, and ranks them. The Doctor naturally makes the final decision, but with this, it is no risk that the Doctor misses out on some information and go on routine as “he has always done”, the Doctor now has several options that probably will contain information and suggestions that he / she (as the human being he / she is) probably did not consider nd even if he did, he gets all the supporting evidence to make the right decision for the patient.

Was that not possible prior with the classic big data / analytics tools we hear all about. Well, I would argue NO. This since most of the data in healthcare research and medical records are simply just text and images. Traditional, yet smart, analytics tools cannot read that kind of data, Watson can. it is not only about being able to read the information, it is also about actually understanding it, learning from it and draw conclusions from it, that makes the big difference and also what makes Watson so impressive. Agian, Watson think and acts a lot like a human, or the work IBM is pushing, being cognitive.

A neat thing with most solutions that are built on Watson is that we can communicate in natural language. We can simply write or talk in a natural way. Watson will even learn how we talk in different domains. This is very good since a doctor has one type of vocabulary and there is another in school or in the military. Again, as with us humans, Watson needs to be taught every language and every domain. This might sound cumbersome, but think about it like this. A traditional software is as stupid or intelligent as it is programmed, it simply only does what it is programmed to do. It is comparable to a person being told “Read what is on page 32, second row”. Watson on the other hand will after he is taught be able to answer “Watson, can you explain to me how subject X works?”, which is the summary of the data on page 32 but also with additional info from other things he has learnt.

Above is what Watson is mainly known for and we all want to know how we get our hands on that nifty software, so how do we?

When Watson was first launched it was actually just one API, the Q&A service. As of 20 Nov the Q&A service is discontinued and is now split into 4 APIs / services. Natural Language Classifier, Dialog, Retrieve and Rank and Document Conversion. This adds additional flexibility and function to the APIs that preveously was limited in terms of domains etc. But we are closing in on the challenge.

What? Is Watson just a bunch of APIs?

Yes, simply put, Watson is just a bunch of APIs available in the cloud. in the marketing material and in all communication from the leadership at IBM it is supposed to be 28 APIs. Available in the IBM Watson Developer Cloud is only 19 though.

  • 12 General Availablility
  • 4 Beta
  • 3 Experimental

The picture communicated from IBM usually looks similar to the below chart.

28 watson services.png

The reason for the confusion is pretty simple I would guess. Watson is developed in such speed that documentation and communication is not always keeping up with the updates that are being implemented, I would say that is a very good thing, rather some confusion about the amount of APIs then a technology that is updated at a slow pace. A few examples that might confuse are the following:

All APIs are avialble to play with for free in the Watson Developer Cloud. A Bluemix account is all that is needed. Every API has documentation and most have tutorials and example code. Additional code examples can be found on the IBM Github site.

High and low!

Herewithin lies a small challenge. I have followed the progress of Watson over some time now and the “Jeopardy” vs “28 APIs” is the challenge. On a highlevel it seems like a magic machine (which it really is), but scratching the surface reveals an API based technology. To start, that is fantastic since the tech-world we live in today is an API-based world. The tricky thing is to connect the one-box-solution aka Jeopardy or Oncology with these 28 APIs. When we come up with a brilliant use case and want to start exploring how to build it, it takes a lot of time to realize how the APIs connect and which ones that work best if combined with other APIs etc (Dialog and NLC as an example). When that phase is over it all becomes clearer, but to draw the lines between the goal and the services can be a challenge.

IBM Watson Knowledge and Expertice

Knowledge is naturally a challenge for IBM. A new product has been released and it takes time before it generates revenue, therefore, IBM sales will still focus on opportunities that will generate revenue now. With that said, there is no doubt that IBM is putting in huge amount of resources to make Watson succeed, but from a knowledge perspective it is still 51 Astor Place, Manhattan, NYC that is the epicentre or knowledge, with is smaller sibling in the new Watson office located in San Fransisco since recently.

The rest of IBM seems to be in a learning phase currently, but I except that to be improved significantly shortly.

In terms of support in EU, I think the UK office has a small team in place. I am also starting to see quite a few IBM Watson-positions available in most countries incl Europe.

What about partners, Watson Partners?

Since I have been around the block a few laps in terms of the IBM partner-channel, I could probably write a book about that, but lets keep focus on Watson. It seems that the channel-strategy for Watson is somewhat different and I am not even sure the classic IBM partner organisations around the world have started to look at Watson just yet.

It might even be that the partner-channel is different with Watson. It is all new models and there is also the IBM Watson Ecosystem.

IBM Watson Ecosystem

There will be a seperate post on the Ecosystem soon. This since the company I have co-founded Monies, just have been accepeted as an IBM Watson Ecosystem partner. All papers are signed, but we have not really started yet, so more info will follow.

UPDATE: Here is a lengthy post I wrote about the Watson Ecosystem.

watson ecosystme.png

As a summary the IBM Watson Ecosystem consist of about 400 companies that have been accepted and fulfilled the pre-requisits that IBM has in place. It has a kind of incubator / accellerator 3months program included as well, this to get your product out the door quickly, this with support from IBM in many different ways, not only from a tech-perspecitve.

It also opens up the opportunity to pitch for a piece of the $100M that IBM has put aside to invest in companies within the Watson Ecosystem.

The Watson Ecossytem is fully managed from Watson Group in NYC. The agreements are partially local, which I guess is for legislation reasons. In our case no one from our local country have been involved, 100% New York.

How much does IBM Watson cost? Pricemodel?

As usual with these large corporations it is a jungle to find out, but let me give it a try. Currently there are three price-models.

  1. PayGo. A straight-forward pay-as-you-go subscription model based on usage. It has two tiers, one free and one paid. The free one is usually limited to amount of API calls or similar. A modern model. Most prices are public and can be found on each service, like Natural Language Classifier as an example.
  2. IBM Watson Ecosystem. This is an entirely new model and I like it a lot. It is a revenue-share model where you share a part of the revenue with IBM based on how much of the product that relies on Watson (or if the full product does). The best thing is that you do not pay until the product generates revenue. This creates a good partnership with shared interest in the success.
  3. Enterprises. I have not found any formal info on this and I actually guess it is pretty much up-in-the-air still. My personal guess is that IBM currently creates custom packages until they have found a good model for Watson within the enterprise segment.

But what about Watson Analytics and Watson Explorer etc?

In short it is the APIs that are the Watson product. There are also some support services like the Watson Experience Manager. Watson Group have also created a few applications based on the APIs, like Watson for Oncology, Chef Watson (together with Bon Appetite and I recommend a dinner based on suggestion by Chef Watson, great fun) and Watson for Wealth Management, but they are still based on the 28 APIs….or the 19.

Watson Analytics and Watson Explorer are simply already existing products that has been sprinkled with some magic Watson-dust. Watson Analytics has gotten itself a natural language interface, but underneeth it is still an SPSS predicitive analytics product. Watson Explorer is the old IBM Infosphere product etc. These products are also sold as classic software within (I guess) the Analytics Software brand.

That concludes this humungusly long post. I will try to keep them shorter in the future. I have simply been digging in the throwes of Watson info for a while and thought it was time to let some steam out and share my thoughts. Almost 2000 words.



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