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Vineet Mehra

Trendsetters: IBM's Jon Iwata Explains Data's Limitations and Why the Future of Business is Cognitive

Jon Iwata is an IBM veteran of over 30 years, and as the Senior Vice President of Marketing and Communications, he has shepherded a number of transformative marketing ideas that have shaped new thinking about business and technology. Now, as the "Smarter Planet" campaign has been retired, he explained to a marketer audience at ANA's Brand Masters Conference last week--with the help of a charming robot named Nao--why "The Future of Business in Cognitive," a phrase which also heralds IBM's new marketing initiative for the Cognitive Era.

Iwata outlined how data is key to personalized customer experiences, but 80% of today's data is unstructured--or essentially invisible to computers and of limited use. (Unstructured data is a term that describes data not found within a database or other type of data structure. It may be textual or non-textual, and examples include email messages, PowerPoint presentations, Word documents, instant messages, JPEG images, MP3 audio files and Flash video files which means news articles, research reports, social media posts and enterprise system data.)

Although techniques like data mining and text analytics provide ways to find patterns to interpret such information, cognitive technologies like IBM Watson, the technology platform that uses natural language processing and machine learning to reveal insights from large amounts of unstructured data, can unlock greater meaning from data to help businesses gain a deeper understanding of individual customers.

Watson now processes information more like a human through natural language processing to understand grammar and context. Watson also understands complex questions and can evaluate a variety of possible meanings, as well as present answers and solutions based on supporting evidence and the quality of information found. Nao, Jon's Brand Masters co-presenter and robot created in partnership with IBM and Japan's SoftBank, instantly processed years of social media posts to demonstrate how we can better understand an individual customer.

IBM is also partnering with the Under Amour brand to provide meaningful data-backed health and fitness insights, again powered by Watson's cognitive computing technology. This enables Under Armour's new HealthBox system and UA Record to serve as a personal health consultant, fitness trainer and assistant by providing athletes with real-time data centered around fitness, activity, nutrition and sleep, while also comparing the outcomes to others. Watson enables the personalization of data and performance habits, and then can make recommendation for the future based on calories consumed the night before or weather data that may influence a workout. Or as Jon Iwata says, "Cognition comes to fitness."

IBM's Watson is also working with Medtronic in an effort change prevention and treatment for diabetes. Through daily management of glucose levels, food and exercise, Watson is helping diabetics get ahead of hypoglycemic events.

So what's next? According to Jon Iwata, IBM is training Watson to see, but not just what humans see. Watson will see what we can't see--ultraviolet and infrared light. And he'll hear every sound in a city in real time in order to better anticipate potential disruptive events.

Jon Iwata leads IBM's marketing, communications and citizenship organization, and is now championing a new and powerful marketing idea at IBM called THE FUTURE OF BUSINESS IS COGNITIVE, which underscores the increased abilities of the technology platform known as IBM Watson.

Jon and his global team are responsible for the marketing of IBM's product and services portfolio in more than 170 countries, as well as market intelligence, communications, and stewardship of the IBM brand, recognized as one of the most valuable in the world. They also lead the marketing of Watson, as its breakthrough technology is bringing cognition and artificial intelligence to healthcare, retail, financial services, education and all industries being transformed by the phenomenon of data.

Jon joined IBM in 1984 at the company's Almaden Research Center in Silicon Valley. He was appointed vice president of Corporate Communications in 1995 and senior vice president, Communications, in 2002. He assumed his current role on July 1, 2008.

He is also co-inventor of a U.S. patent for advanced semiconductor lithography technology.