The world of “big data” is on fire.

According to innovation leader IBM, 90 percent of the data in the world today has been created in the last two years alone. Every day, 2.5 quintillion bytes worth of data is produced, driven by the increasing volume of information captured by today’s enterprises, the rise of multimedia, social media and the Internet of Things.

With the explosion of this so-called big data in our midst, the ability to analyze these large data sets will become a key basis for competition among enterprises. This phenomenon, says IBM Philippines President and Country General Mariels Almeda Winhoffer, is also paving the way towards the “third wave” of computing.

“What’s happening in the marketplace today is that we are shifting toward cognitive computing. First, it was all about tabulation—very simplistic. You input too many numbers, calculate, tabulate, and you get an answer. Then the next generation was all around ‘programmable’—the ERPs of the world, supply chain optimization systems, etc. And now we’re shifting into this new world of cognitive computing, which basically means being able to predict different possibilities,” she explains, adding that it’s a direction not only IT companies like IBM are heading into, but “it’s the kind of transformation that every enterprise will have to go through in order to remain ‘essential’,” she adds.

A Whole New World Of Analytics
The shift into cognitive computing, says Winhoffer, has the power to really revolutionize not only the processes of enterprises, but transform entire industries as well. “Telcos, for example, will no longer look like telcos—they can be something else; they might be a bank. The use of data and analytics will make these things happen,” she shares.

With all the technologies it has developed in its 101 years of existence, Winhoffer shares that IBM’s purpose has always been in a very different dimension—to enhance the lives of people and the work that they do each day. “One of the very distinct developments that took us years to do is this whole new world of analytics. The evolution of this product—particularly this ‘human computer’ called Watson; it’s becoming commercialized now in a way that it’s being applied to a very distinct set of problems,” she shares.

Watson, named after IBM founder Thomas J. Watson, is a computing system that rivals a man’s ability to answer questions posed in natural language with speed, accuracy and confidence. “What’s unique about Watson is that it doesn’t give you the answer—it gives you probabilities of what it may become,” Winhoffer explains. She adds that recently, through IBM’s partnership with WellPoint, Inc., Watson is being applied in the area of healthcare, particularly as an “interactive care insight for oncology.”

How Watson is applied in this particular field is that it stands as an “adviser” to doctors. “It doesn’t give you the answer; instead, it gives you the opportunity to make better decisions. If you think about a treatment today where you have all these tests, what Watson does is it captures all the data that’s inherent about a potential ailment, and then it provides you with probabilities. What it essentially does in the cause of healthcare is to provide doctors with the ability to diagnose the right disease, such that cure of the patient is magnified,” shares Winhoffer.

A second application, she adds, is administrative. “Before Watson was applied, WellPoint had to go through 37,000 sections to help diagnose a disease, but this application allows them to simplify the process and give them the right treatment. It becomes an interactive care guide, as well as interactive care reviewer. It acts like an adviser to provide doctors additional help and support. It will not replace the doctor, but will sort of be like a second opinion,” she says.

A Smarter Philippines
In a media roundtable discussion held last February 14, Winhoffer reveals that 2013 will be all about “operationalizing” IBM’s Smarter Planet campaign in the country. Launched in 2008, Smarter Planet is a corporate initiative that seeks to highlight how forward-thinking leaders in business, government and civil society are capturing the potential of smarter systems to achieve economic growth, efficiency, sustainable development and societal progress.

“Smarter Planet is currently being embraced by industries, cities and countries around the world because it makes good sense not only for business, but in order to transform lives and processes. It’s at the foundation of what we’re going to continue doing in this country,” she says, adding that IBM’s initiative is actually aligned with the country’s national economic growth agenda. “We’re really delighted that we have a very innovative President and administration, and that they’re embracing what the Smarter Planet agenda can do for the country, thus the launch of Smarter Philippines.”

With the huge role the business process outsourcing (BPO) sector plays in the Philippines’ current economic renaissance, and IBM being a very big player in said sector, Winhoffer asserts that positioning the Philippines as a global center for smarter analytics will further drive economic growth. “Going back to this whole world of being essential, and the fact that our operations here is extremely essential to our global customers, we cannot just sustain that by being in the world of BPO. We do handle supply chain, HR, finance and accounting, even core processes—but what’s next? We really believe that it’s in analytics,” she shares.

Given all the important information IBM gleans from its global-brand clients, “the power of analytics comes in because, with it, we’ll be able to offer higher value services that are more insightful for key industries,” Winhoffer shares. In the area of Customer Relations Management, for example, “through analytics, we’ll be able to provide better service. Before customers even call about a problem, the agents already know who the customer is and what problem they’re faced with. Analytics is very powerful and we believe that the Philippines is very well positioned to take the leadership role in this space. It’s a very big market—it’s predicted to be a $160 billion market by 2015,” she adds.

In order for the Philippines to capture this share of the market, however, there is a need to create a very different set of skills. As part of its strategy to make the Philippines the global center for analytics, IBM is in talks with the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) to develop a specialization track for Business Analytics. “This will open the way for higher educational institutions to offer Analytics elective courses,” shares Jay Sabido, R&D executive, IBM Philippines. According to Sabido, there’s a whole slew of different skills needed when talking about analytics. “It covers data management, data warehousing—because in the world of big data, there’s this whole wealth of information that you can mine from. Organizing and structuring this data is a lot of work. There’s also a need for data scientists…how to find connections with all these data. And then even higher-level skills—developing the algorithms to put the intelligence in the platform so it’s a whole wealth of skills. Our effort with CHED on the specialization track is just the beginning—there are definitely still a lot of htings we can leverage on as we expand this,” he ends.


Published March 13, 2013 in the Business section of the Manila Bulletin