By Eric Engquist
When I left the US Army in 2005, it was an incredibly stressful experience. In fact, I tell people today that I’m the quintessential example of what not to do when you’re transitioning to civilian life.
From childhood, I had planned on serving in the military. It was a family tradition. But after serving as an infantry officer for 8 years, including deployments to Kosovo and Iraq, I decided to leave the military, get married and start a family.
Problem was, I didn’t know what to expect after I exited the military. I didn’t have a career plan, or a financial plan or even a firm sense of where I would live. As a result, it took me nearly six months to land a job.
That’s why, as the assistant vice president in charge of military transitions at USAA, I am passionate about serving our military members and their families, and am determined to do everything I can to ease their journey. And, I’m happy to say that we’re getting help from IBM Watson—the cognitive computing system.
USAA is a broad-based financial service provider that caters to the military community. My group’s mission is to be a one-stop-shop for information and guidance for people leaving the military, and Watson helps us deliver on that promise.
By embedding Watson on our Web site, we’re able to offer members guidance about a whole range of matters, including job searches, moving, insurance and government benefits for veterans.
Unlike a regular search engine or a directory, Watson understands the context around questions people ask. It can give them crisp yet nuanced answers to their questions. For instance,“My husband just got out of the Army and we are having a hard time finding a job for him. Are there any resources to help get him a job?,” or “Is Tricare Prime better than Tricare Standard for retired military?”
Think of Watson as a very smart digital assistant that interacts with people in easy-to-use ways, learns and gains value over time.
I understand that this is the first time that the Watson technology is available directly to individuals. USAA prides itself in our ability to harness the latest in technology innovations to deliver best-in-class service to our members wherever they serve —and, with Watson, we’re doing it again. We’ve programmed Watson with information and guidance gleaned from decades of military transitions experience and lessons learned.
When members visit our Web site, they can type in questions and get quick answers from Watson to their questions. In addition, Watson points them to Web pages where they get richly detailed information and help about managing their transitions.
We worked with IBM engineers and USAA employees who formerly served in the military to train Watson with the knowledge needed to perform this service. Now it’s in pilot phase and available for all members to test and provide feedback to help us improve the experience. Watson will continue to learn and sharpen its skills the more people use it.
On average, about 150,000 people leave the military each year. But that number is growing rapidly. We expect one million people to leave in the next five years. It’s not only in USAA’s mission to serve our military service members – it’s in our DNA. We’ll continue to do our part. And with Watson’s help, we can potentially make life easier for our service members.
Editor’s Note: To learn more about the new era of computing, read Smart Machines: IBM’s Watson and the Era of Cognitive Systems.