By Joel Cawley
As climate change advances, the frequency and severity of weather and climate disasters is increasing. That’s bad news for all of us, and it’s particularly dire for the people who lose property or loved ones as a result.
But what if insurance companies had much more timely and detailed understanding of weather events as they happened? They could help people avoid the worst and recover more quickly when they’re hit hard.
Imagine this scenario: A string of tornados is heading toward a city. An insurance company, supplied with a stream of real time weather information, issues up-to-the-minute alerts to its customers with more details about the path of the tornados than they can get on TV. Immediately after the twisters whip through the area, the company sends out text messages to policyholders inquiring about their safety. It asks customers to send photos of damage through a smartphone app.
Right away, the company notifies affected customers when they’ll see representatives, and begins direct-depositing funds to their bank accounts to cover critical needs, such as food, hotels and clothing.
Big Data is emerging as a huge game-changer for business and society, and weather and climate data represent some of the biggest opportunities for using data to make a difference in our lives. Yet while heaps of data are important, insights are what really matters. If society is to reap the maximum benefit from Big Data, the tech industry and data providers must rethink what they do and how they do it. They must combine forces and provide their customers with the insights they need when they need them–via the cloud. At IBM, we call this opportunity the insights economy and our response to it “insights as a service.”
A prime example of this strategy is the alliance we announced today with The Weather Company. Through The Weather Channel, Weather.com, and other business units, the company not only provides millions of people every day with weather forecasts and updates, but it feeds streams of data to clients for whom the weather is more than a pleasure or a nuisance.
IBM and The Weather Company are forging a global partnership to bring real-time weather insights to businesses so they can make better decisions. We’re combining IBM’s industry-leading big data and analytics capabilities with The Weather Company’s scientific expertise and cloud-based weather data distribution system. The two companies will jointly develop new real-time insights services for specific industries, including retail, insurance, energy, utilities and logistics.
The rise of insights as a service represents a seismic shift in the business world. We believe it will create a huge new market segment.
The reason we believe this is that while big data truly is a new natural resource, like many material resources it has to be refined to create value. Raw data must be gathered and stored economically, merged from different sources, cleansed of irrelevant or misleading bits, analyzed using systems equipped with deep domain expertise, and made available in easy-to-get and easy-to-use formats. In many cases, it doesn’t make sense for the companies that use the data to perform all of this gathering and managing and analyzing. So businesses need sophisticated cloud service providers to handle the entire process behind the scenes and serve up insights that they need–when they need them.
Today, thousands of companies sell raw data; financial, legal, medical, commercial, scientific, geo-spatial, surveys, real estate, media, and so forth. But, for the most part, their data sets are commodities–so their customers won’t pay a premium for them. At the same time, corporations are hesitant to purchase high-end analytics tools, mainly because they consider them difficult to use. The insights-as-a-service model clears both of those hurdles.
By embracing the insights-as-a-service model, you’re not buying raw data or analytics tools. You’re purchasing solutions to the problems and challenges you face every day. No need for you to make and manage separate arrangements with numerous data providers, to stay on top of the latest analytics technologies, or to recruit and retain the most expensive professionals in the insights economy–data scientists. Your service providers handle all of that mess for you.
While IBM’s relationship with The Weather Channel is brand new, we’re already moving ahead on the alliance we announced with Twitter last October. We’re busy integrating Twitter data into a selection of cloud-based services, including Watson Analytics, the service that brings visualization and predictive capabilities to business users via mobile devices. In the coming days, we’ll launch a beta program on our Bluemix platform that enables developers to build Twitter data streams into their applications. And, as with The Weather Channel, we’re jointly developing services for industries, in this case including banking, consumer packaged goods, retail and media and entertainment.
But we’re just scratching the surface when it comes to finding uses for insights as a service. Remember all that talk about the Internet of Things? It was the rage a few years back, but, so far, not a lot has come of it. For many companies, it was just too much trouble to gather all that data from vast networks of monitors and devices. The solution to that hassle is turning IOT data feeds into industry-specific services. We foresee great uses for these services in smart buildings, smart cities, connected vehicles, transportation and utility grid markets.
The rise of the insight economy is one of the most exciting shifts to come along in years. It’s enabled by a handful of critical technologies, including cloud, analytics, mobile, social networking and security. You can think of the business world as a market system of buyers and sellers and packagers of data and insights.
It’s a complex mash-up of data types, industries and business uses. But, thanks to the insights-as-a-service phenomenon, the answers you seek are there, at your fingertips, when you need them.