Cognitive weather: the surprising profits of IBM Watson markets | #WomenInTech


It takes a powerful cloud to process all the data owned by The Weather Company, and IBM Corp. aims to show it’s up to the challenge.

Having acquired the weather forecasting platform, IBM has applied its computing technology to Mother Nature’s data trail and is using artificial intelligence and cognitive machine-learning processes to uncover weather trends and use real-time analysis to help organizations make better business decisions.

But how can a business minimize the cost of weather? One example is the partnership between OnGolf and IBM. By exposing The Weather Company’s data stream to the golfing industry’s first cloud-based decision platform for improving golf course management, OnGolf 2.0 can optimize operational decisions for course maintenance, reduce costs on labor and chemical lawn treatments, and, most importantly, improves playing conditions, which ultimately generates more revenue.

At the helm of forecast operations at The Weather Company is Mary Glackin, senior vice president of science and forecast operations. After Glackin majored in computer science at the University of Maryland, she went on to distinguish herself by working for the National Weather Services for 20 years, gathering 30 credits in meteorology along the way.

In an interview with Dave Vellante (@dvellante) and John Furrier (@furrier), hosts of theCUBE, SiliconANGLE Media’s mobile live streaming studio, at the IBM World of Watson 2016 event held in October in Las Vegas, the trio covered a broad range of topics, including the impact of weather on businesses and controlling data and cognitive learning through Internet of Things devices. (*Disclosure below.)

This week, theCUBE spotlights Mary Glackin in our Women in Tech column.

The business of weather

2015 Business Insider survey revealed that 62 percent of executives surveyed indicated they had already adopted IoT-based systems or had plans to do so. And a recent IDC Analysts predicted the growth in the IoT solutions market value to hit $7.1 trillion in 2020.

So as IoT emerges throughout many industries, it is notable that collecting data about the climate can offer insight into weather patterns that help companies make better business decisions. While many wonder why a computing powerhouse acquired The Weather Company, Glackin unraveled the mystery, pointing out the impact of weather on every business. The company’s recognition for great forecasting and having a great data platform were factors in as well.

“We are completely running on the cloud. So, we manage all of this data in the cloud, coming and going. We have a data platform that we are now in the process of commercializing because we’ve solved that problem [of real-time transactions],” Glackin explained.

This past June, The Weather Company and IBM produced their combined first product for enterprise clients named Deep Thunder. The offering, comprised of IBM technology and research, and The Weather Company’s global forecast model, along with historical data to advance machine learning, will inform business customers about hyper-local, short-term custom projections.

“I think every business needs to think about both how they can capitalize on weather and how they can minimize the cost of weather. There are both sides of the coin there,” Glackin stated.

The IoT-weather connection

The number of connected devices keeps growing, and The Weather Company is using data from sensors on airplanes and cars to improve safety and performance. Glackin talked about the relationship between cars and weather. The majority, 73 percent, of weather-related accidents occur on wet pavement.

“We’re excited about connected vehicles for a number of things. Each of these vehicles gives us environmental information. Think about how fast your windshield wipers are going. … We know something about how quickly the rain is falling. Think about every time your ABS (anti-lock brakes) engages; we know something about the road surface. … We are obviously getting temperature information, but what we want to do at Weather Company/IBM is what we are already doing in aviation; treating these vehicles as a two-way street. What we want to so is extract that environmental information from them and provide back a precise, accurate forecast,” Glackin revealed.

Recently, IBM signed a deal with BMW Group that will bring together teams of researchers and engineers at IBM’s global headquarters for Watson Internet of Things in Munich. Through cognitive learning, the goal is to learn about the driver’s overall driving experience, such as driving behaviors and preferences in a way that will lead to more customized and safer experiences.

The most accurate model

In December, a study by (a Service of Intellovations LLC) — that covered forecasts from 2010 through 2016 — proclaimed The Weather Channel as “the most accurate forecasters overall across diverse geographic regions and time periods covered.”

As to how The Weather Company collects its data, Glackin believes it is critical to get the best set of high-quality control data to make it run. “We take forecast models from all around the globe. We have about 160 of these, so we take the output from that, [in addition to] the National Weather Service in this country, the U.K.’s Met Office, from the European center, from the Bureau of Meteorology in Australia, and with the machine-learning algorithm we produce the best forecast. We can be your best model by machine learning any day of the week by using machine learning on top of all the models,” Glackin described.

Glackin illustrated how if a storm is getting less weight, the algorithm understands that machine learning is adjusting on the fly. The company’s model brings information back from the edge, and the ability to ingest 100 terabytes of data per day and produce real-time transactions requires the complexity of The Weather Company’s platform and IBM’s research capabilities.

Additionally, The Weather Company works with weather enthusiasts who purchase weather stations and place in their backyards. There is a global network of about 200,000 so far, and that number is increasing, especially in areas where a lack of observation is offering new information.

Technology such as Watson will make weather forecasting smarter. Using cognitive and cloud computing is exciting for The Weather Company, because it affords the ability to go back and look at the company’s past data and help to understand some patterns that scientists may have missed.

“Businesses and communities that are impacted by this are asking the question … ‘How often am I going to see this ’50-year event?’ And the answer is a lot,” she concluded.

Watch the complete video interview below, and be sure to check out more of SiliconANGLE and theCUBE’s coverage of IBM World of Watson 2016. (*Disclosure: IBM and other companies sponsor some IBM World of Watson segments on SiliconANGLE Media’s theCUBE. Neither IBM nor other sponsors have editorial control over the content on theCUBE or SiliconANGLE.)

Photo by SiliconANGLE