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Big data, cognitive computing drive innovation

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Kathy Gibson at the IBM Watson Summit 2017 – There is a huge opportunity for organisations to use technology, coupled with human ability, to drive innovation that makes everyone’s lives better,
The World Bank reports that, over the last 30 years, natural disasters – including severe weather – have taken as estimated 2,5-million lives and cost more than $4-trillion.
“At the same time, we are having to re-invent our cities,” says Shane Radford, industry innovation and solutions leader at IBM South Africa.
We have technology: we have the data and can analyse it. “We have the ability for man and machine to exponentially make a difference,” Radford says.
“The ability to innovate to stay relevant is of primary important,” he adds.
Sustainable growth is a big issue. “If we don’t drive the right collaboration, and use the stimulus that is available, we are not going to drive change.”
Paul Walsh, a director of the Weather Company, explains that weather has a tangible effect on everyone. “You check the weather forecast because you are planning your life.”
In fact, he says, weather is the primary driver of consumer behaviour. “We need to understand what is happening in our environment.”
Weather can have a massive effect on businesses as well, Walsh adds. Extreme weather has obviously effects, but even something like a warm winter can have a major impact on a retailer’s bottom line.
“If you have access to weather information, you can make a new plan. We need to use weather data proactively – anticipate what is going to happen, leverage the data, and do something different.”
For example, a global CPG brand increased its sales by 24% compared to the previous years. It did this by identifying what weather resulted in a “bad hair day”, and proactively triggered mobile shampoo advertising.
The Weather Company is working with Teva Pharmaceuticals to help users of asthma inhalers if they will need additional medication because adverse weather conditions are forecast.
The Weather Company leverages data from 250 000 personal weather stations. It records 200-million mobile app downloads and serves 750 TV stations globally, 180-million consumers, 5 000 businesses and 140 airlines.
Walsh explains how the company invested in making weather forecasts are as geographically available and accurate as possible in order to cater for an increasingly mobile user.
To do this, it deploys what he calls an “Internet of Things at scale”, pulling in data from a variety of devices that include weather stations but also cars, phones and aeroplanes.
“By doing this we are able to create a very dense network of weather data. And this lets us use an intelligent combination of forecasts from 162 sources that produces the best result that is as accurate as possible.”
This system also allows for updates every 15 minutes to ensure the best possible accuracy of forecasts. More than 20-billion forecasts are served via mobile devices every day.
Now the Weather Company is also delivering weather forecasts using mesh networks that don’t rely on the Internet. Instead the technology connects nodes, allowing devices to pass information to one another.
This technology could be crucial when natural disasters occur or in geographies where Internet is limited or non-existent.
On the local front, a company is using innovation to measure Johannesburg’s air quality, and use big data to predict outcomes that will help to improve citizen’s lives.