Healthcare Technology Featured Article

February 12, 2014

IBM's Watson Set to Get to Work with New Watson Group Investments

The Watson computer system from IBM certainly made a big splash a while back, taking the two greatest competitors that the game of “Jeopardy” had ever known—Brad Rutter and Ken Jennings—and roundly trouncing the pair. But IBM discovered not so long after that a “Jeopardy” win doesn't exactly translate well to a working resume, and as such, has had some trouble finding steady work for the Watson. But a new development at IBM may be changing that soon, as IBM's so-called “Watson Group” is starting to make investments in “social health management” firms.

The Watson Group got a start back in January, and IBM put about $1 billion into the business group. Around 10 percent of that--$100 million—would be open for outside investments, designed around the group's central purpose of “the development and commercialization of cloud-delivered cognitive innovations.” The Watson Group put together its first such investment in the form of Welltok, a firm from Denver, Colorado that landed a slice of IBM money as part of its Series C financing round that garnered the firm a total of $22.1 million.

Welltok is out to give companies a leg up when it comes to getting employees to join in on company wellness plans, providing social media-based services to make such plans more accessible to the users. Where Watson might come in on that, meanwhile, is to use its ability to help process analytics—a whole lot of data all in one place that needs to be successfully screened for patterns and trends—to give Welltok a better idea of what could be offered up to what users and at what point. This new combination is set to be called “CafeWell Concierge,” and in turn will put some extra juice behind Welltok's CafeWell product, a health optimization system that represents Welltok's flagship product. With the newly-minted CafeWell Concierge system, company health managers can better pull together available solutions and present same more clearly to the user base.

Welltok notes that the investment IBM made—backed up by several other firms including Miramar Venture Partners and Okapi Venture Capital—will allow the company to offer up more solutions to more firms, expanding its market and providing more value to those who currently use the service.

Naturally, there are some issues with this; reports suggest that one of the major offerings of CafeWell allows companies to offer reduced health insurance premiums to employees that work to reduce body mass index (BMI) numbers, a number which has come under fire as a measure of health for its use of an oversimplified ratio of height to weight.  BMI notwithstanding, though, this looks like a sound partnership. After all, health insurance information can be difficult to work with. There are so many separate factors that go into a person's overall health—one of the big reasons some are against the BMI, actually—that keeping track of it all can be difficult. But putting a system like Watson to work on a matter like this shows a clear way to put all that separate data together and, ultimately, produce actionable steps from it all.

It's never enough to just have data; it has to be understood. Watson, meanwhile, could be exactly the tool healthcare providers need to take all the data that's generated in the healthcare arena and convert it into principles that users can work with. That's valuable no matter how it's sliced, and the end result should give Watson a serious leg up in the field.

Edited by Cassandra Tucker

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