IBM and Cisco will make Watson into a virtual workmate

The cognitive computing engine could schedule meetings and take notes

IBM and Cisco are bringing Watson analytics to collaboration tools.
Credit: Thinkstock

Watson might schedule your meetings someday if a partnership between IBM and Cisco Systems bears the fruit they’re hoping for.

In the meantime, the companies hope to save employees from some of the meaningless tasks they have to carry out just to work with their colleagues.

IBM’s Verse email platform and Connections collaboration suite are a good match for Cisco products like the Spark messaging app and WebEx conferencing service, so the two vendors have found ways to integrate them, company officials say. All this will happen in the cloud. They’ll demonstrate the first examples next month at the Cisco Live conference.

The collaboration could have particular value for enterprise Apple users. Both IBM and Cisco have partnerships with Apple for enterprise applications and communications on the company's devices. Details on that aspect of the IBM-Cisco partnership will come later, they said.

By working together, Cisco and IBM first plan to make the products aware of each other and able to work in sync. For example, if a user sets up a WebEx meeting via email in Verse, she may be able to launch that meeting directly from Verse in one click instead of four, said Inhi Cho Suh, general manager of collaborations solutions at IBM Analytics. The participants might automatically get information about what they discussed during their last WebEx meeting, too.

Another early feature might let someone look up a contact’s profile in IBM’s Connections platform and click to set up a one-on-one text session or voice call in Spark.

“It’s keeping individuals within their workflow,” said Ross Daniels, senior director of collaboration marketing at Cisco. “They’re not having to stop and do something in another toolset or interrupt the flow of work.”

Later, things promise to get more interesting. Cisco and IBM will bring Watson APIs into the collaboration tools to automate things you might not have expected to see artificial intelligence do.

By capturing spoken and written communication and observing how each individual works, the Watson analytics platform could act as a personal assistant that helps employees prepare to collaborate, helps move those sessions along and even decides when people should meet.

A key part of all this is making Watson understand what’s most important.

For example, by looking at what an employee’s been talking about with co-workers for the past week, the analytics engine could figure out that a new meeting on that topic should take priority over a standing meeting that the user attends every week. If push came to shove, the standing meeting could automatically get the boot. (Users could reverse Watson’s decisions.)

While users collaborate, the system could automatically look up documents that might shed light on the topic and provide links to them. It might also suggest experts that the people in the meeting could call in to add their thoughts.

Watson may even take notes during WebEx meetings and interpret what’s been happening in Spark, detecting what’s most important for each user based on their role and history. Watson could summarize what happened while that employee was away overnight or on the weekend.

The companies also plan to provide open APIs so third-party developers could create new capabilities on top of what Cisco and IBM have built.

The first phase of the new capabilities will come out in October, the companies said. The second phase, with the cognitive computing features, will start to roll out next February and expand over time. How these capabilities will be packaged and priced is yet to be determined.

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