If you have had the opportunity to view this author’s prior conference presentations on future technology trends in supply chain management you might have recalled my references to the technology-enabled data analytics services related to The Weather Company and its implications as to how industry supply chains can literally predict future product demand needs by region.

Last October, IBM announced its intention to acquire most of this data analytics provider.  While IBM would not disclose financial terms, The Wall Street Journal speculated the value was over $2 billion. Many in the tech world wondered what this was all about, and why did it fetch such value.

Last week, IBM announced that it has closed its acquisition of The Weather Company’s B2B mobile and Cloud-based properties including weather.com, Weather Underground, The Weather Company brand and WSI, the global B2B brand. According to IBM, the combination of these platforms will serve as a foundation to the evolving cognitive computing IBM Watson IoT Cloud which begins to reveal the why- becoming a far deeper business related data analytics company.

The Weather Company was spawned from what we all easily identify as The Weather Channel. Executives of this weather sciences broadcaster understood the future relationships of weather to consumer buying patterns.  For instance, in the summer months, beer consumption in Chicago incrementally increases after three consecutive days of below-average temperatures. In Atlanta, during the months of fall, beer sales rise after during periods of above-average temperatures and below-average rainfall. During the winter months in Boston, sales of healthy snacks increase after three consecutive days of below-average temperatures and above-average precipitation such as winter snow storms.

Having amassed enormous amounts of weather data from literally thousands of micro-climate geographic locations, weather scientists began to explore the direct correlation of weather to sales of consumer goods. Having found many direct correlations, The Weather Company was spawned as a big-data analytics provider that could aide various consumer goods producers to better predict or promote product sales by specific region. At the same time, industry customers subscribed to weather data to better manage their services and equipment. In a published 2013 article, The Wall Street Journal reported that the new analytics and data science company had the potential to be far more lucrative than the broadcasting arm.

IBM’s plans for The Weather Company now take on a more Internet of Things (IoT) strategy focus. According to its latest announcement, IBM plans to collect a larger variety and higher velocity of data sets from billions of IoT sensors around the world while providing real-time information and insights to tens of millions of users worldwide. As part of the acquisition, IBM inherits The Weather Company’s customers in the aviation, energy, and insurance industries, as well as others. IBM is dedicating more than 2500 developers to help clients and partners collect, analyze and act upon entirely new forms of IoT data resulting from the proliferation of automobile and airplane telematics, building and environmental sensors, wearable devices, medical implants, weather stations, smartphones, social media, manufacturing lines and supply chains, among others.

IBM indicates that its customers will now be able to link all of their business and sensor data from their connected devices with weather data using IBM Watson. Controlling what is described as 2.2 billion weather forecast locations and marrying other physical sensors originating from supply chain activities can literally open up far broader dimensions of predictive analytics and decision-making beyond consumer product demand. How products are planned, how transportation is routed and controlled and how risk is managed across the physical supply chain are all possibilities.

Industry supply chains should keep their eye on efforts in this area.  While IBM has exhibited a prior track record of rather elongated execution on the potential benefits of its acquisitions, Watson and its renewed focus on industrial IoT tied to predictive analytics is an area that will be, from our lens, crucial to long-term growth and future IBM revenue streams.

At the same time, the dimensions of data analytics that literally marry physical, environmental and digital applications information to decisions in product management, supply chain planning, manufacturing and service lifecycle management focused processes are capabilities with enormous benefits.

The open question moves from not in my career but rather to perhaps within the not too distant future.

Bob Ferrari

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