The Watson Superbowl ad: Examining the hidden truth behind the magic

By Roger Beharry Lall | March 10, 2017

2 minute read

Ok… I admit it, I’m not much of a sports fan.  I’m a Canadian boy, so by definition I’m supposed to like hockey.. but that’s about my limit.  That said, even I couldn’t resist the lure of the Super bowl.   The competition, the lead up, the Monday-morning quarterbacking…  but also, of course, the cheerleaders, the halftime show, and, as a Marketing guy… the commercials!

This year had the usual roster of celeb-laden, humor-filled ads (and a few interesting emotional/political specials).   But one that really caught my eye was IBM Watson’s ad.

In it, the dashing Jon Hamm (even I admit to a bit of a man-crush on the devilishly handsome Don Draper), explains how, with the help of Watson, the green bow tie wearing HRBlock accountant will do a better job on your tax return, catching all returns and deductions, getting average Joe more money for his family. 

He further expounds the miracle that is Watson and its unique ability to predict weather patterns, fight disease, and even improve education.

Now I’m not here to pick a beef with IBM (a past, and possibly future employer, not to mention an Adlib partner over the years).  However, I think we, the content industry, need to speak up a bit and call out some of the misleading hype that is Big Data.

Look, I’ve no doubt that data analytics, predictive algorithms, and the like can have powerful benefits in noting trends, exploiting unseen opportunities, etc. 

5 ways the content industry will be turned upside down in 2017However... let’s look at taxes for just a minute.   Assuming you’re not a lazy-ass like myself (I still have my dad do my taxes - he’s bored, retired, loves math, and it keeps him busy - then you’ll know.  Taxes are not necessarily about complex math or hidden loopholes, especially at the “HR Block Level” (which I’m guessing targets a demographic slightly lower than the millionaires’ club!).   Taxes really are more about finding, collecting, organizing, and aligning a random collection of disparate pieces of highly unstructured content in order to isolate and extract key data to transpose it to “Form 1, Box 23”. 

It’s monotonous, difficult, complex... but this is not “big data analytics”... this, my friends, is the world we live in... it’s Content Management!   It might be file analytics, data preparation, data extraction, data validation, intelligent capture, ROT reduction (I receive 3 versions of the same form from one of my banks. They know, I know, but no one can seem to change this), and maybe even a hint of redaction (if you don’t want your accountant to know exactly how much you spent on that trip to Vegas!) 

Again, there’s absolutely a play for Big Data. HRBlock could discern all sorts of fascinating group trends, identify year over year gaps, and potentially save millions (whether those savings are for the IRS or for citizens might be a separate debate).   HOWEVER... I think we, the content industry, need to do a better job of discussing the hidden truth... before the insight or even foresight.. You’ve got to have basic content oversight.   Before the data analytics you’ve got to have clean content.  Before the business process, you’ve got to have organized information.   You’ve got to start with the foundation and fix the content before you can ever hope of achieving further loftier goals – whether RIM, IG, or IRS related. 

I think said it best in this video that took place at a partner conference. What good is the data you’re applying analytics to if you don’t understand what you’re looking for in the first place? Have a look at the video to see what he has to say on data requiring more discipline industry-wide.

So... don’t stop watching the Super Bowl , or admiring Watson... but let’s start giving credit where credit is due, and acknowledging, the content is core to any (and all) business goals and that content management professionals (that’s us!) should have a much stronger voice, and a bigger seat at the Big Data table! 

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