Weatherman Watson: How The Weather Company, an IBM Business, is redefining the Forecast

Jacqueline Cao

I’ve been spending a fair amount of time working with The Weather Company over the past few months as we prepared for partnership to bring native weather data to Samsung’s Galaxy S8. Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with Chantal Botana, product leader of cognitive solutions at IBM, to discuss how The Weather Company and IBM’s Watson work together. From smarter insurance insights that can save dollars and headaches, to making sure your weekend plans aren’t ruined by the rain, The Weather Company and IBM Watson are squeezing insights out of forecasts in amazing new ways.

Jacqueline Cao: Give us an overview of how The Weather Company is leveraging the power of Watson to inform and augment weather offerings.

Chantal Botana: Watson allows The Weather Company to put our data to work for customers in a way that is insightful and personalized to each individual user. With Watson, we can have more meaningful engagements with consumers, better understand the context around each unique situation and react in a way that delivers unprecedented value. Essentially, we’re making it easier than ever before for consumers to get access to the information they need, and make it immediately actionable. The power of cognitive and machine learning has great potential. With The Weather Channel for Samsung app and all our products, the team is always looking for ways to decrease cognitive load for the consumer as well as integrate Watson.

My favorite example is a common one. Imagine you’re traveling through a few different climates – it can be as simple as a trip from Atlanta to Seattle, maybe a stop to Vegas in between. Understanding climates in unfamiliar locations, even in the same country, can be really challenging – and determining what actions you need to take (or clothes you need to pack) can be even trickier. With Watson, The Weather Company can contextualize the difference between sixty degrees with seventy percent humidity to seventy degrees and five percent humidity and deliver real, actionable advice that will make traveling a breeze.

Jacqueline Cao: How is The Weather Company empowering businesses?

Chantal Botana: Weather truly has a profound impact on every business. From retail to healthcare and education to financial services, variances in climate, weather patterns and even temperatures greatly impact operations, employee travel, supply chains and more. Organizations that are constantly aware of weather-related changes or disruptions in real time can stay ahead of potential issues to avoid costly delays – or, better yet, deploy that data as insight to make proactive changes as a business advantage.

A great example of this is the recent partnership IBM announced with Salesforce. Just last month, IBM announced the two companies will connect IBM Watson with Salesforce Einstein to deliver an incredibly detailed level of customer engagement insight for a variety of industries, such as retail, sales and services. As part of that collaboration, The Weather Company will now integrate into the Salesforce AppExchange via the new Lightning component to deliver actionable weather-based insights.

Jacqueline Cao: What is an interesting integration of The Weather Company that has been completed by an individual developer on IBM Bluemix?

Chantal Botana: Bluemix is IBM’s cloud platform, and it’s how we deliver The Weather Company service through APIs. This has made Bluemix critical to helping a growing number of global developers access and build with our weather data.

Recently, a couple of our Bluemix developers built a weather bot on Bluemix, using weather intelligence APIs and Bluemix OpenWhisk, IBM’s serverless platform that allows developers to call and engage cloud services on-demand within their apps. Using OpenWhisk, the Weather Company Data service and Slack, they’ve been able to construct an easy way to build an automated weather bot, which can pull specific weather data into apps based on certain requests on an as-needed basis. Implementations such as this are particularly important to our developer community, as it helps to demonstrate how an expanding number of developers can access and use weather data on Bluemix, without needing to set up and manage a great deal of infrastructure up-front.

Jacqueline Cao: What is one of the most interesting Watson engagements you’ve seen over the past few years?

Chantal Botana: One of my personal favorite Watson engagements is the work being done with H&R Block, which helps to personalize the tax experience even further. Taxes can be complicated, especially with thousands of changes made every year, which can have an impact on individual outcomes. Now, H&R Block is able to apply Watson technology to virtually any tax-related topic when helping customers with their returns. As Watson is trained by H&R Tax professionals, the technology can interpret situations and then establish connections for a better-informed outcome.

We’re also really excited about the new milestone IBM Watson set with regards to conversational speech recognition. Just last month, IBM announced it had reached a new industry record of a 5.5 percent word error rate, bringing the industry closer than ever before to having a computer system match the complexity of how the human ear, voice and brain interact. It’s a really exciting time for IBM and Watson but also the industry at large.

Jacqueline Cao: How are Watson and The Weather Company working together and how can developers get involved?

Chantal Botana: Developers worldwide now have access to The Weather Company APIs as part of our IBM Bluemix offering, which is very exciting. This is a great opportunity for developers and business partners to take advantage of the insights that The Weather Company can offer. Using the power of Watson and The Weather Company APIs, organizations will be able to create stronger and more accurate operational plans.

For example, the APIs from The Weather Company can provide notifications about what the weather will be and if it would be better for the business to stay open or closed on certain days. A great example of this would be for ride-sharing drivers. If the ride-sharing company had real-time intelligence about the weather across multiple geographies, the organization would be able to quickly and immediately notify drivers about an expected shift in customer behavior.

Jacqueline Cao: What will Watson and The Weather Company be able to do together in the future?

Chantal Botana: There’s so much we’re excited about. Right now, The Weather Company is leveraging Watson and working with third parties to create smart planning integrations that will enable us to make smart recommendations based on users’ upcoming calendar of events; by analyzing the events and upcoming weather, we are able to quickly determine if the event will be impacted by the weather and provide alternative options. For example, if there’s a soccer game to attend on Saturday afternoon that may be rained out, The Weather Company with Watson will create an alternative itinerary for the user. This type of analysis can also be used to encourage certain behaviors when an area is experiencing good weather. Specifically, if a ride-sharing company is aware that Saturday night will be a warm, dry evening, they can alert their drivers to get out on the road in anticipation of more people needing rides.

But that’s just a small sampling of features we’re excited about. There’s so much on the horizon, we’re really just scratching the surface of what’s possible. Cognitive computing and Watson are allowing us to deliver dynamically assembled experiences that meet the specific needs of an individual like you, Jacqueline – and not just someone with similar traits as you. At The Weather Company, we’ll continue looking for ways to evolve the forecast, giving it more meaning for businesses and consumers alike.

We thank Chantal Botana for sitting down to discuss The Weather Company’s vision. The Weather Company’s unique approach and focus on innovative, disruptive technology, makes them an ideal co-development partner for Samsung. The Weather Channel app is part of the “Made for Samsung” program – which creates exclusive experiences for Samsung Galaxy devices owners. Marketing and promotion provided to development partners gives apps unprecedented exposure to Samsung’s global install base. The Weather Company has also collaborated with Samsung and our development partner Lyft to help Made for Samsung users navigate the elements with personalized transportation recommendations. (see link here). The Lyft integration feature is available for app users within the US, while The Weather Channel App for Samsung is accessible on device globally within the Galaxy Apps store.

If you are a developer creating unique, intelligently augmented user experiences we want to hear from you. Check out the following links to learn more about the Samsung Developer Program, The Weather Company , IBM Bluemix, and IBM’s developerWorks.