Channel partner events, IT management, MSP

IBM Watson Surfaces at ConnectWise IT Nation 2016

Evan Leonard
Evan Leonard

IBM Watson technology is set to surface at ConnectWise IT Nation 2016 this week. Only, IBM isn't directly involved in the demo. The name to know is CrushBank -- which has built an IT help desk application atop Watson. And CrushBank essentially is a sister company of CHIPS Technology Group Inc., a well-known MSP in New York.

Why should you care? Admittedly, MSPs haven't exactly jumped on the big data and analytics waves. But there are multiple signs of progress. We noted some of the early big data movers at last year's IT Nation 2015. And a growing list of MSP-friendly companies (Cisco OpenDNS, SolarWinds MSP, Sophos, StorageCraft, Webroot) now leverage big data and machine learning systems to drive their security, storage and IT management products. And analytics-driven systems like BrightGauge continue to attract MSPs.

Still, IBM Watson is mostly known for its enterprise-focused cognitive computing capabilities. CrushBank is working to bring that intelligence into the MSP market. According to the company's claims:

"CrushBank ingests unstructured data, reads and understands it, and uses machine learning to find the right answers to your questions instantly."

The net result, CrushBank asserts, is a big increase in first-call resolutions and improved customer satisfaction.

CrushBank: Launched By An MSP

I'm always a little wary when I read and write about cognitive computing. There's a certain mystique around emerging artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning systems. Instead of explaining how the systems learn, it feels like most of the coverage essentially tells readers, "don't worry. It's magic. Just trust that it works."

But here's the potential twist with CrushBank. The company is backed by Evan Leonard and David Tan -- two MSP industry veterans known for their work at CHIPS Technology Group Inc. In theory, that means CHIPS could be the latest MSP to give rise to a next-generation software company.

Still, plenty of competition awaits CrushBank. In addition to numerous MSP-centric service desks, cloud-based options like ServiceNow, FreshDesk and Zendesk (among others) have been catching on with some MSPs.

I'll pursue a reality check when I arrive at IT Nation 2016...

Where's IBM?

Meanwhile, there is a side question that begs answering: Where is IBM these days in the MSP market? During the IBM PartnerWorld 2016 conference earlier this year, the company claimed that hundreds of MSPs were on hand. But I considered the audience to be mostly hardware resellers. And many of those attendees were still upset with IBM's decision to sell off its x86 server business to Lenovo.

Still, IBM has pockets of success with MSPs -- sometimes without directly making the effort. A case in point: Continuum runs its business continuity service atop the IBM Cloud. That means hundreds of Continuum MSPs depend on IBM's cloud infrastructure for business continuity services -- without any direct interaction with IBM.

As for IT Nation 2016, IBM will be on hand to promote MaaS360 -- the enterprise mobility management platform. And somewhere across the conference center, CrushBank will be making its case for a next-generation service desk. Built atop Watson...

Joe Panettieri

Joe Panettieri is co-founder & editorial director of MSSP Alert and ChannelE2E, the two leading news & analysis sites for managed service providers in the cybersecurity market.