Avoiding Bad Weather with an IoT Umbrella

By Enrique Pavlioglou

Here are two things that are true: First, creative potential thrives and depends on creative minds meeting and sharing. Second, I wake up and am everyday, along with the rest of the world, powerfully influenced by a phenomenon to which we give little thought, the weather.

Earlier this month, IBM Cloud and The Weather Company finalized the partnership they had announced back in March 2015.  For The Weather Company (formerly known as “Weather Systems International”), this partnership will prove key to its goal of applying Watson’s cognitive computing to IoT. It’s a goal, however, that feeds a larger purpose. With IBM as a parent company, The Weather Company hopes to contribute to solving what its CIO and CTO, Bryson Koehler, calls “the original big data problem”—the weather.

The story of this partnership is an old one, really. Essentially back in October 2014, a big data event led to drinks at a Las Vegas bar, that led to a conversation between two CTO’s—IBM Cloud's Mac Devine and Koehler—whose then-conversation led to a now-partnership between the two major companies the interests and abilities of which matched auspiciously well.

When Devine described to Koehler, IBM’s goal to move away from made-to-measure solutions that had to be re-built for each client and towards “API-driven creation” of apps for clients, Koehler had been quick to offer a solution. Saving IBM the trouble of having to build its own, Koehler extended an invitation that IBM use The Weather Company’s platform, instead.  Surprised, Devine had hesitated and asked, “but isn’t that just a weather platform?” Koehler emphatically responded: “No!”

Koehler’s enthusiasm likely stemmed from his close knowledge of the The Weather Company’s infrastructure. Having joined The Weather Company in 2012, he had led a team to update the company’s infrastructure and had managed to transform from 13, shabby, maxed-out data centers and “aging” apps into a new cloud-based and cloud-agnostic, data-driven infrastructure that yielded the delivery of weather-related data content through an API.

If you were inclined to superstition, you might take how readily these two matched each other as an omen for how well the project which their conversation had resulted in would grow. But this an enlightened age, and the two were brought together by an event precisely organized for the purpose of sparking collaborations by bringing together people like Koehler and Devine of the tech industry. Events like these are perfect examples of creativity flourishing when watered through by the exchange of knowledge.

Which brings me to the second part: Every morning that I wake up, I unplug my phone and look at the weather app. Though I never think about it too much, the weather wields heavy influence on my everyday life: how I eat, feel, and dress. While no one will ever be able to control the weather, IBM’s new partnership with The Weather Company could change the way we understand weather and make us more prepared for its surprises.

Predicting the weather is a massive challenge, and part of the beauty of IBM and The Weather Channel's approach is in how their solution builds organically on what already exists. Weather forecasters have been using IoT-like tech for decades. After all, the nuts and bolts of a weather station are the devices it uses to receive and communicate weather-related information (e.g. temperature, wind speed, atmospheric pressure, etc.) that is collected and measured by sensors. These sensors translate these data and relay it to a display where it can be analyzed and mined for additional information.

The potential of this data is limitless. Think about it: It extends far beyond the average person's everyday life because weather affects just about everything. How we dress, what happens at work, roads can be covered in snow or submerged in water, hail can cause incredible amounts of damage, droughts can destroy the foundations of buildings and highways, etc. In fact, weather has been designated as the single most largest external factor affecting business performance.  The heavy toll on businesses is estimated at about one trillion every year. (That’s more money in one year than the combined fortunes of the top 10 richest people world (Forbes).)

So what is IBM going to do about it?

The Weather Company and its new parent company, IBM, will aim to include Watson’s computing power as well as IoT devices to track and better predict weather patterns. Technology has come a long way in this field, however there is much room for improvement. IBM will also enable its cloud computing power and liberate The Weather Company's already-maxed-out data centers to provide crucial information to external companies.

The information provided by IBM could especially alleviate the damages and delays that businesses that thrive on transport experience during inclement weather. It will provide a wide range of tools and time frames in which companies can deliver and transport products and services with less time loss and greater cost-efficiency. Ultimately, IBM and The Weather Company's IoT solution will not only aid business but our everyday lives, predicting disasters before they happen and reducing loss.