Taking A Fresche Approach To IBM i-Watson Education
February 4, 2019 Alex Woodie
There is a big data analytics revolution taking place that threatens to separate the AI haves from the have-nots. Companies that run the IBM i server want to get in on the analytics action just like everybody else, but AI discussions often stray away from IBM i. Now Fresche Solutions is working to close that disconnect with a series of educational courses centered squarely on the intersection of IBM i and Watson.
Last year, Fresche Solutions worked with IBM last year to put together a series of onsite training seminars aimed at giving IBM i professionals the educational tools they need to implement Watson in their businesses. The onsite courses were so successful that Fresche decided to parlay that content into a series of online courses that IBM i professionals can access at their leisure through their Web browser.
Fresche produced a total of six classes that are divided into two courses, which can be purchased separately or as part of a bundle. All courses combine a mixture of lectures and demos, and are accessed remotely through Fresche’s training website at training.freschesolutions.com.
The instructor for the courses is Mike Pavlak, the Fresche IT strategist and IBM Champion. According to Pavlak, the first course, which is titled “Connecting IBM i Applications to Watson,” is geared toward application developers, while the second course, titled “Connecting IBM i Data to Watson,” is geared toward data engineers and data scientists.
The first course starts with a basic introduction to Watson, before getting into more advanced topics in the second segment, such as using SOAP and REST APIs to connect IBM i applications to Watson. In the third segment, attendees get in-depth instruction on how to use open source analytics packages, such as Python, with Watson and their IBM i applications.
The second course begins with the basics of creating database connections between IBM i and Watson, as well as accessing audit journals and using Watson to analyze social media. The second segment gives developers more advanced instructions on some of the underlying HTTP and JSON techniques. The third segment guides attendees through the process of building a real-world application that involves data marts, ETL, and Watson’s machine learning tech.
The name “IBM Watson” may conjure up all sorts of ideas in people’s minds, but it’s really not all that complicated, according to Pavlak. “Watson is essentially a Web service,” he says. “It’s software as a service. That’s it. That’s all it is.”
The service can do a variety of things, from simple pattern recognition and facial recognition to “full on data analytics,” Pavlak continues. “But it’s purely a service-oriented offering — meaning, if you want to use Watson, you’re going to have to push your data and ask it questions and then get a response back and parse that as you see fit.”
The classes are good for anybody who wants more information on how Watson technologies can integrate with IBM i applications. But Pavlak wants to make sure that the knowledge is applicable to other technologies, and is useful in other contexts, too.
“We’re going to through not just RPG basics in the class, but also how you can leverage Watson from open source tech, and some of these newer technologies like Python, PHP, and so on,” he says. “There’s a lot of Python that makes up the machine learning and deep learning space. Watson itself has Python components.”
“What I’m more interested is how I can leverage Python from my IBM i to leverage Watson. Or how can I use RPG or PHP. What I want to make sure customers have the understanding that they’re not tied into a particular technology, they’re not locked into ‘Oh my gosh, I can only use RPG for this or Python for that.’ You have flexibility and options out there.”
In developing the curriculum, Fresche worked extensively with the IBM Cognitive team, as well as with IBM leaders from the Rochester lab, including DB2 for i business architect Scott Forstie and Jesse Gorzinski, IBM i open source business architect. “They were instrumental in helping us,” says Fresche Solutions senior director of marketing Christine McDowell.
The online courses have been available since early October, and Fresche is now ramping up the awareness campaign to generate demand. “We’re really excited about this,” McDowell says. “This is everything you want to know about Watson.”
Alison Butterill, product offering manager for IBM i, says she’s extremely pleased to see the course go online. “We’re working closely with Fresche and together we’re leveraging their global reach and extensive partner network to ensure that everyone knows how easy it is to use Watson on IBM i,” Butterill says.
Fresche, which acquired BCD Software, looksoftware, Databorough, and other prominent IBM i vendors, is primarily focused on selling software used for application modernization. When Fresche engages clients in a modernization initiative, they often start with a discovery phase, which naturally leads to strategy and product roadmap phases down the line.
“A lot of times the conversation will turn to data analytics,” McDowell says. “Our interest is absolutely is making sure that we’re well-versed in what customers can do with AI, and making sure that flows through so they can make decisions for the future.”
Offering training for IBM Watson is a natural evolution for Fresche, says Andy Kulakowski, the president and chief executive officer of the Montreal, Quebec-based company.
“We provide strategic IT guidance for digital transformation enablement and application modernization solutions to help IBM i clients leverage their IT assets,” Kulakowski says. “Our clients take advantage of modern technologies including AI, cloud, web and mobile as tools for success. We’re excited to deliver training that will help IBM i clients boost productivity and provide sustainable growth for the future.”
Each analytics engagement is unique to a particular business’s model and its strategy. But early big data analytics and AI patterns have emerged, and practitioners are seeing common themes, such as analyzing social media content, creating greater customer personalization, and optimizing supply chain decisions. These are all areas that are ripe for disruption through AI.
“As companies look to modernize, they’re looking at operational efficiencies, they’re looking at delivering on more business value, they’re looking at competitive threats,” McDowell says. “They’re looking at where they want to be in five years. Technology is a huge part of that. It’s a major driver. And analyzing what analytics can do for them is a big part of what we’re dealing with.”
Fresche’s two courses are available for $450 each, or a bundle with both can be purchased for $799. For more information, see training.freschesolutions.com.