The Weather Business: Can Your Company Benefit?

Many firms already analyze multiple datasets to better understand their operations. Could adding weather data to the mix help?
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Apr 03, 2015

This week, IBM announced a new partnership with The Weather Channel and its Weather Services International (WSI) business arm, which provides customized forecasts and related services to businesses. WSI is migrating its weather data platform service, which continuously pulls data from sensors and weather stations around the world, from its own data centers to the IBM cloud.

This integration will enable three distinct offerings, IBM reports: industry-specific data services based on historical and real-time weather data, as well as input from IBM analytics platforms; Bluemix, IBM's cloud application development platform, consisting of tools for developers to create Web-based applications that leverage this integrated solution; and access to IBM Global Business Services consultants, who are training to become WSI data experts in order to help clients make use of weather data. (IBM has also announced that is it investing $3 billion during the next four years to create an IoT business unit.)

The two companies are targeting specific industries that they say will see immediate benefits by integrating weather datasets into their operations: insurance, energy, utilities, retail and logistics. They cite research from the Bulletin of the American Meterological Society that shows weather is linked to $500 billion in annual losses for firms in the United States.

But how does weather data play into the Internet of Things? By enabling better decision-making, says Bryson Koehler, WSI's chief information and technology officer. WSI already supplies companies in a range of industries, including aviation, insurance and energy, with weather data that is designed to help them foresee and respond to weather events that will impact their business.

For example, WSI collects data from sensors mounted on airplanes to power its turbulence-alert system, which helps pilots better understand and avoid areas of rough conditions ahead of them. Through the IBM partnership, WSI's customers in the aviation industry will be able to integrate other datasets, related to their operations or how they are being discussed in social media. This will enable them, for example, to get a more complete picture of not just turbulent air and how to avoid it, but also how turbulence during flights impacts other parts of the company's operations, such as fuel consumption, or how it sways customer sentiment.

Despite all of the hype and tantalizing forecasts regarding the IoT's market potential, Koehler says, "Real-time business tools have not been [deployed] at scale yet. When you look at IoT datasets that are being captured around world, most of it sits in silos." The IBM-WSI partnership, he adds, will be one of the first to show how a large-scale data platform allows IoT datasets to be captured and combined at scale. "We can take operational data, weather data [and] social data, and then drive Web-based application tools" that companies can use to improve their business.

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