Bouncing among cognitive sessions and weaving though the crowds, it’s not clear what hurts the most, my feet or my brain.  How much of this are we to believe? What is actually deployable, affordable, and usable by mere humans, and when?  The cognitive exuberance at World of Watson (WOW) was certainly exhausting and even by tech conference standards, overplayed.  IBM, it’s partners, and tech analysts were much better at painting the future vision then how to break that vision into an actionable sequence of steps to be followed.

And that’s one reason, IBM’s announcement of a new collaboration product, IBM Watson Workspace, got my attention.  In short, it seems a practical solution to a really bad problem, our Digital Disorder. Not to sound Trump-esk, but our daily digital lives are quickly becoming a disaster. Workspace is a group messaging tool that uses Watson to help and is now available as a “pre-view “version, basically for folks to play with. While release plans are not totally baked, rumblings are that IBM will release it on a Fremium  basis- taking a page from fast moving startups. 

Does Workspace have a chance? It does and here’s why. Expertise routing, recommendations, and personal assistance are the new battleground for collaboration. Let’s call it people analytics.  It is the last and most important mile of a less then sterling collaboration journey.  Or to put it another way, cognitive may be the last hope to relieve the Digital Disorder we have created. .

And this is where Watson comes in.  When I go off the grid for even a few days, I return to a  painful pile of e-mails, social media alerts, calendar notices, papers and articles that are must read. In short – the digital mess that has taken over my life.  Wouldn’t it be nice to have Watson dig through all this and summarize them, organize them by importance, by subject, and recommend actions? It sure would, and that is the killer app. for Workspace.  

But,  as always, challenges are many. Bringing out features to keep up with Slack and the many other team messaging apps. tops the list.  IBM has a poor track record of bringing slideware to product quickly. Microsofts’s  Office 365 Groups has all the tools as well  and startups seem to pop up weekly.  Just look at your phone, you may have five messaging apps. there already.

And then Workplace by Facebook was announced just last week (an unfortunate timing and naming collision with IBM' s Workspace). Facebook wants to grab a sliver of the $2.9 trillion enterprise software spend. And collaboration is a terrific starting point. 50% of workers by 2020 will be millennials, and they honed their interaction habits, such as they are, with Facebook. But cultural head winds such as being associated with fooling around, feature gaps, and of course, security concerns, will make rough sledding.  

IBM’s open approach to Watson may also be an issue.  They have built a plugin that gives bot creators access to Watson, basically Slack developers and others will have access to the conversational API and other components. See in fact the recent Slack/IBM partnership announcement. So then where is the IBM advantage?

Here’s where.  Most AI is being bolted on to existing applications.  Workspace has the opportunity to be the first native-borne cognitive solution, to be a natural extension to the worker experience, and use Watson’s ingestion and discovery smarts to bring multiple information streams into play.  An agnostic approach to relevant content is spot on.  

Consistent with the cognitive discussion overall, the potential for Workspace is vast and the initial vision barely scratches the surface of what is possible. But to succeed IBM will need to get crisper at moving vision to released product.