IBM acquires the Weather Channel: when technology vendors become data vendors

Lightning Storm

Lightning Storm

Credit: By Thomas Dwyer (CC BY 2.0)

Beyond a highly powerful data platform, IBM is also getting their hands on data that is critical for most of their customers

The barriers between technology and its users are tumbling down, one after another. In an unusual move for a technology company, IBM has just announced its intent to acquire one of the largest and most well-known data provider in the world, the Weather Channel. The deal includes the Weather Channel and Weather Underground apps and websites, but not the TV property, which will however license weather forecast data and analytics from IBM under a long-term contract.

I have written in the past about data users and providers acquiring technology that was deemed mission-critical to the continued operation of their business -- for example, back in August, the parent company of Vogue and Vanity Fair acquired big data vendor 1010data, to support the digitalization of their business and a strong data monetization strategy.

However, IBM is better known in our industry for buying complementary technologies that would reinforce an already-broad product portfolio and enable them to be a single source for all their enterprise customers.

Of course, like most modern digital companies, the Weather Channel is before all a technology platform operator, which developed an extremely high-volume data platform, collecting and analyzing data from 3 billion weather forecast reference points, more than 40 million smartphones and 50,000 airplane flights per day, and serves 65 billion unique accesses on weather data a day. That in itself means deep expertise that IBM will be able to leverage and replicate for other Internet of Things applications. But IBM also has engineering teams with this kind of expertise, so the platform itself isn’t enough of a reason for the acquisition.

Weather data is present in many business decisions -- and indeed, as Gartner analyst Doug Laney twitted recently, "60 percent of S&P blame their earnings miss on the weather." And indeed, from media companies that broadcast weather forecasts, airlines whose operations depend on weather conditions, energy companies who need to adjust capacity based on temperatures, insurance firms that use historical weather data to verify claims, and even governments and non-profits who get ready for disasters -- (almost) every organization needs weather data.

Since IBM aims at becoming a core provider of analytics and decision making for these companies, being able to provide such reference data is a logical move.

So what could be next in terms of technology acquisitions?

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