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Cognitive computing is emerging as a new class of applications that help people make better decisions by identifying the relationships between complex sets of data. What may be surprising is the fact that the channel is one of the first places these cognitive applications are actually being applied.

At the recent IT Nation 2014 conference, ConnectWise, a provider of professional services automation software widely used in the channel, previewed an early implementation of its software that sometime next year will allow channel executives to ask the application questions about the status of accounts and business trends using natural language queries.

The idea is that, rather than having to construct canned reports, channel executives will be able to ask questions about how the profit margins being generated by a particular product class or the amount of services revenue being created in a vertical industry by simply typing the question into the ConnectWise application, said Mark Sokol, director of marketing for ConnectWise.

In general, ConnectWise has spent much of the last year modernizing its application, Sokol said. Not only is the application a lot more intuitive to use, it also sports RESTful application programming interfaces (APIs) that make it a lot easier to integrate ConnectWise with other applications that solution providers need to track.

In addition, those APIs can also be used to customize the ConnectWise environment, Sokol said. At the same time, however, ConnectWise has embraced Agile development methodologies that have significantly increased the cadence of future ConnectWise updates, which means that by the time a solution provider adds some new capability, it’s quite likely that ConnectWise will shortly deliver a similar capability.

ConnectWise is not the only company building cognitive computing applications for the channel. Thanks to the Watson platform, IBM is clearly dominating the cognitive computing conversation these days. But two of the more channel-specific Watson applications being developed include a security management application developed by SparkCognition, a cognitive security analytics specialist, and a managed services management application being developed by CHIPS Technology Group, an IT help desk provider for small and midsize businesses.

It’s still early days yet, but cognitive computing applications will soon dramatically change the way all kinds of routine management functions are handled. In fact, how smart any given executive in the channel might no longer be defined by what they know, but rather how well they can actually frame the right question to ask in the first place.

Michael Vizard has been covering IT issues in the enterprise for 25 years as an editor and columnist for publications such as InfoWorld, eWEEK, Baseline, CRN, ComputerWorld and Digital Review.