LAS VEGAS – Aside from naming its artificial intelligence platform, Magellan, after a 16th-century explorer instead of a 20th-century businessman, Waterloo, Ont.-based OpenText Corp is looking for other ways to differentiate itself from competitor IBM Corp.’s Watson.

Division directors speaking this week at OpenText Enfuse about the Apache Spark-based platform emphasized its capability to integrate, gorge on huge amounts of unstructured data and spit out useful insights, and its open source nature. They also don’t mind pointing out that IBM’s Watson is a proprietary platform – or as Mark Gamble, senior director of product marketing for analytics at OpenText puts it, a black box.

“Part of Magellan’s strength is that it can be molded to understand the products and customer of your firm,” he says. “It can be continuously refined and made bespoke and perfect for any application.”

About 10 months after launching Magellan in July, OpenText isn’t sharing how many customers are putting the AI platform to use just yet. Overall, the deployment strategy is different from IBM’s. Big Blue is developing different flavours of Watson to serve vertical segments ranging from marketing to education, to financial services and healthcare. OpenText works with individual customers to customize Magellan to better serve business needs.

“Customization is a benefit to customers,” Gamble says. “Part of Magellan’s strength is that it can be molded to understand the products and customers of your firm. It can be continuously refined and made bespoke and perfect for any application.”

Gary Weiss, senior vice-president and general manager of security, discovery, and analytics at OpenText, takes the differentiation from Watson even further, emphasizing that OpenText’s open source approach means that the customer owns their own data. With IBM’s Watson approach? “I don’t think the customer wants to be held hostage to a vendor owning their data.”

But just because Watson is based on private code doesn’t mean IBM is claiming ownership over its customer data. IBM says that its customers is always in control of their own data. Just last week it released a statement committing to responsible AI and data practices, reaffirming that “client data and the insights produced on IBM’s cloud or from IBM’s AI are owned by IBM’s clients.”

Vendor jabs aside, Magellan’s open source strategy is a favourable mark for the product, says Jack Hakimian, vice-president of research and advisory services at Info-Tech Research Group. Doing so allows OpenText to open its platform for third-party developers that want to tailor AI solutions for specific needs.

“It’s a bit like Apple’s app store,” he says, drawing an analogy. “Developers will be able to create applications and have them resold through the store to the client.”

OpenText will need help from outside developers if it hopes to scale up to try to rival Watson’s size. Since IBM was first to the market with Watson, and has a larger client base to market it to, it’s already fairly entrenched in the AI solutions space. It doesn’t necessarily need help from outside developers because it has its own depth in many different verticals and has used that to develop different use cases for Watson.

Aside from its open source strength, Magellan is pushed for its capability to scour any bit of data available in the enterprise – structured or unstructured – and put it to work on AI models. It’s not a unique capability, and other AI features such as image recognition are still on the future roadmap.

“We’re saying to our customers ‘don’t worry if it’s a tweet or a spreadsheet,'” Gamble says. “Leave the driving to us in terms of federating and compiling and persisting all that data.”

Magellan’s solution handles all the storage and processing of the data it gleans, and even visualizes the data to help employees make sense of it. This type of data preparation is a dream for enterprises that want to make sure their CRM of choice is well fed with every pertinent detail. It can help make predictions as well.

Aside from building out Magellan as a platform, OpenText is busy integrating the AI capabilities to charge up its own software products. That includes Guidance Software’s Encase line of forensic security products.