Three winners of an academic competition at the US University of Rochester to create the most innovative and useful applications for IBM's Watson cognitive computing systems were announced yesterday by Big Blue.

The winning case study involved the use of Watson to integrate weather data, census information and a wide array of other sources into an emergency preparedness system. Second place was taken by a project that would create a framework for responsible, efficient exploitation of natural resources such as oil and natural gas, while a travel program built to analyze information about wait times and weather patterns came in third.

In each case, both the analytical capacity of Watson and its ability to synthesize structured and unstructured data were keys to success.

According to IBM, these case studies represent just the tip of the iceberg for future projects.

"The role and value of data is causing shifts inside organizations and across business cultures driving demand across a broad range of industries in the private and public sectors. These organizations are seeking new ways to tap information in traditional databases and unlock data tucked away in an unstructured format including videos, comments on social media sites and text messages," the company said in a statement.

Numerous applications for Watson beyond winning at "Jeopardy!" -- which is still the system's biggest claim to fame -- have been proposed for many industries. Nearly a year ago, IBM executive Jai Menon wrote that the system could be used to analyze health information in order to help doctors avoid mistakes and make accurate diagnoses.

Moreover, Watson could be delivered as a cloud-based product sometime in the future -- potentially sparing organizations the cost of the server hardware needed to run their own iteration.