Software // Information Management
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5/7/2007
02:03 PM
Mark Smith
Mark Smith
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Does IBM Understand BI?

IBM software executives have long insisted that [BI] components are applications and not middleware and that IBM is not in the applications business. Recently, though, that monotone is fading, to be replaced by a new note: They now say "No Comment," or when they do comment, talk about Hyperion-like technology as though this part of the BI market involves just the writing and delivering of reports.

With Oracle's recent acquisition of Hyperion, the expectations of other industry heavyweights has heated up significantly. I've already examined SAP; now I move to IBM and what it will do to address this key information middleware technology.

IBM recently made the point to me that it did considerably less work with Hyperion than had Business Objects, Cognos and SAS and so it's not particularly worried about its acquisition by Oracle. Historically, IBM's software executives have insisted that these components are applications and not middleware and that IBM is not in the applications business. Recently, though, that monotone is fading, to be replaced by a new note: They now say "No Comment," or when they do comment, talk about Hyperion-like technology as though they believe this part of the BI market involves just the writing and delivering of reports.But of course, BI technology involves lots more than a report writer desktop backed by a database. Thousands of organizations, likely including yours, know that managing BI is still more art than science. Business users running dashboards, scorecards, reports and searches through middleware layers will tell you that regardless of vendor, performance is less than stellar. It's unquestionably an area where some leadership from IBM would be welcome.

It would hardly be a massive challenge. IBM already has applications scorecards and goals and objectives and compliance tools that are built by and sold in the IBM Workplace group. Unfortunately, IBM's perspective on BI technology and on the differentiation of applications that are designed for line of business or vertical applications runs counter to the prevailing industry view.

IBM sees BI as more than the "tip of the iceberg" and includes within that label the underlying database, integration, data mining, master data management and other related technologies. The IBM division that focuses on these areas is called Information Management and not Business Intelligence. We agree; this is why we have defined our Information Management practice area. Does this view of the world mean that IBM is now looking more closely at partners like Business Objects, Cognos, MicroStrategy or others as acquisition targets? Time will tell, but the head of IBM Software Group stated recently that IBM is focused on partnering and not making acquisitions in this market. Will IBM step up and fill in the significant missing component of its middleware software strategy and meet its global client needs by providing information technology like Microsoft and Oracle? Without this layer, IBM is failing to address the next layer of the partner ecosystem, helping to solve companies' business problems by leveraging the BI technology that rides on top of information management layers in the IT stack. IBM historically has taken a partner-friendly approach, but its partners are getting acquired and building more integrated stacks to compete against Big Blue.

Let's see if IBM wants to be strategic with its clients and take charge of the top of the iceberg, the part of its anatomy where thousands of companies - many of which don't have IBM on their radar screens - are investing into significantly. Do you believe IBM will have to step up and address BI more strategically?

Mark Smith is CEO And Senior Vice President of Research at Ventana Research. Write to him at mark.smith@ventanaresearch.com.IBM software executives have long insisted that [BI] components are applications and not middleware and that IBM is not in the applications business. Recently, though, that monotone is fading, to be replaced by a new note: They now say "No Comment," or when they do comment, talk about Hyperion-like technology as though this part of the BI market involves just the writing and delivering of reports.

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