IBM's On Demand Push: Greater than Sum of Parts

Few individual announcements at this week's IBM Information On Demand Conference are earth shattering, but taken together, they underscore the depth and breadth of Big Blue's portfolio and its ability to set the information agenda.
Set your IT agenda to make the most of your information assets. That's the imperative IBM invoked today at its Information On Demand Conference in Las Vegas, an event at which the company is making at least a dozen product and services announcements. Most of the individual news items amount to incremental product and packaging improvements. But in addressing data quality, data governance, enterprise content management, process management and several other core areas in one event and in one portfolio, IBM went all out to draw up a bigger agenda than any other vendor could possibly address.

"We have 33,000 people worldwide — the largest group of people in the industry — building enterprise-class software, and more than 8,000 of them are working specifically in the domain of information management," boasted Steve Mills, senior vice president, IBM Software Group, during a kick-off press conference on Monday. "Our customers are looking for environments that integrate together the things that are essential for them to run and optimize their businesses… [and we're delivering that through] the world's largest portfolio of middleware technology. "

The splashiest news today concerned the IBM solidDB Universal Cache, in-memory technology designed to store and speed access to critical data. Due in December and said to improve performance by up to 10 times, solidDB is designed to work with Oracle, Microsoft and Sybase relational databases in addition to IBM DB2 and Informix. The technology is IBM's answer to Oracle's Times Ten technology and SAP's NetWeaver BI Accelerator, and it's based on technology gained through the January acquisition of Solid Information Technology. Shortly thereafter, IBM released solidDB Cache for DB2 and Informix Dynamic Server.

In the InfoSphere

IBM also announced a series of upgrades to the InfoSphere software portfolio. A new release of the InfoSphere Master Data Management Server, for example, offers prebuilt integrations and rules for data loading and data cleansing that are said to speed and reduce the risk of MDM deployments.

A year-end release of the InfoSphere Information Server will extend the DataStage module to support what IBM calls "balanced optimization," an approach that speeds data integration by pushing the "transform" part of extract, transform and load processes into high-performance databases. The approach is not entirely new; the alternative "extract, load, transform" integration approach was previously put into practice by Sunopsis (among others), an integration vendor acquired by Oracle in 2006.

The InfoSphere Traceability Server, also due by year end, is based on IBM's RFID Info Center technology, which has previously served as the basis of an "ePedigree" drug traceability offering for the pharmaceutical industry.

"This is about traceability of goods in a supply chain," explains Paraic Sweeney, vice president, Information Platform & Solutions at IBM. "We capture information as goods move in the supply chain so we can prove, through an electronic pedigree, that goods are authentic, that they come from the original manufacturer and that they haven't been tampered with or diverted at some point."

The Traceability Server takes the application mainstream by connecting additional data collection sources, such as 3D barcode networks, and applying it to broader uses, including tracking and authenticating luxury goods, high-value auto parts and premium foodstuffs.

Agility for ECM

Few people would put the word "agility" together with enterprise content management, but IBM says it's applying its composite application frameworks and Web 2.0 mashup prowess to the ECM to integrate content-centric processes and multiple content types. Tapping IBM iWidgets, REST interfaces and Lotus collaboration technologies, the IBM FileNet Business Process Manager P8 4.5 release, due in mid November, is said to promote business user and IT collaboration while supporting faster development of process-centric applications.

"Many of the early ECM investments involved large projects and development periods measured in months and years rather than days and weeks," says Ken Bisconti, vice president, products and strategy, IBM Enterprise Content Management. "Agile ECM describes the overall portfolio, and similar to the way people might use Google Gadgets or consumer Web mashup environments, users will be able to rapidly build and iterate business applications."

What's more, users will be able to launch processes from within (and invoking) multiple repositories, including FileNet and IBM Content Manager 8. Interoperability cuts multiple ways, with IBM FileNet Content Manager 4.5 and IBM Content Manager 8.4.1 also gaining mashup capabilities and interoperability across the IBM and IBM FileNet portfolios. In addition, IBM FileNet Content Manager 4.5 also supports "intuitive" integration with Lus Quickr, Microsoft Office 2007 and Microsoft SharePoint.

Eye on the Roadmap

When you dig down into the bits and pieces, IBM more often acquires (solidDB) or matches existing technology (Data Stage balanced optimization) rather than pioneering on its own. Still, Big Blue is unique in its breadth of technologies and its ability to set high-level goals for much of business, industry and government.

"IBM is emphasizing the notion of creating trusted information, focusing on that information from a business process perspective, and treating it as a strategic asset," says Ovum senior analyst Dwight Davis. "I think IBM would admit that the broader market is not ready to tackle everything in the Information On Demand vision in one fell swoop. But they've been intelligent in understanding that you have to give people roadmaps and onramps for how to best start down the right path."