IBM Shows Broad Mobile Portfolio at Largest Lab

IBM employs 45,000 software engineers worldwide, and like all large firms, has been greatly expanding its overseas contingent, leading some in the US to complain that not enough is being done “back home.” In mid-June, IBM provided an answer with the opening of a new lab facility in the Boston suburb of Littleton, Massachusetts, one of 70 IBM Software Labs around the globe, and its largest in North America.  It has “more square footage than Boston’s Fenway Park or the TD Garden,” IBM noted, and employs fully 10% of the firm’s software engineers. Since 2003, IBM said, it has acquired 14 Massachusetts-based companies, partnered with more than 100 VC-backed small firms, and has more than 1,600 business partners in New England. This investment was not lost on the Deval Patrick, Governor of Massachusetts, who joined IBM SVP and Group Executive Steve Mills for the lab opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony. In a bid to demonstrate the breadth of his portfolio, Mills assembled the heads of several of his software brands to discuss mobility, a primary focus of the Littleton lab.

Mills looked out over a 5-year future that promises $700B in mobile eCommerce spending, $250B of IT investment in such things as application development, analytics and network traffic management – and the infrastructure to run it all – and asserted IBM’s readiness to play across the board. He painted a compelling picture of the new value chain realities and mapped IBM’s ever-growing portfolio of assets to it.  After discussing a few customer examples, Mills pointed out that 170 of the top 198 communications service providers are IBM customers, and that 100 million smartphones shipped in 2010 will include IBM technology. Rational, Lotus, WebSphere, Tivoli, Cognos, the research lab networks team, and the Services organization all got namechecks here. Over lunch, I asked Mills why mobility didn’t get the kind of treatment analytics did, with the creation of a label, organization and campaign like Business Analytics and Optimization (BAO). He argued, persuasively, that the breadth in mobilityis far greater, the IP and target customers too diverse, to proceed any other way than through distributed (though coordinated) efforts. The event was effective and detailed, and below I offer some details about the specifics from the various brands.

Product Updates Weave a Rich Fabric

Danny Sabbah, GM of the Rational brand, described the “invisible” systems engineering that underlies mobile devices, which vary widely, creating enormous challenges for developers who want to develop cross-device code, support configuration management and change, use geolocation, and solve compliance and security challenges that can be every bit as risk-filled as the corresponding work that accompanies back-end systems in data centers. IBM announced an open source Eclipse project for the Enterprise Generation Language (EGL), for developing apps that can take on device-specific capabilities. With Rational Business Developer, a visual tool-based, standards-compliant, offering that supports EGL today, developers can compile into standard JavaScript.  Sabbah waxed eloquent about Rational’s model-driven development, its simulation and testing, automated validation and cost reduction values. He noted the extensive use of Rational software in industrial scenarios, as a behind the scenes product line engineering asset.

Al Zollar, GM of Tivoli Software, continued the theme as he described his mobility play. For me, Zollar’s discussion of the new Intelligent Site Operations offering was a revelation. Tivoli has always had network monitoring, asset lifecycle management, trouble ticketing and maintenance scheduling offerings, but I had not connected this to mobile infrastructure. My mistake – of course network operators have the same set of business issues, and all of this connects well to the overall Smarter Planet story. Zollar pointed out how combining his tools with analytics creates new revenue opportunities and improves customer experiences. Emerging and existing cloud service providers will be a significant new revenue stream for Tivoli as it assists in reducing operating costs and power usage, and securing mobile services and assets.

Craig Hayman, GM of WebSphere, was fresh from the acquisition of CoreMetrics web analytics, and had much to talk about. Reinforcing the notion of IBM as the premier infrastructure supplier, he focused on serving business organizations who need to transact, manage business processes and use BI to improve results. A billion users will be browsing the internet by 2011, he asserted, and Communications Enabled Applications (yes, another acronym arrives: CEA) widgets will allow them to have a rich experience that includes Click to Call, interactions with other mobile users and gesture support for a touch interface. And the long-awaited (at least by merchants) geo-based presence marketing is supported in WebSphere Commerce, Premise and Voice Servers – using a variety of communications strategies including Wi-Fi, GPS, Bluetooth and cell tower triangulation. This promises the mainstreaming of a new style of marketing for a generation accustomed to routinely using mobile devices for activities that only a few years ago were conducted in entirely different ways.

Hayman noted that there is more to selling via mobile devices than making an offer – the full stack, through order management, logistics, and the B2B components is supported via Sterling Solutions (a great pickup from ATT) to ensure that products get where they need to be, when they need to be there. Adding CoreMetrics provides marketing optimization to the mix, and adding its capabilities to Cognos Go!Mobile solutions, with its location-ware features, puts IBM out in front in terms of end-to-end capabilities. Those of us who have watched BI demos literally for decades can recall how many of them seemed to end with the ringing statement “if we had shipped the goods to THAT warehouse, we wouldn’t have that red stoplight in the portal/spreadsheet cell/report.” At last we’re seeing an attempt to close the loop. Admittedly, there are a lot of moving parts here – Lombardi, for example, to document the business processes. But all of the pieces have steadily added the additional pieces needed to make seamlessness an achievable vision – like Lombardi’s ability to discover, not just document the processes in question after the fact. Few organizations can start with a blank slate, and IBM’s portfolio is focused on transformation, not replacement. With WebSphere’s Business Process Monitor, companies can move from insight to action – the loop can finally be closed.

Alistair Rennie, GM of Lotus, was clearly energized by a mission that offers his brand new relevance in an age of mobile knowledge workers. The Lotus Notes Traveler provides secure connections to Domino servers at no charge, and enables mail, calendar and contact connections to iPad, iPhone, Blackberry and Android users. Rennie touted the WebSphere Mobile Portal Accelerator as yet another way to write once, but deliver portal capabilities to all platforms. He claims 200 million supported users today, and also made reference to Cognos Go!Mobile.

Rennie also shared some IBM research into patterns of interaction in mobile usage.  Interactions are short and often interrupted, use cases are fairly predictable, and context is key. The difference in acceptable start-up time compared to a desktop or laptop creates very special design requirements, and Lotus has projects underway for “rethinking” how mobile email works. The resumption of interrupted activity, for example, can be very difficult with today’s products from all vendors, on all platforms, and the interaction of applications to provide better continuity, in-context collaboration, and personalization is a focus of IBM’ Project Vulcan. I’m eagerly awaiting the fruits of that work.

Summary – Much Mobile Merchandise, Missing Metrics

The event was packed – offering an enormous amount of content – and it seems like picking nits to say “where was the BI component?” Admittedly, Mills had the challenge of giving time to discuss the roles of several large acquisitions (I offer links to most of them above.)  But I did find it odd that Information Management, and the Cognos brand, got so little mention, and no podium time. The few Cognos references noted above were good, and effective, but there was an opportunity missed here. It may seem that I’m seeing things too much through the lens I’m accustomed to using as an analyst focused on BI and analytic platforms, but BI is the point of interaction for many of the constituents who will be directly touched by these technologies. Hayman’s business process focus came the closest – to his credit, he was one of those calling out Cognos as a key contributor.

From my perspective, the greatest challenge for IBM in communicating this story derives, as it so often does, from the bewildering number of offerings required to construct any value chain, and the many choices that can be made at any step. But to its credit, IBM is investing hugely in skills, within its own sales and services teams, and in partner organizations through its Software Value Plus initiative, which certifies skills in various industries and continually adds new certifications like Cloud to its remit. Steve Mills told me that he was reaching the customers and prospects he needed to with value-focused business solutions, not category labels or campaign messages. His track record over the past few years cannot be faulted – IBM remains at the top of its game, and continually broadens its story. That’s a great hedge against the challengers in any small piece of the value chain – IBM remains open to working with other products, and its customers know and respect that. Over time, IBM’s strategic value to its clients continues to grow, and that bodes well for its future.

Disclosures: IBM is a client of IT Market Strategy

Published by Merv Adrian

Independent information technology market analyst and consultant, 40 years of industry experience, covering software in and around the data management space.

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