IBM’s “Smarter Planet” Will Capitalize on HW, Analytics

Rod Adkins, the SVP and Group Executive of IBM’s Systems and Technology Group (STG) took the time to engage the influencer community quite early in his tenure for a well-run event at the Watson Research Lab in Yorktown Heights. “I’ve been in this position for 38 days,” he  reminded us, as STG’s AR team widened the usually hardware-focused invited audience to include generalists and more software-focused folk like me.  IBM execs from IBM’s Software Group, its Research organization and corporate, joined us  for a look at the science behind the systems, a compelling addition to the agenda. And another pitch for IBM’s analytics thrust was a scene-stealer. Read more of this post

IBM’s BAO Initiative Will Change the Landscape, But More Is Needed

IBM Global Business Services (GBS) has added its first new service line since IBM acquired PWC and launched itself into the services business. GBS generated nearly $20B in revenue in 2008, a few hundred million more than the hardware side of IBM. Two other units, the software group and IBM Research,  have joined with GBS to create the Business Analysis and Optimization line, intended to make IBM the dominant player in advanced analytics focused on optimizing business outcomes.  GBS has pursued the capture and reusable packaging of intellectual property and methodologies in its engagements for some time, encapsulating business processes and industry requirements, standards and regulations. IBM proposes to combine those assets with software components and advanced work done in IBM Research to deliver a “predict and prescribe” approach to its customers’ business challenges.

This is a formidable array of assets, aligned into a 4000-person organization, and pursuing a carefully targeted set of competencies:

  • BI and Performance Management
  • Advanced Analytics and Optimization
  • Enterprise Information Management
  • Enterprise Content Management
  • Business Analytics and Optimization (BAO) Strategy

All the contributors bring substantial skin to the game. Ambuj Goyal, who heads the information management portfolio for IBM Software Group (SWG), has assembled an array of data management and data warehousing tools, BI, content management, and other components, and told me, “We’re harnessing everything we’ve built.” He’s been hammering on the notion of an information agenda as part of IBM’s Information on Demand strategy, and driving awareness of the need for data quality and stewardship to attack the need for executives to feel they can trust the data they get. One in three today say they don’t, even for the relatively mundane types of reporting that are commonplace.

In IBM Research, Brenda Dietrich heads a team of 150 mathematics PhDs, many of whom have been working directly with customers to build predictive models in numerous industry contexts that will underpin some of the early projects. Three key plays are in the first round: risk and fraud analytics; analytics and data optimization; and advanced customer insight, which draws upon BAO head Fred Balboni’s recent successes driving GBS business in the retail sector.

The new organization model, in typical IBM fashion, will be rolled out on a massive scale. Of course, most of the people in the organization are being “re-badged;” they aren’t new, dedicated assets just yet, but they are experienced in many facets of the problems to be tackled and are in an accelerated program designed to bring them up to speed to meet an expected demand curve that IBM believes will be very steep. I would not bet against them.

Still, this new effort is only a step on a journey the information technology industry needs to travel. “Predict and prescribe” is necessary but not sufficient to achieving true analytics-based automation, where the “prescription” is applied to operations within policy- and rules-based guidelines, reserving the delivery of guidance to decision makers for the exceptional cases. Some advanced organizations have already built such applications, and they will have a leg up. If you are among them, IT Market Strategy would like to hear your story. Please contact us – leave a comment here, or email merv@itmarketstrategy.com.

SAP Needs A Clear Message For Business Objects

In late March, over 1000 people attended the SAP Insider Business Intelligence (BI) and Portals conference. Most were customers of SAP products who were not (yet) using the products SAP acquired with Business Objects. Enthusiasm was high for the demos of  text and predictive analytics, event processing and more. But to carry this story to market, especially to the new business buyers interested in the restaurant for sale etc., SAP must state the offerings in terms of business problems and the value of solving them. In my informal poll, many attendees expressed bewilderment about which product to use when. Even the techies, the vast majority of attendees at this event, will need that information to explain to their constituents why new significant new investment in product licenses will be required. Maps of tables and hierarchies, directories, etc. will not sell the story – but defining concrete business and economic benefits will.

SAP clearly has made its branding decisions; only the demos of current lab projects showed any Business Objects branding, likely because they are for internal use, not for sale. The SAP brand is a powerful one; prospective buyers recognize SAP’s deep understanding of business processes and industry issues. BI tools are used for visibility into the condition of a business and its partners, as well as where risks lie. Context is key there, SAP’s deep knowledge, if applied to product design, may help break its BI offerings out of their longstanding restriction to power users. SAP is not alone here; after decades of vendor innovation designed to grow the user base, still only 15-20% enterprises users typically have access to what they need. SAP showed an array of 19 new pre-built industry-specific dashboards which will carry customers closer to a specific set of useful metrics, reducing “time to value” for their investments. The company clearly sees the synergy between the acquired (and existing) BI assets and those in its applications portfolio.

Along with some efficient business management software (learn more at www.advancesystemsinc.com) and from all the tools perspective, the current portolio is impressive. The array of choices include:

  • SAP BusinessObjects Polestar – data exploration and visualization for casual users where “Information spaces” have been built atop BusinessObjects Universes
  • SAP BusinessObjects Voyager – exploration for business analysts of OLAP servers (supports multiple servers within the same workspace)
  • SAP BusinessObjects Xcelsius – dashboard development for IT and power users. Can build stories for PowerPoint slide shows
  • SAP BusinessObjects Web Intelligence (WebI  or “webby”) – query, reporting and analysis for power users and business analysts against Universes
  • Crystal Reports – scalable operational report building for skilled report developers
  • SAP BusinessObjects Dashboard Builder – interface for building interoperable composite dashboards tfrom BusinessObjects content such as Xcelsius, Web Intelligence, Crystal Reports and Voyager
  • BI Widgets – self-service mash-ups for business users

Without making it clear which tools work against what data, and when, SAP will continue to struggle to get their message across to tomorrow’s purchaser. It is clearly on the path, and has an opportunity to change the game, or to allow BusinessObjects’ well-earned reputation to atrophy. The elements are there, and the game is afoot.