IBM announced the completion of its acquisition of Princeton Softech – a company which focused on data archiving, classification and discovery software.
All of which sounds quite specialist until it is put into the context of IBM’s Information on Demand (IoD) strategy. Back in March, Ambuj Hoyal, who heads us IBM’s Information Management division (with responsibility for the Information on Demand strategy) explained:
“… an inflection point occurred in 1996 when there were many techniques to create Web sites or do Web-based business… We are at a similar inflection point in 2006. We have myriads of techniques – metadata management, ETL (extraction, transformation, and loading) tools, data creation tools, Federation tools, cleansing tools, profiling tools. People use these tools to solve the information challenge.”
To translate, IBM see a huge opportunity and are putting serious money into it – this acquisition is the latest of 21 which are part of this strategy (to see the list go here). The opportunity is to build an information management platform which allows organisations to create, maintain and (most importantly) extract value from the myriad of data sources which flow around the enterprise. Data cleansing, data distribution, data integration and master data management (among other areas) are each expensive activities but often have clear budget and value associated with them – this even before getting to semi-structured information which is also with the Information on Demand remit. While there are best of breed solutions to different parts of the puzzle, there aren’t single integrated solutions – which is what IBM hopes to offer. Interestingly, IBM has yet to move on Business Intelligence vendors – it appears to have correctly realised that the major task is not creating dashboards; it is ensuring that what goes into the dashboards is correct and timely.
Any familar with the area of enterprise data management will realise that the challenges inherent in building and deploying such a platform are formidible. At a recent briefing IBM gave Lustratus, the whole area of data governance in particular was highlighted: how do you organise structures and responsibilities to ensure that coherent and consistent data definitions can be used and reused through the enterprise (this should sound very familiar to anybody involved in SOA – just switch the word service for data!). To figure out how to do this right IBM set up the Data Governance Council back in 2005 with many leading financial services and telecoms companies (among others).
Yet again getting into detail is beyond the scope of a normal blog – but I would recommend anybody with a passing interest in BI (or indeed enterprise architectures) to take a look at IBM’s web-site on Information on Demand. Of course the strategy is not without obvious challenges: The technology is from many different sources (even if it now all belongs to IBM) and there is a significant amount of complexity associated with solving such a complex problem. Also, when there isn’t a significant regulatory stick (Basel II for instance), I imagine it could be very hard to sell at a strategic level. This is because while there are clearly valuable uses of Information on Demand, but there seems to be no common theme around which business momentum can be built. And finally, its association with the term business intelligence may well go against it – already some analysts are wondering where IBM’s query tools will stack up against Business Objects et al (not a relevant question as BO and others will sit on top of IoD) and in many cases the proposition is operational efficiency or regulatory compliance, not (to my mind at least) classic BI.