cognosLustratus recently received a comment to a post I wrote a couple of years back on IBM’s acquisition of Cognos.

The comment asked whether this meant IBM now had two BAM tools, COGNOS and WebSphere Business Monitor, and I thought that rather than respond to the original and now very old post I would create a new post, since this question actually crystallizes a very contemporary confusion over the roles of BAM and BI.

BI (Business Intelligence) is the term that originally emerged to describe the market for tools to find out more about data. Typically, BI tools aggregated data and provided ‘slice and dice’ services to look at data in different ways, correlating it and detecting interesting patterns. So, as a simple example, examining sales information allowed Amazon to identify trends in related customer buying – hence when you buy a DVD Amazon can helpfully pop up and point out that ‘people who bought this DVD also bought….’ to try to accelerate sales based on buying patterns. The key characteristicof BI was that it was typically a static activity, usually carried out against historical data. In modern times, however, it is more and more related to the analysis of any data, whether static or dynamic. COGNOS was a leading supplier of BI tools.

BAM (Business Activity Monitoring) was the term coined to describe tools that were primarily focused on analysing behaviour of run-time applications rather than static data. An example here might be monitoring a loans application in order to see how often loan requests are having to be queued up for supervisor approval rather than executed under the authority of the loans advisor. A trigger could then be defined to highlight excessive involvement of the supervisor which might indicate other problems, such as inadequately trained loans advisors.

So, to reinforce this distinction, an executive view of BAM might be a dashboard display that shows the oeprational performance of the business in real time, with a colour-coded scheme to point out areas of concern. In contrast, the BI view might be of a set of charts in a presentation that describe business or buyer trends based on analysis of company performance over the last three months, enabling new initiatives to support competitiveness or access new business opportunities.

Over time, these two markets have tended to overlap. After all, both markets involve the steps of gathering information, and then analysing it. While gathering info will be completely different in the two cases (looking at data files vs monitoring business application and process execution) the analysis may well involve the same procedures, and hence BI analysis technology may well be used to enhance BAM offerings. However, there is a more pressing reason for linking the two areas. More and more companies are looking to ‘BAM’ as a way to optimize and enhance operational execution, and it is foolish to limit its scope to just looking at application performance. The user really wants to take into account all information in order to reflect corporate performance and identify opportunities. This covers both real-time execution AND what is happening to the data files.

However, because of the different smarts required for these two areas, it is unlikely that products are going to merge – in other words IBM is unlikely to replace COGNOS and WebSphere Business Monitor with a single product. This would make little sense. Instead companies are likely to improve the linkage and integration between these two distinct areas of technology.


IBM gets Cognos to fill the gaps

IBM has been on quite an acquisition spree of late, but the latest is perhaps the most predictable and potentially powerful.

IBM is buying Cognos, the business intelligence and performance management vendor, for $5B. This has been on the cards for some time, and increased in likelihood when SAP acquired Business Objects recently – Cognos and Business Objects were acknowledged as the two leading players in the BI space.

This looks to be a great deal for both companies, and users should be pleased. With 25,000 customers spread across some of the largest companies in the world, Cognos is a well established BI player, and shares many customers with IBM. On top of this, with the SAP acquisition of Business Objects, Cognos was the last big pure-play BI vendor and a major target for acquisition, so its users must have had concerns over potential new masters – however they are likely to be very comfortable with IBM since it does not really have competing products and will therefore keep the technology alive and moving forward. From an IBM point of view, it will be particularly keen to get its hands on the 1000+ BI-experienced R&D team in Cognos. as well as the 2000 or so customer-facing field force.

The key here is that the two companies mesh really well together. IBM’s Information on Demand initiatives have made every effort to ensure that data is accessible wherever and whenever it is needed, while Cognos concentrates on interpreting the data and generating business value from it. Combining the two promises to deliver even more accurate, timely and understandable information to support executive decision-making and business-driven data mining initiatives.

This also fills some gaps for IBM in its service-oriented architecture (SOA) strategy. At the moment, one of the few weak spots for IBM is its lack of an industry-leading BAM (Business Activity Monitoring) initiative. That is, IBM SOA can make programs visible in terms of business services, improving the propensity for getting a clearer understanding of business activity in IT operations, but it was not particularly good at interpreting the information in BAM terms. Now it will be able to deliver one of the best BAM solutions in the marketplace, making it possible not just to streamline and automate processes but also to continually improve their effectiveness.

If there is a challenge for IBM in absorbing Cognos, it is in the area of organization. IBM has made the decision to keep Cognos in its own business unit – BI and performance management. However, this unit lies within the IBM Information Management division. While this makes sense at one level, in that BI is very related to information, the performance management part is closely linked to the IBM SOA initiative driven from another division. It will be important for IBM to manage this carefully, but it is not the first time it has had to deal with this sort of cross-divisional issue – for example, it had to handle this when Tivoli, the management software company, was acquired.

All in all, this acquisition looks to be good for just about everyone – IBM users, Cognos users, IBM and Cognos companies and employees….but perhaps not for the competition!


IBM’s Information on Demand streamroller gains speed with the Princeton Softech acquisition

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.