IBM this week launched a business initiative called Smarter Analytics to showcase the value of its technology and professional services in this area. The event, led by Steve Mills, head of IBM’s software and systems business, highlighted the company’s ability to solve analytic challenges at all levels of complexity. At the event IBM highlighted Watson, the learning and expert systems technology that in 2011 beat human champions on Jeopardy. IBM also introduced a collection of case studies exemplifying its customers’ success.
The event built upon the launch earlier this month of IBM Cognos Insight, a new $500 desktop application. As my colleague David Menninger assessed, the product provides personal analytics that users can share and connect to departmental and enterprise analytics if needed. Most interesting is the ability to drag and drop spreadsheets into the product, where Insight discovers and adapts them for further analysis within its analytic environment. The product can also perform what-if and scenario-based analytic capabilities that distinguish it from other business intelligence software in the market. I like that IBM provides the online Internet IBM Insight Community where users can access examples and templates to see what is possible. Those who need more intense modeling and planning can use IBM Cognos TM1 or expand further with IBM Cognos Enterprise.
I was intrigued enough to look to install the software and try it on my own computer. I looked for a trial version of the product, but unlike Microsoft Office and other products that expire after an evaluation period, you have to purchase IBM Cognos Insight even if you only want to test it. IBM needs to allow a trial period if it wants to get more people to experience what appears to be a promising advance in personal analytics. I was not willing to buy it just to evaluate.
IBM has also enhanced the predictive analytics technologies it acquired through SPSS. They now integrate the flow of analytic tasks to support more forward-looking capabilities. In addition, IBM highlighted its advances in decision management, which uses analytics and rules to establish policies and direct actions. This set of capabilities is now available in cloud-based software as a service which is easier to configure and use.
To make their analytics smarter, organizations need improved efficiency and a foundation of accurate, consistent data. Many organizations realize they need to revise their architecture and perhaps select a new technology supplier for information management. CIOs are looking for ways to be more effective in managing data and reducing projected costs in doing so. IBM has shifted its dialogue toward managing big data, which we have already benchmarked, to give CIOs another popular choice to examine further. As David Menninger rightfully points out, big data is more than just Hadoop and our benchmark research in Hadoop found that it is more complimentary than just replacing existing data warehouse and RDBMS efforts. Companies should be concerned with perfecting their methods and processes for managing and utilizing information assets on all scales. To cover the entire field, we continue to conduct research on information management, while our 2012 research agenda highlights big data and overall importance of a portfolio of technologies and processes.
IBM has long worked at improving its information management portfolio, from data integration and master data management to streaming events and integrated unstructured information. The Smarter Analytics concept brings together products that, if utilized together, can help an organization advance its analytics beyond spreadsheets, email and legacy systems. Customers looking for innovation will find that IBM Watson is a technological breakthrough in how analytics and information processing can advance business processes through machine generated insights. The advancement is that Watson is not a programmable system but one that you feed information through curating it through a set of learning processes. Maybe one day we can talk to it through Apple iPhone 4s interactive voice technology called Siri.
All of this does not necessarily mean that IBM should be your sole supplier for business analytics and information management. This really depends on your strategy for suppliers, taking into account usability and integration of the technology with others your organization uses. IBM’s competition for this broad range of business analytics includes Oracle, SAP, SAS and smaller providers. IBM shows significant maturity in its software portfolio, but this market is abuzz with innovations, new technologies and new suppliers.
Strategically, IBM must advance its collaboration and mobility technologies at a faster pace to better align and support business analytics efforts. These business technology areas of IBM have not been as ready to help business analytics advance so that it must advance the technologies itself. For example, the company recently released its first native business intelligence support for the Apple iPad. IBM is not always ahead of the curve in all areas of the technology stack, but it remains constant in its focus on business analytics.
If you have not looked at IBM’s Smarter Analytics portfolio, it is worth doing, from predictive analytics, Watson and decision management to the new user experience in IBM Cognos Insight. Business analytics is one of Ventana Research’s six business technology categories of innovation for this decade; do not overlook the importance of the process and technology that generate the information that will determine your future.
Mark Smith – CEO & Chief Research Officer