IBM has a vision and a strategy for managing corporate information end-to-end, which it has articulated better than any vendor in the information management (IM) space. Now comes the hard work of integrating all of the IM solution pieces they have developed and acquired for their clients in a meaningful way.
The Problem: IM Solutions Complexity and Immaturity
For the past couple of years, my colleagues and I have been imploring IM vendors and service providers, including IBM, to bring more scalable, integrated, and functionally rich solutions to market, especially those that address unstructured content management in all of its various forms including messaging, documents, images, video, and voice.
I’ve also frequently written about the fact that there are no true end-to-end IM solutions - only point solutions, functionality bundles, departmental software suites, and horizontal solutions that address the needs of specific constituents in the enterprise such as compliance, customer service, finance, IT, legal, marketing, records management, sales, or line-of-business users.
Since the IM space is so broad and complex, stretching from the management of physical documents and the underlying IM infrastructure to content analytics and beyond, users and the analyst community have little expectation that end-to-end integration is possible or even warranted. However, IBM deserves a lot of credit for pursuing a strategy to bring many of these solution silos together where it makes sense. The company's recent acquisition of PSS Systems is a good example of an integrated enterprise solution for legal and information lifecycle governance that provides cross-departmental continuity.
Unlike many vendors, IBM hasn’t allowed the recent economic slump to derail development and execution of its strategy to provide thought leadership and services to help companies accelerate their understanding and adoption of new technologies. IBM's Information Agenda approach leverages its industry solutions expertise to help companies within specific industries, such as insurance and banking, align IT and business goals through the development of information plans and roadmaps.
The Information Agenda initiative has 160 team members focused on functions within 18 different industry models to help customers answer questions including:
- What outcomes do you want to produce?
- Is a strategy in place for your LOBs?
- How can information be leveraged as a strategic asset?
- What are your business imperatives?
- What processes and organizational models are in place?
For several years IBM has supported an Information Governance Community that has recently been opened to anyone seeking support for managing the “accelerating impact of data on their organization.” The community includes many active members from corporations around the world who are dedicated to tackling problems such as properly managing metadata or codifying the “roles, methods, processes, and tools by which enterprises enable consistent and effective information management, during the whole life of information.”
For user organizations that jettisoned many or all of their non-operational strategic planning assets during the economic downturn, these are potentially invaluable resources for progressing on the IM journey beyond react and manage mode.
Solutions Showcase: ECM Content Analytics
This year’s prime message at IOD could have been “Analyze Anything”. Due to the sheer breadth of IBM offerings displayed at the event, including major enhancements to DB2 and Cognos on the structured data side, there was not enough time to review everything of interest, although I did gravitate to the ECM part of the show to catch a glimpse of the IBM Content Analytics solution, or ICA, which I had been hearing about for almost a year.
At a high level, the ICA is a marriage between a product IBM Research invented called TAKMI (Text Analysis and Knowledge Mining system) and its OmniFind Enterprise Edition search product. Both are based on IBM’s UIMA (Unstructured Information Management Architecture) . According to one IBM employee blog, “Text Analytics describes a set of linguistic, statistical, and machine-learning techniques that model and structure textual content.” Or as an IBM executive put it to me, “Analytics help you figure out the right questions to ask.”
Some of the major features and benefits of ICA include:
- Interactive content assessment for preservation or deletion to reduce storage costs and risk,
- Powerful solution modeling and support for advanced classification tools,
- Key insights into other systems, users, and applications for a complete business view,
- Fast generation of Cognos BI reports with links between Cognos reports and ICA views,
- Reductions in time and complexity for building data and linguistic models, dictionaries, and ontology,
- Trend, pattern, deviation identification within historical cases to improve case management,
- Ability to leverage the full business context of both content and data,
- Identification of the business value of content to assist in content preservation and ediscovery needs,
- Search, discovery and analysis of textual data similar to that used with structured data,
- Automatic identification of unusual relationships between data that might require attention,
- Ability to combine structured and unstructured data for seamless analysis, and,
- Fast an easy content analysis from many different facets.
I would love to experience ICA in a real-world situation, not just in the lab, to see how it actually can work, how it scales, how fast it is, how expensive it is, and what return-on-investment companies can realize from this solution. The demo was truly eye-opening.
Other related ECM innovations and news demonstrated, circulated, or announced at IOD included:
- Updates to Content Collector for Microsoft SharePoint,
- Updates to all the Smart Archive bundle components listed below,
- Adoption of the CMIS/OASIS standard for content interoperability
- Ediscovery manager for SAP,
- An Information Archive archiving and eDiscovery solution bundle, and,
- Case Assessment enhancements.
IBM execs emphasized their “embedded expertise,” which includes superior software, hardware, services, and cross-IBM value wherever possible. The Smart Archive bundle includes two System x servers already sized and configured to run the software, including:
- IBM Content Manager,
- IBM Content Collector for Email,
- IBM Content Collector for File Systems,
- IBM eDiscovery Manager, and
- IBM eDiscovery Analyzer.
IBM Global Business Services (GBS) executives touted their Analytic Domain offerings in Master Data Management (MDM), data governance as well as ECM and their ability to “identify, incubate, scale” information accelerators with 9,000 consultants who have doubled revenue for the services group in this space in the last year. Other executives mentioned the need to accelerate deployment times for customers.
At a “sales leaders” roundtable, senior IBM account managers spoke about how their products and services add impact to business, how IBM understands business and project priorities, and how customers are concerned with data security, compliance, cost savings and mitigating risks.
I attended IBM customer panels and had ad-hoc discussions with several IBM ECM clients. Most users emphasized the imperative to have a plan or strategy for managing data and the need to “get started” or “jump in” to areas that could have a high impact on lowering costs and risks.
True to its strategy of developing or acquiring capabilities that enhance or fulfill their information management vision, IBM has been on a buying spree for the past several years, which is breathtaking in its scope and unmatched by any other vendor in the IM space. When all of these pieces will be integrated into logical bundles or optimized solution suites is anyone’s guess. Which IBM product suites will prove to be best in class and provide the best ROI for customers and potential buyers also remains to be seen. IBM still needs to overcome the perception that its products and services are often priced at a premium and that large companies often stifle innovation rather than support it.
Meanwhile, IBM’s 2010 3rd quarter results were impressive, the stock as of this writing is at an all-time high, and the company seems to be hitting on all cylinders.
IBM is leading the way in the IM space by providing users much needed thought leadership and strategy support and by weaving together a plethora of products and services that fill out the IM solutions spectrum like no other vendor or service provider. Regardless of whether or not IBM has the best-in-class product in every IM category, it provides a solutions and services framework that will undoubtedly appeal to a large segment of its client base and potential customers looking to leverage their data in new ways to gain insight and transform the way they do business today and in the future.
Action Item: If nothing else, IOD solidified the fact that IBM is and will be a major force for its competitors to contend with, and user organizations will need to take a long look at IBM’s IM portfolio if only to get up to speed on what is possible and how the future of “work” is being transformed.
For related research by Gary MacFadden go to http://blog.parityresearch.com