Has IBM Bitten Off More Than It Can Integrate?

Opinion: The answer is no. What could have been a product mishmash as IBM works to end "dead data" through integration will instead be a smooth, consistent portfolio, promises IBM data gurus Janet Perna and Nelson Mattos.

WESTBORO, Mass.—Like a cherry on top of a sundae, IBMs Information Management division on Wednesday put its newly acquired Ascential data integration technology on top of a stack of acquisitions that, it says, is deeper and broader than any existing content management technology.

"For the last 40 years, the IT industry and database companies have been fixated down here, at the data level, [concentrating on] storing data efficiently and cost-effectively, backing it up, archiving it, making sure theres integrity with transactional data," said Janet Perna, IBMs general manager of Information Management.

Perna indicated a slide that displayed layers of storage, data repositories such as databases, applications, analytics and other layers of the cake that is enterprise infrastructure.

"But pretty much it had no value once created," Perna said. "I call it passive data, or you can think of it as dead data. Most companies are not getting tremendous value from that data. Value comes from taking the data and integrating it with other pieces of information that will enhance it and enhance the business value."

Perna was speaking during a press event to roll out the first fruits of IBMs Ascential acquisition. The event featured a panel of customers and data integration experts at Ascentials headquarters here.

Also in attendance were Pete Fiore, former Ascential president and now vice president of Information Integration Solutions for IBM, and IBM Distinguished Engineer and Vice President of Strategy for Information Integration Nelson Mattos.

Creating value out of Pernas so-called dead data has been the motive behind a steady stream of IBM acquisitions:

Trigo, for the integration of product information; Aptrix, Tarian and Green Pasture, all for content control; Alphablox and SRD for real-time, embedded analytics; CrossAccess and Venetica for federation of non-IBM database data and federation of content, respectively; and IBMs most recent acquisition, Ascential, for high-speed ETL (extraction, transformation and loading), data profiling, data cleansing and metadata management.

Why so many pieces to this data integration puzzle? Because the reality of knitting together systems in order to get to IBMs On-Demand nirvana is extremely difficult to do, Perna said.

/zimages/3/28571.gifRead more here about IBMs on-demand strategy.

"Information is all over the place: Its in silos of applications, its in different formats, different databases, different content repositories," she said. "Eighty-five percent of business information is … semistructured, in imaging systems, on the Web, in file systems, in e-mail. Its all over the place. A lot of time is spent, and money is spent, in companies, just managing this information. Forty percent of peoples time is spent integrating information."

The grand challenge, Perna said, is helping companies to simplify this environment, so companies can use this data, put it into context, analyze it and use it to provide business insight.

"That will require an end-to-end information infrastructure that enables companies to deal with all this information," she said. "That starts with infrastructure down at the physical layer, the physical data assets, the storage area networks that allow us to virtualize data.

"Then there are higher-level services that help deal with How do I find it, how do I analyze it? That requires information integration, search and access technologies, analytical technologies, as well as content control to do archiving, electronic records management, etc.

"Were even seeing extensions like master data management to be able to provide a unified view for customers, citizens, suppliers or what have you," Perna said. "The investments IBM is making in information management are addressing this spectrum: from physical storage, from Tivoli storage and Tivoli storage management, to DB2 and Cloudscape, up to technologies around master data management.

"The acquisitions weve been making are not helter-skelter here. Were filling in capabilities through internal investment or through acquisitions were making as we fill this out."

/zimages/3/28571.gifClick here to read about IBMs new wireless education services.

Still, questions remain. As IBM reaches to give customers integrated information, with Google-like enterprise search, the ability to create relationships between scanned images (unstructured data) and customer records (structured data), and all else that the term promises, is it going to make enterprise lives simpler or more complex?

Tony Baer, an analyst for onStrategies, said that, for end users, all the acquisitions shouldnt matter. "All they care about is I want my data now," he said.

Next Page: It matters what lies beneath.