NEW YORK—IBM is throwing $1 billion, 15,000 experts and two new server software products at the problem of wrangling business information.
In an event for analysts, press and customers here on Feb. 16, executives from IBMs Software Group and its Enterprise Transformation Services Group pledged to create a new era of working together to connect data across disparate business processes.
The new push brings IBMs expertise in data integration, business consulting and math science into the equation in an investment that will stretch over three years.
Steve Mills, senior vice president of IBMs Software Group, said that thanks to years of technology acquisitions and advances in mathematical analysis, the time is ripe for breakthrough solutions that a few years ago couldnt be delivered.
“The capability that exists today in terms of technology allows solving problems that couldnt be solved easily a few years ago,” he said in an interview following his presentation. “The cost of solving the problem, the challenge of the quantity of data and the speed [at which it can be accessed and analyzed], along with the growing speed of hardware, now allows things to be [tackled] that couldnt before.”
The new age of information management will bring about “profound changes” in myriad industries, from health care, real-time crime fighting, financial services, government entitlement programs and manufacturing, he said.
“Profound changes in health care, for example, will come not just from basic research but from having a complete record view, not just of a patient but [other patients] whove gone through similar ailments, have received similar treatments,” he said.
One of the examples given by Mills of the direction IBM is going with information management is New York City police use of databases linked across counties, states and even the nation to find crime suspects relations to other people, known addresses and known aliases.
This information, delivered wirelessly through parole cars, is helping police to solve crime in near real time, he said.
Giving an example, “An initial piece of information [regarding a nickname used at a crime scene] allowed for them to do a search, come up with a suspect based on a limited amount of information: a tattoo and a nickname,” Mills said. “Databases have been connected, they can run searches, they can deliver information to detectives on the scene.
“Theyre also able, because we created linkages to other databases across the state and nationally, to go into hundreds of millions of records online,” he said. “They can do cross-checks against other information: summonses, information relative to location, neighborhood maps, maps of where other crimes have occurred. They can then try to understand the relationship of this crime event and [other] events that might lead them to other, similar crimes.”
Change the details, and the scenario is applicable to pretty much any industry where quick decisions based on solid business intelligence are needed. Financial services firms need to model markets fast, and Medicaid administrators need to quickly decide if theyre being double-billed or, for example, being billed by a party whos deceased.
Business Applications of Information
Indeed, the spectrum of possible information management applications is broad enough to represent a technology market thats estimated as being bound to hit $69 billion by 2009.
“Were pouring $1 billion in this space because we think the opportunity is far greater than anybodys estimated,” Mills said.
IBM, based in Armonk, N.Y., will initially devote 15,000 practitioners globally to the opportunity and will expand that population by 65 percent, to a total of 25,000, over the next three years.
At this stage, IBM is solidifying domain expertise in order to get a firm grasp on what the given problems are in specific industries and how technology can be applied to them.
“Now what were doing is hardening this and making it repeatable,” Mills said, explaining why IBM isnt yet providing packaged products in this area. “Its not about understanding the mathematics. Its about making it repeatable and making it available in the market.”
Thats what the 25,000 IBM experts will be doing over the next three years: gathering more domain expertise and making the front ends of these complex mathematical-technological solutions adaptable, Mills said.
“For many businesses, theyre looking for us to come forward with something much more prepackaged,” he said. “In coming years it will be us coming up with technology packaged in something industry-specific, whether its in real-time crime fighting, in giving financial services customers a common view of the customer, … in manufacturing and distribution, in how do they deal with product data, how do they deal with suppliers, do they have redundancy, is the supply chain clogged with duplicate material?”
Joe Monk, CIO for Retail Bank and Channel Technology at Wachovia, based in Charlotte, N.C., said the banks ultimate goal is to achieve a single view of the customer that spans all channels, whether the customer calls the call center, walks into a branch office, uses an ATM or signs up for an account online.
Over the past years, Wachovia has made over 80 acquisitions.
“Were looking at extensive growth through acquisition, and we had to make sure we had robust, expandable capability” to serve customers, he said. As the bank moved through the application integration stage, it started looking across its key vendors and asking how it all comes together. IBMs information management strategies have been “key” in helping Wachovia navigate change while keeping optimal customer experience as one of the foremost priorities, Monk said.
At this point, Wachovia is looking at implementing an enterprise services bus with IBM.
“[Were looking at] how to bring it all together from a [point of view of] services, SOA [service-oriented architecture], and at the top of the stack … from the data perspective. [How do we get to a] common view of who the customer is, how to meet their needs, what products/services they need, and what kind of relationship we have with them?”
IBMs New Offerings
Wachovia started by looking at the business transformation management side of the problem. IBM came to the table with its CBM (Component Business Model) offering, based on carving what any bank does into discrete chunks: how to handle bad loan processing, for example.
IBM and its CBM helped Wachovia figure out how to do such things consistently across the bank and across all its acquisitions, Monk said, meaning the bank for the first time was able to join its IT view with its business view and figure out how to make the technology bits and pieces work within business processes.
“Now were able to step back and focus on what is the end-to-end customer experience,” he said.
IBM is announcing six new solution portfolios, two new software products, step-by-step assessment tools and new, worldwide “centers of excellence” to help clients assess and tackle such information management needs.
One “center of excellence” will be in New York, staffed by solution architects, information architects and researchers from across the IBM Software, Research and Business Consulting Services Groups.
The solutions portfolios address risk, compliance, business analysis and discovery, business performance and process management, master data management, process innovation, and workforce productivity.
IBMs Master Data Management solution product, for example, is a set of best practices, services and technologies to create and maintain a single version of the truth for enterprise data, such as customer, product or supplier data.
As far as the new software products go, IBM is announcing WebSphere Information Server and WebSphere Content Discovery Server.
Information Server is designed to integrate heterogeneous information and deliver it to any application, process or user. Its based on technology IBM acquired in its acquisition of Ascential in 2005, combined with internally developed software and SOA service publishing.
Information Server is now in use by beta customers and is expected to be available in the second quarter.
Content Discovery Server features search, content integration and contextual information delivery. Its aimed at helping customers boost online sales, enhance customer support and deliver more value from self-service and call center applications. Its available now and combines IBM technology with technology IBM acquired in its purchase of iPhrase in November.
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