Analytics, Analytics Everywhere, but Whither to Take a Drink

Brad Shimmin
Brad Shimmin

Summary Bullets:

  • Just as with social networking workflows, technology vendors are actively building analytics into line-of-business applications in an effort to make data not only meaningful, but actually useful in driving business decisions.
  • The trouble is that truly useful analytics functionality must sit on top of an extremely complex set of technologies, creating a size mismatch between business app and foundational analytics system.

Annual customer trade shows always deliver a key message, a marketing meme meant to follow attendees home and influence future purchasing decisions.  This is typically accomplished via the creation of strong associations between core products and some industry mega trend, such as the consumerization of IT, mobility, social networking, cloud delivery, etc.  This year’s IBM Connect, which previously went by the name of Lotusphere for those keeping score, was no different.  Those uber-trends mentioned above were woven throughout the show’s many keynotes and breakout sessions in support of IBM’s collaborative portfolio.  However, this year marked the arrival of a new area of focus that I think will greatly change IBM itself as well as influence its buyers, namely analytics.

Partly due to the presence of the company’s newly acquired human capital management vendor, Kenexa, which co-hosted its own customer concert at this show, IBM showed how big data could transform line-of-business applications, surfacing data-driven insight at the point where business decisions themselves are made.  For example, the company introduced an analytics-infused solution from Kenexa (Kenexa Talent Suite), along with numerous product roadmaps for IBM Connections Next and Mail Next that featured a number of data-driven opportunities such as knowledge discovery, employee retention and expertise location.  Interestingly, many of these introductions and discussions revolved around IBM’s burgeoning data and analytics portfolio, itself headlined by IBM Watson Foundations.

That worries me.  IBM just announced the formation of a heavily funded business unit and more unified product portfolio (Watson Foundations) in support of business analytics and the Watson brand, even moving its longtime collaboration executive Alistair Rennie into a role dedicated to analytics.  Clearly, IBM intends to make use of Watson Foundations technologies throughout its broader product set.   This is a truly great opportunity for IBM and one its rivals (SAP, Microsoft, Oracle, etc.) will have a hard time matching blow for blow technologically.  However, the scope and complexity of IBM Watson Foundations creates a product mismatch where customers accustomed to buying a fairly straightforward piece of software such as IBM Connections or Kenexa will find themselves suddenly faced with a much more daunting task of managing these programs alongside a fairly significant collection of supportive technologies from IBM DB2, SPSS, Cognos, WebSphere, etc.

Thankfully, IBM’s forthcoming one billion dollar investment in the Watson group will take aim at the productization of these insight-enabled line-of-business solutions.  My hope is that this effort will result in a scaled-down rendition of the many technologies and capabilities available to the Watson group – something like Oracle’s new BigDataLite Virtual Machine, perhaps.  This offering does not match Watson Foundations, of course, but it at least pulls together database, data integration, development and the like with an easily consumed solution.  That level of unification and simplification is just what customers need in order to put big data to work within their workaday world.  Maybe next year’s Connect show will be the year of the IBM Watson big data appliance.

What do you think?

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