At its recent Big Data Analytics conference (held in both London and New York) IBM outlined the role of cloud computing as a deployment model for delivering analytics capabilities to its customers. Whilst IBM has never shied away from the cloud model, this year we noticed a very definite shift from the company. Now it’s spending a lot more effort talking about how cloud computing can be used to spur business innovation and execution, as well as the staple benefits of delivering economic and agility gains.
It’s perhaps no surprise to see why. IBM, like other software stalwarts (such as Oracle), is under pressure. Securing future growth is a high priority for CEO Ginni Rometty given the company’s stalling performance where it’s seen eight quarters of revenue decline in a row. Against this backdrop the company is attempting to re-invent itself; transforming from its traditional enterprise model of on-premise software and services towards a more blended approach that takes into account the shift towards delivering certain software and services in the cloud. This is territory that born-on-the-web players like Amazon, Google and Salesforce.com have pretty much carved out for their own. IBM is already forging a strong path in other areas: my colleague Angela Ashenden just blogged about the company’s cloud-based collaboration platform efforts. Now it’s pushing its analytics portfolio in much the same way.
As usual IBM’s investment in cloud computing has meant it cracking open its corporate war chest. Since 2010 IBM has spent $7 billion on 17 cloud acquisitions—the main one being its 2013 acquisition of SoftLayer Technologies, a privately held cloud infrastructure provider. Similarly the company only last year committed billions to its cloud marketplace—a hub for developers, IT managers and business leaders to learn, try, and buy software and services from IBM and its partner ecosystem.
At the Big Data Analytics conference IBM made mention of these investment areas within the context of how it’s delivering analytics capabilities to customers both now and in the future. IBM’s cloud initiative is wide and deep so there are a lot of things going on here.
Firstly, IBM is extending its BlueMix PaaS offering with data and analytics services. BlueMix is based on an open standards foundation, Cloud Foundry, and provides developers access to IBM’s software for integration, security, transactions and other functions, as well as software from partners. As part of this initiative IBM has introduced services including geospatial, time series, predictive scoring, and reporting enables developers to create Big Data analytical applications.The company is also augmenting this with BlueInsight, aimed at information workers, for providing capabilities for consolidating, virtualizing and delivering business intelligence and data warehousing via a cloud model.
In addition, as part of Cloud Marketplace, IBM has introduced Cloud Business Solutions that combine IBM services and software into a subscription based service including those for customer analytics, marketing management and digital commerce. IBM has also announced cloud-based versions of IBM Concert and IBM Catalyst
Rather interestingly, these two offerings originate in some form or other from on-premises software. Project Catalyst Insight—which is in the labs—is an evolution of Analytic Catalyst (I personally find the naming conventions rather confusing here) and is based, amongst other things, on software from SPSS. Catalyst Insight, in principle, takes the concept of self-service analytics up a notch by enabling business users to automatically build predictive models and present results as interactive visuals without the need for specialised data scientist skills.
Concert, on the other hand, is an evolution of Cognos’ TM1 performance-management software that formed part of the company’s mid-market budgeting, forecasting and planning offering. Today the cloud version adds sales and compensation-management capabilities from Vericent, and is available from IBM’s Cloud Marketplace.
Despite this big push into the cloud, all of these offerings only really cover a proportion of the vast array of analytics functionality currently available from IBM as on-premise software. Whilst Concert and Catalyst Insight provide good examples of how IBM is evolving part of its on-premise software portfolio, it’s debatable whether IBM can, from a cost and time perspective, do this for all its analytics software where it makes sense. IBM will no doubt have to be selective about where it decides to focus its efforts; which, as a result, could open up potential opportunities for some of the smaller and born-in-the-cloud players (such as Birst) to make a bigger cloud-based analytics mark.
It will interesting to see how IBM’s cloud analytics story plays out over the longer term. What is certain, however, is that for many organisations cloud platforms in some form or other represents the modernisation of IT operations and applications. It just so happens that this is the exact challenge facing IBM; by investing and developing in more cloud capabilities it too must look to modernise its own portfolio of products to ensure it can take advantage of the scale, and elastic compute power of the cloud whilst also providing a model for delivering business advantage to its many customers.
Well that’s what we think; however it would be great to hear your thoughts on what IBM is doing here and whether delivering analytics in the cloud represents a challenge or opportunity (or both) for your organisation.