albert's analysis - MQSeries, Messaging and Integration

Even in this age of mergers and acquisitions, and aggressive global marketing and sales capabilities, an astounding number of business managers aren't sure their computer systems can talk to each other -- either in-house, or to other outside systems. As they also scramble to conform to Y2K standards, those managers' lists of technology unknowns grow longer.

IBM appears to be quick to respond with the latest addition to its MQSeries, the MQSeries Integrator. In May, IBM's software division added the new component which provides data transformation and integration from disparate computer systems.

The MQSeries is really a software program that connects a customer's applications across unlike environments. Essentially, it's a message brokering system that removes the barriers of different operating systems and underlying networks. Applications are written using a common programming interface, and can be run on different computers, on different operating systems and at different locations. Applications developed on one platform can be transferred to another.

Don't get me wrong. MQSeries seemed to be holding its own before the Integrator arrived; I'm told it's been serving over 4,000 customer sites and has over half the total market share. Still, adding integration technology to the package is a smart move. Inventory programs need to talk to manufacturing programs, for example -- and sales and marketing programs need to talk to credit check systems. That means that programs like Lotus Notes, Microsoft applications and SAP must all speak the same language quickly and easily.

Most large companies will need a messaging integration system in order to stay commercially viable. It's not a matter of recognizing that need; I hear that the overwhelming majority of business managers do. It's more a matter of responding to it, so they can refocus their energies on strategic business goals. If IBM can take advantage of that opportunity with MQSeries, they stand to gain a lot.

The technical wizardry of it aside, MQSeries may be beneficial for modern global businesses in the United States and Europe which host their critical data on an average of seven different programming systems! To integrate one system with another, they've been buying applications software from outside vendors, at added cost. Or, customers were scrambling to build their own links and bridges, to make their IT systems work together. Neither of which spells good news at a time when technology problems continually change and repairing each one incurs time and expense.

By supplying one common language, MQSeries integrator acts as a sort of message "broker." It sounds simple. But can it be, in practice? The next, and newest addition to the product family is MQSeries Workflow, a business automation system that gives enterprises more control over their business activities.

As with most products or services that provide economic value to business, the "message brokering" space is getting a bit crowded. IBM now competes with vendors such as Software Technology, Crossworld Software and Century Analysis Inc. Yet the MQSeries seems to provide another boon to IBM's Business Partner relationships. I see Big Blue partnering with software developers, which in turn are building tools to further support MQSeries applications. Such partnering can become a great opportunity for vendors; let's see if it becomes one.

The finance and banking industries are often the first to try new innovations. That seems to be the case with early MQSeries customers, but companies like Toyota and Delta AirLines are also beginning to sign on.

Toyota used the MQSeries to link its entire value chain, from the customer to its manufacturing facilities, factories, dealerships and distributors. Delta used MQSeries to transform its airline flight and business information systems. The airline saved time by reusing existing application code, instead of reprogramming from scratch.

So the future looks bright for IBM's MQSeries and its growing family of products. But as I said earlier, IBM still faces the challenge of bringing new customers on board. It's not enough to communicate the need for message integration; now IBM faces the next hurdle; getting and maintaining buy-in.

--Sam Albert is president of Sam Albert Associates (Scarsdale, N.Y.), a consulting firm that specializes in developing strategic corporate relationships.