An Intelligent Duo Debuts

The fast-growing business intelligence (BI) sector has given rise to numerous solutions covering data warehouses, data marts, and analytical tools. With an eye to this market, SAS Institute (www.sas.com) and IBM Corp. (www.ibm.com) announced the formation of a joint consulting practice, and the eventual offering of bundled solutions that incorporate SAS software with IBM's DB2 Universal Database and server platforms.

The agreement exceeds typical marketing agreements in that it tightly integrates the two vendors' solutions, says Robert Moran, an analyst at Aberdeen Group (www.aberdeen.com). "You're going to integrate SAS tools with DB2, which is a big franchise at IBM. You see two leaders in their businesses make their solutions run better in parallel manner." While not stated in the announcement, it makes sense to make SAS data mining functions part of IBM's DB2 database, Moran adds.

To date, many smaller vendors have dominated this market, a fact not lost on larger vendors such as IBM and SAS. "There is a shake-up coming as the market begins to mature, with bigger players joining the fray," says Jose Sta. Ana, senior industry analyst at GartnerGroup's Dataquest (www.dataquest.com) unit. "Established enterprise applications vendors, BI tools vendors, as well as database and data warehousing vendors, are all eyeing this market."

IBM's announcement is the latest in a series of strategic relationships by the computer giant to move out of the direct applications business, and to more heavily rely on business partners that already dominate specific sectors. Recently, IBM announced partnerships with Siebel Systems (www.siebel.com) to sell into the CRM space and with SAP AG (www.sap.com) for the ERP space.

The three-year agreement between IBM and SAS Institute, and the joint development efforts, will result in the creation of a consulting practice in IBM Global Services specializing in SAS solutions. SAS solutions will also be more tightly integrated with IBM's DB2 Universal Database, which runs on all IBM server platforms, including Netfinity, AS/400, RS/6000, NUMA-Q, and S/390.

"The emphasis right now is on delivering services," says Alex Zekulin, IBM Global Services-SAS relationship manager. Work is also under way to "strengthen the connectivity between IBM's DB2 product, specifically in the area of speed of data transfer and data movement."

SAS Institute's software solutions cover customer relationship management, enterprise resource planning, data warehousing, supplier relationship, and procurement management. Last year, the two companies created the IBM and SAS Institute International Competency Center for sizing and testing SAS solutions on IBM platforms.

The proliferation of Web-based systems and applications is making real the concept of BI to the masses, Sta. Ana says. "With this, not only analysts and knowledge workers can have access to BI support, but also ordinary users of these BI applications such as line managers and operations personnel."

In turn, IBM will be concentrating on introducing end-to-end BI solutions to companies, versus a more mass-market approach that is being delivered through Microsoft for its SQL Server 7.0 and smaller vendors. "The idea is to create more complete solutions for the marketplaces," IBM's Zekulin says. "From experience, we're finding customers are asking for more complete solutions that includes services and training."

The IBM-SAS agreement will also augment other types of decision-support solutions running in organizations. "There are numerous types and ways to apply decision support," Aberdeen's Moran says. "Implementing an SAS solution or any other solution by IBM Global Services in an e-business context doesn't eliminate the desire to use another solution in that same toolset or another part of the organization."