Big Blue's Cognos Acquisition Comes More Clearly Into Focus

IBM is aiming its Information-on-Demand pitch to both IT professionals and business decision-makers

IBM Corp.'s acquisition late last year of Cognos Inc. came as a shock to many in the industry, especially because of Big Blue's traditional, middleware-centric focus.

Cognos and its roster of client-facing applications -- its enterprise reporting, planning, and ad hoc query and analysis client tools -- were as far from back-end middleware as IBM had ever ventured in the business intelligence (BI) and performance management (PM) segments.

"For years, IBM representatives have stressed that the products the Information Management group builds and buys are focused on the infrastructure level, despite an occasional foray into applications or tools that resemble applications," said Philip Russom, senior manager at TDWI Research, at the time. "The Cognos acquisition clearly steps across the line in a big way, so it begs the question: Is this an exception to the infrastructure rule or is this a whole new rule? If it's a new rule, the list of possible acquisitions we can expect from IBM just became a lot longer.”

At its Information on Demand PR gala last week in New York, IBM's Cognos strategy came more clearly into focus. First, Big Blue linked the acquisition of Cognos to its overall information-on-demand effort -- specifically, as a means to help customers "unlock" isolated or siloed data sources, to revamp business processes, and to better address changing business needs. The key, said Steve Mills, senior vice-president and group executive with IBM's Software Group, is that Big Blue is aiming its Information-on-Demand pitch to both IT professionals and business decision-makers.

"Cognos … brings an enormous amount of capability around business decision-making [and] business optimization. We think [the acquisition] helps position us to not only have a tremendous amount of underlying technology in support of this Information-on-Demand strategy, but provides us with some very unique capabilities as we go out and present this value proposition” to both IT professionals and to the business professionals “who are more focused on decision-making and business outcomes than they are on infrastructure," Mills said during last week's press conference.

As a result, Big Blue plans to pitch what Mills called a "complete end-to-end set of capabilities" -- from front-end reporting, planning, forecasting, and analytic tools to back-end databases and transactional systems to the middleware glue that lets the two work together -- to business decision-makers.

Mills and IBM say the days of BI and PM point solutions are over. Executives want an overarching information platform that can tie everything together, and IBM, with its BI, PM, data integration, content management and integration, document management, application server middleware, legacy connectivity assets, and other amenities is uniquely positioned to give it to them.

"The faster-growing part of the IT market going forward has to do with business optimization," Mills said. "[Executives are] focused now on 'How do I make better decisions, more effective decisions, faster decisions?' [Information on Demand] touches on automation insofar as businesses around the world want to instrument their processes and capture more data about what's happening in real time, and then they want to be able to analyze that and make forward-looking decisions to better compete in the marketplace."

To that end, IBM announced many new (or enhanced) products and services, including ten new (or enhanced) services that tap software and other assets from its IBM Global Business Services (IGS) unit.

On the Cognos front, Big Blue touted six pre-integrated IBM-Cognos business intelligence offerings. These include a new Cognos 8 BI "starter pack" for Big Blue's InfoSphere Warehouse, as well as a new packaging arrangement in which InfoSphere Warehouse will be distributed with Cognos 8 itself.

In addition, IBM announced pre-integration of Cognos 8 with its IBM Information Server platform; pre-configured templates for integrating Cognos 8 BI with its FileNet platform; pre-integration and bundling of an IBM Dashboard Accelerator "starter kit" with Cognos 8 (this purports to let customers quickly build and deploy portal-based dashboards). Looking ahead, Big Blue's Dashboard Accelerator will also bundle a Cognos 8 BI "starter pack" as well as a new Cognos builder. The latter offering is said to make it easier for users to create portal and dashboard components that include Cognos reports or analytics.

Elsewhere on the Cognos front, IBM confirmed that Cognos 8 will be bundled with its C-Class Balanced Warehouse offerings, which are geared toward small- and medium-sized businesses. (see

Industry watchers say they're impressed: 2007 was a banner year for BI acquisitions, concedes Charles King, a principal with consultancy Pund-IT, but IBM's move was by no means lost in the shuffle.

"Other significant BI acquisitions in 2007, including Oracle's purchase of Hyperion and SAP buying Business Objects, led some to call the joining of IBM and Cognos a spur-of-the-moment event inspired by those earlier events. Nothing could be further from the truth," King argues.

"By the time the acquisition was announced, IBM and Cognos had been partners for 15 years. The deal merely extended a relationship that had already produced a range of complementary products and services."

King also likes the executive-focused Information on Demand strategy IBM announced last week. "IBM-Cognos is not the only BI option on the block," he acknowledges, "but IBM's considerable technological history and its experience across a wide range of vertical industries offers a powerful platform for Cognos' BI capabilities. IBM's new Information on Demand solutions provide ample evidence that the company's acquisition of Cognos was an investment that will pay dividends for years to come."

Among other offerings, King cites IBM's new Compliance Warehouse for Legal Control, which he says provides an "interesting example" of the value-add that Cognos brings to Big Blue's end-to-end stack.

"Most organizations suffer common headaches in the compliance-related collection, classification, and archiving of business records, with all too many considering it a process that only becomes critically important if and when a business is sued or ordered to produce records for legal discovery," he points out. "By managing records with IBM solutions, including Cognos 8 content and process analysis tools, companies can painlessly and cost-effectively supply those documents on demand as a court requires."

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