"Information," says Tom Inman, vice president of strategy at IBM's newly formed information management solutions division, "is the life blood of the business. A lack of it is like suffering a clogged artery."
Indeed, IBM is taking information very seriously. The information management unit has been created to drive key parts of the company's strategy. It will draw expertise from right across IBM's vast technology business, from business consulting services, to hardware and software. The division – the brainchild of ex-Lotus chief Ambush Goyal – will focus on delivering a range of management tools and services, covering all aspects of corporate information and encompassing both structured and unstructured data.
The goal is to enable customers to free up their data, regardless of format or structure, in order to turn it into useful information and services. Inman says that these services have the potential to be resold to others, providing new revenue opportunities.
During the first few months of 2006, IBM will start rolling out its "information as a service" offerings. In the development of this strategy IBM says it has spent over $1 billion on research and development and has acquired 15 separate companies to expand its technology portfolio – including the December 2005 purchase of service-oriented architecture (SOA) pioneer Bowstreet for an undisclosed fee.
Fundamentally, IBM's "information as a service" strategy is about "getting the right information to the right people or processes at the right time," explains IBM's Goyal.
"The traditional approach of tightly binding applications to specialised repositories isolates data, limiting its value and usefulness. Now, with SOA technologies and open industry standards, enterprises can choose to deploy information as a service on the network, with information that's available to any person, process or application in an open and timely manner," he says.
Pioneers of this approach include New York City's Police Department, which has built a crime management information warehouse to help it deal with criminal activity. It uses data mining and analytic techniques to identify relationships between different crimes and track potentially fraudulent behaviour. Some of this information can then be used by other government agencies, helping to reduce costs.
One of the most controversial plans IBM has is to start offering information management as an outsourced service. Inman says moving from a product-centric structure to a service-centric structure is the aim: "Rather than give you tools, we'll hold on to your data," says Inman.
"If a customer wants us to [process their information] in-house, we can do that, or we can assist them, or we can provide it as an outsourced service," he adds.