As Information Age readers will no doubt have noticed, IBM has for the past few years centred its marketing initiatives on the Smart Planet concept, the idea that the collection and analysis of data has the power to improve business, government, city life, the environment and more besides.
At the same time, it has been accumulating an ever-expanding array of information management, business intelligence (BI) and analytics technologies with which to capitalise on this concept. It has spent more than $14 billion on at least 25 acquisitions in the field, with notable examples including BI giant Cognos in 2007, and more recently data warehouse appliance vendor Netezza.
The challenge for IBM now is to combine all that kit into meaningfully integrated systems, and in 2010 it unveiled one of its first attempts to do just that.
The so-called Smart Analytics system is a pre-built integration of IBM’s InfoSphere data warehousing platform with its Cognos BI application.
But how well integrated is it? One of the first organisations to find out is the London division of German financial services giant Deutsche Postbank.
The division was looking for a system to help analyse all of its commercial property loans by integrating data that was contained in various different applications – a classic BI use case.
According to Clarel Sookun, head of IT at the bank, it was not necessarily looking to procure the entire analytics stack, from hardware to BI application, from the same supplier, but the speed with which IBM was able to demonstrate a proof of concept was impressive.
“We asked IBM to send one of their engineers over with one of their unit, and to put a simple report together for us as a proof of concept,” Sookun recalls. “Lo and behold, in the space of about three days, he did put that report together. With previous solutions, that would have taken us several weeks.”
Sookun is a satisfied customer – the project was successful, and just two months after roll-out the company is already planning to extend its Smart Analytics implementation to allow business users to build their own ad-hoc reports.
However, he says that Smart Analytics does not yet feel like a wholly integrated system. “It’s not quite there yet, to be honest,” Sookun explains. “The integration with Cognos is not as seamless as it could be. For example, even after you’ve extracted and transformed the data and populated your warehouse, Cognos will create its own data set on top of that to report on.”
Sookun insists that this does not impair the performance of the overall system. “In fact, the software elements are very efficient,” he says.
Furthermore, he believes that IBM will improve the integration in time. “Given their track record, I believe they will achieve a software system that works together easily,” he says. “To be fair, they acquired Cognos only recently.”
Sookun is right to say that in the glacial timescale of enterprise software integration, 2007 is “only recently”. But that underlines the magnitude of the task IBM has ahead of it, with $14 billion-worth of analytics equipment to integrate.