Companies struggle with information management for plenty of reasons. One is simply too much of a good thing: users find it hard to extract value from the ever-increasing volume of data available to them. Another on-going issue stems from the way information has been gathered and stored at many organisations, with data held in discrete silos by different departments, applications and databases.
Scores of different technologies have been applied to those separate areas – including business intelligence tools, email archiving, content management, records management, search tools and others.
But the view they provide is often only partial. This presents a major problem for business, says Henry Morris, an analyst at industry research group IDC. “Maintaining a single view of products, customers, locations and financial accounts is a significant challenge,”
Responding to that, several technology and service providers have started to propose a more holistic approach to information management – a move that is as vital as it is overdue, according to some IT analysts. “Information management is coming to be regarded as one of the core disciplines of managing a business,” argues Richard Harris, an analyst at IT adviser Gartner.
But how do organisations get from an aggregated collection of point solutions to an information management platform that can handle the integrated analysis of both structured and unstructured data? That is still a work in progress.
As Harris notes, while information management is perceived by business leaders as “a necessary strategy for dealing with ubiquitous information overload”, it is still in the early adopter stage. And to date, only a few vendors have specifically set out an agenda to become an information management platform provider.
One of the reasons is that there is no ‘silver bullet’ here: no single product will be able to address all of the information management requirements. Rather, technology providers will provide part of the solution, with systems integrators playing a critical role in creating a unified information management infrastructure.
But who will the key players be and what will they bring to the table? The pole positions are already being filled.
For many, Microsoft is the source of as many enterprise information management problems as solutions, with Access, SQL Server, Word and Excel all playing their part. Excel, in particular, has become the users’ favourite application for consolidating and manipulating data. That has led to pockets of vital information erupting all over the enterprise – from the CFO’s office to the marketing department.
In many ways this gives Microsoft a unique opportunity to provide valuable data access services to its users. It is already working with enterprise resource planning (ERP) maker SAP to closely integrate its business applications software with the Microsoft Office suite. And Microsoft has added web services hooks and other APIs that open up Outlook, Word, Excel and SharePoint to third-party applications.
As that suggests, Microsoft recognises the problem: “Desktop and enterprise applications are a disconnected universe; this has meant workers have spent far too much of their time searching for the information they need to do their jobs,” says Jeff Raikes, group vice president at Microsoft’s Information Worker group.
In terms of mainstream business intelligence, Microsoft has progressively built a strong set of products within its SQL Server line. With SQL Server 2005, the company beefed up its reporting tools and delivered a completely refreshed set of extraction, transformation and loading (ETL) software, as well as enhancing the product’s relational and multidimensional analysis capabilities for greater scalability and performance.
Those deal with the analysis of structured data. In terms of unstructured data, the focus is on enterprise content management (ECM), with the company bringing together the capabilities of its Windows SharePoint Services collaboration product and the Microsoft Content Management Server platform.
In July 2005, Accenture decided it had foreseen the next big wave of IT. It announced that it was investing $100 million over three years to accelerate the growth of its Information Management Services activities.
The global practice marshals the skills and capabilities of more than 5,000 Accenture consultants around the world who specialise in information management services, including business intelligence and content management.
The team aims to “help clients harness, view, manage, analyse and store data, text and other information to improve decision making, financial and operational management and customer service”.
But Accenture is hardly coming at information management from a standing start. In the last 14 years, the service group has completed approximately 4,000 information management-related projects and is currently involved in more than 300.
IBM is betting big on information management – but it has a lot at stake.
Echoing Accenture’s move, in February 2006, the company announced that it would spend $1 billion over the next three years to build an information management capability centred around the convergence of its products for search, database management and collaboration software with its middleware and consulting services.
“The value of information can’t be realised if it’s not effectively managed and delivered to the right people, business applications and processes,” says Steve Mills, senior vice president of IBM’s Software division.
IBM also has a broad range of enterprise content management capabilities with strengths in high-volume document imaging and records management. Content management is based on DB2 Content Manager, DB2 Document Manager and Workplace Web Content Management.
But the company also has content management capabilities through its Lotus Domino collaboration suite and through its WebSphere middleware. “Tying together data across disparate business processes provides a holistic view of enterprise operations, and enables the company to innovate at a business model level,” said Ginni Rometty, senior vice president of IBM’s enterprise transformation services group.
Although not a player in business intelligence front-end tools, IBM has moved aggressively into data integration. In mid-2005, it acquired Ascential Software to strengthen its information movement and ‘staging’ capabilities.
Oracle has an unmatched foundation in data management. After 30 years, the company has built a revenue stream from databases and related middleware of almost $9 billion.
That franchise is built around the structured data held in its eponymous relational database systems. But, in the opinion of some analysts, the company has still to forge a truly enterprise-wide information management platform.
Says Erica Rugullies, principal analyst at industry watcher Forrester Research: “Oracle has not yet communicated an overarching information workplace strategy. But the company has several initiatives underway that show it is definitely moving in this direction.”
However, Oracle’s data management heritage positions it well, other observers say. “As organisations begin to view data management and data integration as critical business issues, the selection and deployment of data integration tools and database management system products will have a strategic impact,” says Ted Friedman, research vice president at analyst group Gartner.
In terms of analytical tools, the company has re-invigorated its business intelligence functionality in recent years, creating a more coherent set of query, reporting and analysis products, but ones which are almost exclusively focused on its relational back-ends and multi-dimensional databases.
The push beyond structured data is centred in Oracle Content Services 10g which offers content and record management capabilities, and provides workflow and search functions on a single data repository. Related to that, the company’s Collaboration Suite offers a broad and tightly integrated set of capabilities, including email, calendar, shared work spaces, web conferencing and voice integration.
EMC may be best known for its data storage systems but since 2003, when it acquired content management software vendor Documentum, it has been forging a strategy to be a key player in the wider sphere of information lifecycle management (ILM) where the aim is to base the accessibility of data on its relative importance to the organisation.
As part of that ILM strategy, EMC has added further technologies that are arguably core to an information management platform, including back-up, recovery and archiving software through its buy-outs of Legato Systems and Dantz.
But the focus is distinctly on the management of unstructured data. According to analyst group Gartner, typically 80% of an organisation’s data is unstructured and mid-sized and large companies typically have between five and 20 different content management systems.
EMC’s content integration tools offer the opportunity for businesses to combine that content into one single pool – thereby improving access to, and control of, data.
Other key suppliers
Maker of enterprise search tools for analysing unstructured data.
Market leader in business intelligence tools, with strong portfolio of query, analysis and reporting tools.
Business intelligence software vendor with a particular emphasis on corporate performance management based on tools for financial consolidation, planning and scorecarding.
A rising star of search technologies, providing a single point of access to external structured and unstructured content.
Hummingbird complements its content management tools with business intelligence capabilities and search functions.
Hyperion has created a rounded business intelligence and performance management product set from a strong base in multi-dimensional databases and financial analytics.
Maker of enterprise content management systems with a strong range of collaborative document management offerings.
Vendor of business intelligence platform with an emphasis on the analysis of large data sets.
Teradata leads the market for high-end data warehousing platforms and provides tools for mining structured data.
Supplier of a broad base of business intelligence, analytical applications and data integration software.
Its Content Manager excels at distributed content creation.
Maker of web content management, portal and collaboration software that also focuses on document imaging, document management and records management.