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IBM expands business analytics software line, adds Cognos applications

IBM broadened its portfolio of business analytics software, adding three packaged Cognos analytic applications and a tool for analyzing unstructured data.

IBM today continued to broaden its business analytics software portfolio, announcing three additional Cognos analytic applications pre-configured for specific business users and the first in a planned family of tools for analyzing unstructured data.

IBM, which made the announcement at its Information On Demand (IOD) conference in Las Vegas, said the new Cognos applications provide out-of-the-box data analysis capabilities for sales, supply chain procurement and workforce management functions. They join a pair of existing apps designed for users in human resources and finance departments, released last year and earlier this year, respectively.

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The initial content analytics tool for unstructured data analysis, due out by year's end, will let companies examine text-based information in sources such as emails, documents, blogs and websites — to gauge customer sentiment, for example. The tool combines Cognos software with enterprise content management and text analytics technology from other parts of IBM, according to the vendor, which said it is working on a series of follow-on products that will be geared to specific analysis uses and delivered via a cloud computing setup.

IBM also detailed plans for a Master Information Hub that will let users set up master data management (MDM) systems with custom-built data domains. In addition, the company said it is enabling its InfoSphere Streams real-time analysis tool to support existing data-scoring models, such as ones built using the Predictive Model Markup Language (PMML).

Today's announcements "are kind of the normal suite of ongoing enhancements that you would expect to see" at the annual IOD conference, said Merv Adrian, principal analyst at IT Market Strategy in Pleasanton, Calif. What's noteworthy, he added, is IBM's increasing emphasis on packaged analytic applications and its continuing effort to develop cross-platform products that utilize multiple components of its business intelligence (BI) and data management technologies.

"This is a huge contrast to the IBM of a few years ago, when they used to say they weren't in the applications business," Adrian noted. "They're very much in that business now." And through a mix of internal development and the acquisitions of vendors such as Cognos Inc. and SPSS Inc., IBM has built an end-to-end BI and data management product offering that is rivaled in its breadth only by those of Oracle Corp. and Microsoft Corp., he said.

The $1.2 billion purchase of data mining vendor SPSS, completed earlier this month, gave IBM the final piece of the puzzle that it needed to offer users a full information management suite, according to James Kobielus, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass.

Kobielus said that IBM has done a good job of integrating the BI vendors it bought previously — most notably Cognos, which IBM bought for $5 billion in early 2008. "The Cognos team that's there today is more or less the same team that was there when [IBM] acquired it," he said, adding that IBM also has moved quickly to "cross-fertilize" Cognos software with some of its other technologies.

The breadth of IBM's product offerings was a big selling point for Don Edwards, assistant director of the Alameda County Social Services Agency in Oakland, Calif. Earlier this year, the agency installed a new analytics system based entirely on IBM technology, including its DB2 database and InfoSphere data warehousing software as well as Cognos' reporting and analytic dashboard tools.

"I didn't want to go to two or three companies, or even go to one company that had to go to two or three companies to build out the system," Edwards said. He added that it took just six months to set up the Web-enabled system, which runs on Linux and has a 20 TB storage capacity and 200 concurrent users.

The initial deployment cost was less than $1.5 million, according to Edwards, who said the analytic tools are already giving agency officials a much more realistic picture of the county's welfare system and other social services programs. Previously, the agency sent its data to an outside services provider for reporting purposes. But it took a month for the reports to be prepared, Edwards said, and the information they were based on was often incomplete or inaccurate.

The IBM system provides more up-to-date information — real-time, in some cases. The insights that the agency is gleaning from the system aren't always positive; for example, Edwards said officials "found out that we weren't doing nearly as well as we thought we were" at ensuring that welfare recipients are taking part in career training programs or actively searching for jobs, as required by state law.

But such findings are a step forward for the agency, Edwards noted. "We found the reality, and you can't improve unless you know what to improve," he said. "This is a quantum leap now beyond what we had before."

Mychelle Mollot, IBM's director of BI and performance management, said that the InfoSphere and Cognos product lines both had double-digit revenue growth in this year's third quarter. Overall, business analytics sales are growing at twice the rate of transaction processing purchases, she said.

"People are putting more emphasis on the improve-the-business component than on the run-the-business component," Mollot said. She also pointed to a survey of 2,500 CIOs in 78 countries that was released in September by IBM's Global Business Services unit. According to IBM, BI and analytics was the top technology cited by the surveyed CIOs in response to a question about enhancing the competitiveness of their organizations, with 83% saying it was part of their plans for doing so.

The three new Cognos applications, which provide a set of packaged reports and analytic routines instead of requiring customers to build their own, are available immediately. Software licenses for the apps start at $200,000, IBM said.

The Mining Toolkit for InfoSphere Streams, enabling that product to support PMML-based scoring models for real-time data analysis, is scheduled to ship on Friday. Pricing for InfoSphere Streams starts at $100,000.


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