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SAP, SAS respond to IBM's planned SPSS acquisition

SAP and SAS Institute say they aren't worried about IBM's acquisition of SPSS, but analysts think the move could touch off a predictive analytics acquisition spree.

While analysts and industry watchers hailed IBM's proposed acquisition of predictive analytics specialist SPSS as a huge win for Big Blue, some competitors aren't quite as impressed.

In fact, SAS Institute and SAP say the deal actually helps, not hurts, them.

"IBM's decision to acquire SPSS validates SAP's early investment in, and commitment to, the predictive analysis market," SAP said in a statement.

Anne Milley, director of business analytics for the SAS Institute, echoed the thought. "We view it as a positive because we think that analytics has real value. Anything that calls attention to that is a good thing," she said.

But SAS's head of marketing, Jim Davis, had a different take on the deal. Davis told Computerworld that SPSS customers could be the big losers in the acquisition, speculating that IBM could raise prices and maintenance fees on SPSS products.

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 "I understand the value of this deal for the larger vendor. But I question the value of this for the customer," Davis told Computerworld, adding, "I don't think an IT organization would want to put all of their eggs in one basket."

It is unlikely, however, that IBM would make it more difficult to use SPSS products on top of or behind non-IBM data sources and applications, said James Kobielus, an analyst with Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research.

"First of all, IBM took great pains to point out that IBM will definitely not lock in SPSS customers to a pure Big Blue analytics stack. And I believe it," Kobielus said. "IBM has no interest in telling SPSS customers that they can't use the data warehouse of their choice or the BI, visualization or reporting tool of their choice. That would be suicide for IBM. That would totally gut the value of the deal."

The big "value of the deal," Kobielus said, is SPSS's brand loyalty. The vendor is more than 40 years old, he said, and "every SPSS customer I've ever talked to has been using them for years…. You don't trifle with that kind of customer affection." SPSS also has many partnerships, which Kobielus expects IBM to honor, as do the partners themselves.

SAP, for one, OEMs the SPSS PASW Modeler, formerly known as Clementine, and SAP's CEO doesn't think that will change any time soon.

"I don't expect the SPSS acquisition by IBM to have an impact on our relationship," said Leo Apotheker, SAP's chief executive, during the company's second quarter earnings conference call today. "It could actually simplify our overall offering and might be better news than people are expecting."

Analysts at Ovum, the U.K.-based research firm, said that the deal does indeed hurt Oracle and SAP, IBM's mega-vendor competitors. "More importantly, this acquisition prevents Oracle and SAP from getting their hands on the technology to buttress their BI analytics stories," wrote Ovum's Tony Baer and Madan Sheina in a note to clients.

Oracle, however, already has solid analytics capabilities in its Oracle Data Miner, Kobielus said, and he doubts the company will join the emerging predictive analytics acquisition spree. Oracle declined a request for comment.

SAP is a different story. Kobielus said for SAP's analytics stack to be considered 'primo,' as he now considers IBM's to be, thanks to SPSS, it will have to develop or acquire predictive analytics and data mining technology of its own, not just partner with an IBM-owned SPSS.

He said Information Builders, MicroStrategy and even Microsoft are likely to look to acquire predictive analytics vendors of their own in the coming months. Likely targets include pure-plays KXEN, Angoss and ThinkAnalytics.

As for SAS, CEO Jim Goodnight has repeatedly said he has no plans to sell the company, an assertion reiterated by Milley. "We really enjoy being a privately held company," she said.

Still, SAS dwarfs SPSS in terms of revenue. SAS reported total revenue of $2.26 billion in 2008, compared to $300 million for SPSS. An IBM-owned SPSS, however, is likely to prove a tougher competitor for SAS, which has long dominated the predictive analytics market.

"Goodnight didn't rate SPSS much as a competitor," wrote Nick Patience, a research director at New York City-based The 451 Group. "But IBM? That's a bit different."

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