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IBM finds match in search company

With its purchase of iPhrase, IBM is rapidly rounding out its unstructured information technology portfolio.

IBM announced this afternoon that it has purchased iPhrase Systems Inc., its 15th software acquisition since 2001 in its information as a service strategy.

Bedford, Mass.-based iPhrase provides search technology to improve e-commerce sales, online service and support, and call center productivity. The technology will broaden IBM's information management portfolio with enterprise search and content management.

"In a way, this will take iPhrase back to its roots around natural language search," said Allen Bonde, vice president of strategy at Kansas City, Mo.-based eVergance. "IBM has been making some interesting buys in this market and gathering a war chest around analytics and search. This fits into that."

According to IBM, iPhrase's technology is compliant with IBM's Unstructured Information Management Architecture. It will be used to help customers and partners discover inherent meaning from a wide variety of data.

"Looking for information online or in an enterprise doesn't always produce the results employees or customers have in mind," Jon Prial, vice president of IBM content management and discovery, said in a statement. "iPhrase's technology combines a real-time understanding of user queries with application context, guiding people to the most relevant results tailored to their individual needs."

Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

While the iPhrase purchase seems to fit in with IBM's information on-demand strategy, what's less clear is what the future will be for iPhrase's customer self-service applications.

"This is definitely plugging into the information management portfolio," Bonde said. "It almost looks like IBM is more interested in the underlying technology than some of the recent iPhrase applications. I don't see IBM in the CRM space. It tends to be a platform for self-service applications, but this kind of takes iPhrase out of the self-service market. If I'm Knova [Software Inc.] or InQuira [Inc.], this is good news."

While iPhrase customers suddenly have IBM backing up their product in a rapidly consolidating self-service marketplace, they should be concerned about what IBM has planned for the application's future, Bonde warned. IBM e-commerce customers, on the other hand, may now have access to some powerful tools.

Today's news comes on the heels of last week's announcement from IBM and Google that they were teaming up to provide search capabilities not just for the desktop and e-mail, but for corporate databases as well.

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