IBM ups data management ante to match IT trends

IBM last week announced a multipronged data management initiative that has been driven by several trends: hardware that's getting increasingly supercomputerlike, improved software capabilities for accessing data, pressure from data-intensive technologies such as RFID, and an overall desire by businesses to improve their use of information.

At a press briefing in New York, IBM said it plans to spend US$1 billion over the next three years to expand its development of data management software. The company will also boost the number of workers in its services group who are dedicated to data management work by 65 percent from 15,000 now to about 25,000.

In addition, IBM is working to more closely align its middleware products and consulting offerings. At the briefing, it unveiled a set of six "solution portfolios" related to managing data, as well as upcoming data integration software called WebSphere Information Server.

Steve Mills, senior vice president and group executive for software at IBM, said he expects to see a rapid increase in demand for data management software and services. "I think we're at a juncture here for this thing to really explode and take off, hence the billion dollars on the software side and another 10,000 practitioners on the services side," Mills said in an interview.

Robert Schwartz, CIO at Panasonic Corporation of North America, was among some IBM customers who took part in a panel discussion during the press briefing. Schwartz said Panasonic has been actively working to improve its information management capabilities. Replacing rudimentary methods, such as sharing information via spreadsheets, e-mails and even faxes, with more integrated systems has helped to shorten product time-to-market cycles by a matter of months, he said.

Schwartz said he now sees radio frequency identification as "the next driving force" for data management, but one that will also bring new challenges. "Think about the massive amount of information that will be generated," said Schwartz, adding that companies that learn how to use all that data will be able to gain competitive advantages.

Wachovia CIO Joe Monk said in an interview that the financial services firm has spent the past two years focusing on integrating applications and is now moving "up the stack" to its internal business processes. "How are we managing that data? How are we bringing that data to the right people in the right place at the right time? [Those questions are] all part of what I think is core" to the effort, said Monk, who said he sees himself as Wachovia's "chief transformation officer."

Monk said his biggest challenge isn't the technology but orchestrating all the processes involved with improving data management. That includes dealing with acquisitions and overall business growth "while we're under tremendous efficiency pressure to deliver faster, better and smarter solutions," he said. "I think it's very doable, but if we underestimate the complexity of that orchestration, we're putting ourselves at risk."

"There is a much greater awareness that there is huge value to be derived from data," said Vasant Dhar, a professor and chairman of the information systems group at New York University's Stern School of Business. Accessing increased amounts of data can change the way a company interacts with its customers and even prompt a rethinking of business models, Dhar said.

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