IBM bets big on big data strategy

LAS VEGAS — Touting a new era of real-time predictive intelligence, IBM Corp.  has unveiled new cross-platform “big data” software offerings designed to help organizations cope with their ever-increasing volumes of structured and unstructured data.

The company made the announcements at its sixth annual global Information on Demand (IoD) 2011 conference here on Monday. The new offerings span a wide variety of big data and business analytics technologies across multiple platforms from mobile devices to the data center to IBM’s SmartCloud.

They include InfoSphere BigInsights on the IBM SmartCloud Enterprise platform, which the company makes big data analytics more accessible for any user inside an organization. Bringing big data analytics to the cloud means clients can capture and analyze any data without the need for Hadoop skills, or having to install, run, or maintain hardware and software, according to IBM. 
“It’s about turning insight into action,” said Steven Mills, head of IBM’s software and systems unit, during the opening keynote. Mills noted the software enables businesses to better leverage and rank unstructured data on the back-end and also deliver predictive analytics in the cloud on mobile devices. 

Similar to the on-premise version, BigInsights on the cloud analyzes traditional structured data found in databases along with unstructured data — such as text, video, audio, images, social media, click streams, log files, weather data — allowing decision makers to act on it quickly.

The solution will be available in basic and enterprise editions with the options of public, private and hybrid cloud deployments, the company said.

In addition, IBM is delivering new software — SPSS Statistics 20.0 — that enables organizations to gain predictive intelligence on geographic data. Organizations can use the software to understand data, analyze trends, forecast, plan and validate assumptions to drive accurate conclusions.

IBM said the software includes a new mapping feature that gives users the ability to add a geographic dimension to analysis and reporting, and allows users to target, forecast, and plan by geographical areas.

Also announced is new IBM InfoSphere Information Server 8.7 software designed to speed the governance of big data. The software enables integration with big data as both a source and a target for information integration. And new IBM InfoSphere Master Data Management 10 software unifies IBM’s Master Data Management (MDM) capabilities into a single product that handles any MDM requirement. New features include integration with business-process management software for MDM-centric business processes, greater connectivity to consuming applications via adaptable service interfaces, and a shared matching engine that maintains the single version of the truth, IBM said.

The big data challenges that Canadian organizations face are similar to the business analytics issues that all global organizations face on a daily basis, Michael Rhodin, senior vice-president of IBM Software Solutions Group, said in an interview with IT World Canada. While companies have always had to deal with large amounts of data, the rising internal use of social media tools — Facebook, Twitter, blogs, wikis, and so on — has led to IT departments dealing with rapidly increasing volumes of unstructured data and information. The new IBM tools enable companies to more deeper scan and analyze information, Rhodin noted, including unstructured log files, video and social media content such as Twitter feeds and Facebook blogs.

Rhodin referred to a recent IBM/MIT Sloan Management Review survey that claims more that 60 per cent of respondents (3,000 executives across 30 industries from 100 countries) noted they have more data than they can effectively use. These users are daily creating the equivalent of 2.5 quintillion bytes of data from sensors, mobile devices, online transactions, and social networks; so much that 90 per cent of the world’s data has been generated in the past two years.

Armonk, N.Y. -based IBM [NYSE: IBM] also announced new mobile analytics software for Apple iPad users. Cognos Mobile on the iPad enables mobile users to explore any type of data on the go with location-aware analytics. Clients can download the free app on Apple’s iTunes, IBM said.

John Lucas, director of operations at the Cincinnati Zoo, noted that the organization is currently using the mobility analytics solutions to give management instant access, and a single view of visitor and business information to drive new revenue and improve member visits. While some may find it hard to fathom how the Zoo uses analytics, “making guest-centric decisions was very challenging for the organization,” said Lucas.

The flexibility of mobile business analytics allows managers to bring together sales and attendance data on their iPads from wherever they are inside the park to track purchase patterns and adjust marketing spend based on that information. Using Cognos software, the Zoo has increased in-park spending by 25 per cent this year, Lucas added.

IBM is making a clear distinction between its big data offerings compared to more traditional business intelligence (BI), data mining and data warehousing solutions, said, Michelle Warren, analyst and principal of Toronto-based MW Research & Consulting.

“Managing, accessing, and securing information are the biggest pain points for many Canadian companies. While data management and security is an issue for IT departments, accessing the information quickly is the biggest pain point,” said Warren.

IBM’s approach offers solutions to address all three concerns, allowing for businesses to run more cohesively, she added.

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