IBM tries to get information on corporate agendas

IBM on Tuesday said it will offer corporate customers consulting services and software that will help business units and IT departments in distinct vertical markets understand how to manage information more effectively.

The company is going after 18 industries to help educate them about master data management (MDM), an approach to processing reference data such as customer records or product information. These include automotive, banking, chemical and petroleum. According to Tom Inman, vice-president of Information On Demand acceleration at IBM, the consulting services will include blueprints and templates on how they can adapt products such as its InfoSphere Information Server and Cognos business intelligence software to their specific needs.

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“Having a conversation with a bank is much different than with a health-care provider or insurance company or automotive company or telecommunication service provider,” he said, adding that the guides will offer a “business optimization map” that dovetail with the most common projects in each vertical sector. “One of the biggest challenges is they don’t have an understanding of what (information) they have. These are foundational software tools that will allow them to analyze the information sources. We’re offering to help with a starter kit, if you will, of best practices and data definitions.”

Although they may seem like straightforward terms, for instance, Inman said there can be major differences across a company in what “customer,” “risk” and “account” means. MDM, when done correctly, ensures that all such definitions match up and there is consistency across the business. The difficulty of doing this has gotten worse, Inman said, despite the boom in customer relationship management and data warehousing.

“When you ask (customers) about their ability to feed trusted information into these applications, you will begin to see them struggle,” he said. “I like to call it enterprise cholesterol – it’s been built up to where the trusted information can’t flow.”

IDC analyst Henry Morris pointed out that enterprise resource planning systems were originally designed to consolidate information about a company’s operations into a central place, but much of it remains disconnected.

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Why IT ignores the information agenda

“You seldom hear the term MDM unless we’re talking to an (information) architect. On the other hand, you often hear the issues that MDM is calling attention to,” he said, citing an executive at a medical research centre that wants to create a patient registry. But, “I’m sure they wouldn’t use the term information agenda,” which is how IBM is branding its efforts, he said.

Inman said IBM’s consulting and software tools may be more directly aimed at line-of-business executives than IT departments, but it may be too early to tell who will lead such projects over time. He said that while many firms start out MDM projects by contracting IBM consultants, eventually they want to establish what he called their own “competency centre” which may involve all kinds of users.

“Obviously the ‘I’ in the CIO’s title is information, but they’ve been consumed with data centre issues,” he said. “Maybe we’re bringing the ‘I’ back.”

IBM will also be conducting a series of workshops and consulting sessions based on its Information Agenda tools at no cost, the company said.

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