Business analytics to be bigger than ERP, IBM says

LAS VEGAS – IBM Corp. announced new product updates and tools to their business analytics portfolio on Monday, adding even more chips to its bet on the analytics and data management industry.

The software giant revealed its new business intelligence tools at this week’s Information On Demand conference in Las Vegas.

Under the IBM Cognos banner, the company announced a customer performance tracker aimed at sales reps, a workforce performance analytics tool aimed at HR professionals, and a supply chain performance platform for procurement professionals.

“What ERP did 20 years ago, this will be bigger than that,” said Ambuj Goyal, general manager of business analytics and process optimization at IBM, referring to IBM’s new business analytics strategy at his keynote address.

IBM said that its new content analytics applications all aim to combine internal data collected by an organization with external customer-based trends. By using new content analytics tools for customer performance analytics, for example, enterprises will be able to sift through external sources such as e-mail, blogs and Web sites and bring that information back into their data warehouse.

The company also rolled out a significant new update to their InfoSphere product line.

IBM’s Master Information Hub, which will be offered as an optional add-on to the newly released InfoSphere Master Data Management Server 9.0, aims to give organizations one single view of the common information they have sitting across many applications throughout their business. Users will also be able to create custom or pre-built data domains for their customer, product and other account information.

For instance, a hospital could see government codes for spreading diseases such as the H1N1 virus together with various patient records. In the retail space, a similar use case can also be achieved, with a clothing shop using a calendar of in-store and relating it to their suppliers.

With these announcements taking centre stage at IOD 2009, IBM had surprisingly little to say about its recent acquisition of analytics vendor SPSS. The influence of the company’s Cognos purchase in 2007 was obvious in IBM’s new line of pre-configured analytics software, but IBM executives did not provide any details as to how SPSS will be utilized going forward.

For Frank Kern, a senior vice-president of IBM’s Global Business Services, these announcements are just the beginning of IBM’s plans. He added that IBM has invested and will continue to invest billions of dollars into the business analytics market, as long as business leaders continue to distrust the data they are given.

Kern said that one third of business leaders are making business decisions with information they don’t trust and about one half of business leaders still complain they don’t have access to the data they need.

“Everyone and everything needs to be leaving real-time data tracks,” he said, adding that while many companies are already collecting data all the time, less of what is being generated in real-time is actually being used in real-time.

One company that is doing things right, according to IBM, is New York-based clothing retailer Elie Tahari Ltd.

Nihad Aytaman, director of business systems at Elie Tahari, said the retailer has been creating detailed transactional reports — using Cognos, and now IBM tools — pulling together data from five disparate systems. The kicker, according to Aytaman, is that Elie Tahari’s BI and data warehousing team is just one individual.

“The misconception right now is that BI is the realm of large companies,” he said. “I would suggest everybody from small and medium-sized businesses implement it.”

For Aytaman, the biggest advantage of using these business analytics tools have been the ability for the retail division to change their buys on-the-fly, putting the right merchandise on the shelves in the right regions.

Given that the fashion industry moves at a breakneck pace, being able to act on retail information from department store customers is critically important, he added.

“We’re doing things in near real-time,” said Aytaman, adding that every transaction that happens across its disparate systems flows into the data flows into the company’s data warehouse in five minutes or less. This eliminates any nightly loading that needs to be done and gives staff the ability to run accurate and updated reports throughout the day.

“I suggest anyone building a data warehouse to do it in near-real-time,” Aytaman added.

More than 151 users have called up about 26,000 reports since implementing IBM’s business analytics tools.

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