IBM stacks it up with AlphaBlox

IBM Corp.’s recent acquisition of an analytics software firm likely won’t affect its longstanding relationship with Ottawa business intelligence software vendor Cognos Inc., company officials say.

IBM purchased Mountain View, Calif.-based business intelligence firm AlphaBlox Corp. last month. The move will ostensibly bolster IBM’s open architecture initiatives; the firm’s “on demand” IT strategy has been to push open standards-based technologies along with real-time integrated analytics.

The AlphaBlox middleware technology enables enterprises to insert BI tools — applications for forecasting, planning and financials — within existing business processes, thereby making information both customizable and more accessible to a much wider range of users and applications. According to IBM, AlphaBlox will be folded into its Information Management software business unit and has been branded DB2 AlphaBlox for Unix and Windows version 5.6.

But the recent developments will not affect IBM’s longstanding relationship with Cognos, an IBM spokesperson told ComputerWorld Canada. The two firms currently have a multi-year global agreement to jointly market “best-in-class” BI solutions, and recently announced plans to become more proactive in their efforts to push comprehensive CPM (corporate performance management) and solutions based on IBM middleware and Cognos BI applications.

IBM’s move won’t affect customers or the company’s BI vision, said Rupert Bonham-Carter, Ottawa-based director of global strategic alliances for Cognos. The vendor also announced enhanced IBM DB2 support features, including Cube View and Information Integrator, which offer an improved interface to heterogeneous data sources with a single SQL statement. In fact, Bonham-Carter said IBM gave Cognos a long lead time as to what would happen, and stressed that Cognos deals more with front-end applications, while AlphaBlox weighs in more at the backend.

Indeed, the Cognos BI tools’ primary strength is that they function either as a standalone solution or integrated with other vendors, noted Warren Shiau, a software analyst with IDC Canada Ltd. in Toronto. Shaiu said AlphaBlox is more of a BI tool firm than a BI solution firm in that it isn’t a BI platform solution or a comprehensive end-to-end solution like Cognos.

AlphaBlox was built out with an open architecture, Shiau said, so it fits into IBM’s drive to go open in its software stack. Ultimately, AlphaBlox would be used as a tool to integrate/embed analytics into business processes, so it could be used within a larger BI/analytics solution, he added.

Whether vendors may choose to term it CPM or BPM (business performance management), the concept of using a series of methodologies, metrics and systems that support financial and operational information is gaining cachet among organizations. Not too long ago, industry analysts predicted that true CPM solutions would not begin to be fully implemented until late 2005 or early 2006. According to research firm IDC, CPM (or BPM) is growing at an 11 per cent compound annual growth rate (CAGR) between 2000 and 2005.

Bonham-Carter noted that Cognos is banking on CPM as the next big thing in IT. The fact that a recent report by European-based research firm Butler Group said Cognos garnered an “outperform” ranking for its early adoption of a CPM strategy validates Cognos’ approach, Bonham-Carter said.

Specifically, the report reviewed 10 vendors (including firms Oracle Corp., SAS, Hyperion and Business Objects) and determined that Cognos’ integrated BI products “can (best) support the needs of a wide range of both public and private organizations, and best support the three core elements of CPM — planning, monitoring, and reporting.” Ultimately, industry observers note it’s up to the organization to determine which vendor is a good fit.

One Cognos customer, the City of Coquitlam, B.C., recently embarked on a CPM strategy. According to Cognos user Rick Adams, the municipality’s information and communications technology manager, Coquitlam has made the shift towards dashboard reporting with real-time drill-down functionality.

The dashboard is a part of the city’s balanced scorecard initiative, Adams said, adding that the CPM tool enables city staff to integrate analysis reporting, financials and performance management within a single system. The City doesn’t use WebSphere or DB2 so the IBM news has no impact, Adams said. “It’s a non-issue for us.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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