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IBM's Buy More Than Meets The Eye

Analysis: Imagine that your baseball team needed to pick up a crafty pitcher and a power-hitting outfielder, and it ended up trading for Babe Ruth.

That's essentially what IBM  is trying to accomplish in agreeing to purchase MRO Software -- filling two needs with one move.

Pursuing a strategy of offering integrated IT services and business consulting to enterprise-class customers, Big Blue aims to add enterprise asset management to its solutions portfolio if the deal closes.

The play will also allow IBM to strike back at competitors who have tweaked it in the marketplace for failing to have a service desk solution.

Rich Ptak, an analyst with IT consulting firm Ptak, Noel & Associates, noted that it wouldn't have made sense for IBM to make an acquisition solely for the purpose of acquiring a service desk solution.

It has made do without that offering, but now "it takes that club out of competitors' hands," Ptak said.

"The acquisition," said Ptak, "solves a multitude of very pressing problems" for IBM.

Key to the deal is the merging of traditional IT assets and other enterprise assets, such as transportation equipment and other physical plant.

Increasingly, those enterprise assets are becoming IT-enabled thanks to the proliferation of technologies like RFID  and sensors.

Al Zollar, general manager of IBM's Tivoli software group, stated that "the fastest growing part of enterprise assets are IT assets."

He noted that clients are increasingly looking for "a consistent and comprehensive way to manage all their industrial assets, from procure to retire. They want to manage those assets together with their IT assets -- software, hardware, networking, etcetera," he said.

Gartner analyst Bob Goodwin is a believer.

MRO  has been the market leader in asset management solutions, said Goodwin.

"That used to be big ticket equipment, but it's been migrating to IT equipment," he told internetnews.com.

According to Goodwin, MRO had been making progress in that direction, but was relatively new at the IT asset game.

The acquisition could change all that for both companies.

But IBM ALSO strikes back at competitors who argued that it didn't offer a service desk solution.

Both Hewlett-Packard and BMC, with their acquisitions of, respectively, Peregrine, and KMXperts, have been able to hammer IBM in the marketplace for not having an integrated offering that includes services desk software.

This has been a particularly thorny issue with prospective customers who either don't have, or are considering an upgrade to their service desk.

"Having a service desk built on newer technology and a service catalog that is modern is very important to our customers," agreed Laura Sanders, vice president of development for Tivoli.

Moreover, many enterprises are keen to comply with standards such as those defined by ITIL , which recommend the use of a service desk.

Sanders also explained that the service desk and service catalog offerings will give IBM an advantage going into new markets.

"Service desks are more prevalent in certain areas of the world and not so prevalent in other places, like Asia," she told internetnews.com.

"It's a very good growth market for them," agreed Gartner analyst Goodwin.

IBM also intends to leverage relationships MRO has already established in certain European markets, where it has penetrated the shop floor but not the IT department.

Zollar said that the service desk and service catalog solutions from MRO will help fuel continued double digit growth in the Tivoli software division.

Tivoli revenue grew by 12 percent last year.