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Ambuj Goyal, GM, IBM Information Management

Ambuj Goyal From afar, IBM's purchases of entity analytics player SRD Software, portal connector Bowstreet and a raft of other small software companies might reek of a company plugging cavities with high-tech fillings.

But look closely and you can see the buys as part of IBM's master plan to corral the nascent information-as-a-service market. The man behind the master plan is Ambuj Goyal, who took the helm of IBM's information management division in August.

His job is to steer IBM in waters few others are testing: absorbing data, cleansing it and rendering it as valuable information.

Goyal, who has commanded a number of key middleware initiatives since joining IBM in 1982, talked about the company's information-as-a-service strategy in a recent briefing with internetnews.com.

Q: What is information as a service?

Information as a service is a direction of technologies we are working on to deliver the value customers need. If you take a look at what customers are trying to do these days, it's to make information-based decisions. In the past, people have automated processes to take people and paper out of the equation and speed it up.

There are two elements of information. One is what I call "information addressed," where it gets stored, managed and archived, and so forth. The second is "information in motion," where information is delivered where it's needed at the time it's needed to improve the decision-making.

It's the latter that our customers are asking for. That's why you see our focus on the virtualization of information. That's why you see integration of information and master information management.

Q: What prompted Big Blue to pursue this avenue?

When we talk to customers' employees in a large company, we find they spend 40 percent of their time each day trying to find the right information, and sometimes they make decisions without finding that information. We are finding information availability is the key bottleneck for making improved decisions in the enterprise. We are addressing this need.

If you talk about information management over the last 20, 25 years, it has been about repositories. What if information from operating systems, applications and database repositories became available as a service where it can be delivered to any process in the enterprise so people could make decisions faster?

But the basic focus of information as a service is not only technology. Change management and governance becomes a huge issue in the enterprise. You can deliver info in a call center, but if a new source comes in, how do you deal with a new source without destroying what we have already accomplished and how do we manage change and govern it?

How does info as a service apply in different industries like banking, insurance, and horizontals like call center and procurement? It's a very broad strategy and we will continue to shore it up through organizing our capabilities and acquisitions. It's a 10- to 20-year journey.

Q: What buys has IBM made to strengthen information as a service and what gaps are you looking to fill in this info-as-a-service strategy?

There are certain areas like storage management, IT change management, ID management and others that we need to address from a software-engine perspective. But we have filled a lot already.

We acquired Access 360 for identity management. We acquired semantic reconciliation technology with SRD Software. We did DWL for master customer management, Trigo for master product management, Candle for a runtime management engine and Ascential for data cleansing. There have been others.

Q: Is the recent acquisition of Bowstreet part of this strategy?

Bowstreet is the focus on the user experience side of information virtualization. With the WebSphere portal, we virtualize the user interface. Bowstreet is a tool to quickly enable multiple user interfaces based on a role using their portlet factory. That takes care of the front end.

Earlier, we announced the Process Server and the Enterprise Service Bus, which is the process side of it.

Now we are announcing information as a service to deliver the virtualized information in the enterprise, so we cover people, process and information and the run-time engine associated with it. Both need information. Without information, the user interface is useless and the process is useless.

But basic IT management won't satisfy the delivery of Information as a service. For example, in a call center, how is the information being sent to the custodian of information? In this particular space, there are not a huge number of tools and technologies available. So we will use technologies that we are building organically.

Q: When you look out at the competitive landscape, who do you see as the main competition in this info-as-a-service space? SAP, Oracle, Microsoft?

Anybody in the industry can be a competitor in this space. However, for complete delivery of information of a service, we don't see a competitor. There are a few metadata management companies out there. There are a few master information management companies out there. But we have over 1,000 information management customers and no one is close.

We consider our information management in four segments: database and content repositories; information as a service; and semantic reconciliation; and master information management.

If you take a look at those four segments, we compete against Microsoft and Oracle in database management. In content, we compete against Documentum and FileNet. Oracle and Microsoft are not there. In information as a service, we compete against Informatica, Documentum, FileNet, Microsoft and Oracle. In semantic reconciliation and master information management there is really nobody there.

We have over 1,000 customers and are setting the agenda in that space of converting data into information. Nobody else goes across the four segments.