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Steve Mills, Senior Vice President, IBM Software

Steve Mills Imagine trying to pull a single file from several repositories filled with millions.

To make it even more daunting, let's say those repositories were constructed from different pieces of software that can't necessarily communicate with each other.

IBM is fusing several pieces of software from several recent acquisitions to tackle this challenge, led by Steve Mills, senior vice president and group executive for IBM's software division.

Mills and several company executives convened in New York last week to unveil the fruits of their labor and their next foray: a $1 billion investment in technology and services to help customers get more out of their information assets.

The executive added color to IBM's information management strategy during a sit-down with internetnews.com after the announcement.

Q: Will the $1 billion investment include more acquisitions?

We always go through these "make-buy" kinds of valuations, and we go after companies whose capabilities we think can add to the portfolio. We have done base technology investments on feature, function and performance, the classical things you have to do to have a complete portfolio.

For the last five years we've been accumulating or building the technology to deal with all of the data and data types. How do you move the data, how do you reconcile it and translate it into a common form? We've made a number of different investments that have to do with data discovery and manipulation. Acquisitions like DWL, Trigo and SRD focused on the domain-specific areas. We've put together a pretty rich portfolio.

The next period of time will include some amount of base technology. But more of it's going to be focused on applied solutions.

So as we engage with law enforcement agencies, states and their programs, and a variety of others, a lot of the money is going to be going into how we take the pieces we have and put together hard-knit, but repeatable, solutions and add the right front-end function so administrators and users can use the technology.

This is where the money will go for next three-year-plus period. Within that, we constantly have our eyes open for some company out there that can enhance our portfolio.

Q: You told us about a New York Police Department composite scenario where IBM's software was used to narrow down suspects in a shooting based on characteristics such as a tattoo and a nickname. Did the NYPD use the new WebSphere Information Server and the WebSphere Content Discovery Server for this case?

Yes. Their cumulative record base approaches 100 million records, so it's a pretty big database. The idea was to rapidly put together the right information, do the compares and deliver it to a squad car on the spot.

Speed was a critical issue. In some cases, they're literally thinking the perpetrator is in the neighborhood. They want to get this guy right away. It's a classic information integration challenge, coupled with a basic set of comparison algorithms.

Q: IBM mentioned a $69 billion market opportunity for information management software through 2009. Do you see a lot of business for this coming from the law enforcement side?

We think so. We think that at the state, local, federal and international levels, they're all dealing with some kind of fraud and abuse.

The size of that market is anybody's guess. You could end up with a trillion dollar loss pretty quickly if you add up fraud crimes in all of those programs together.

We think a lot of money is going to go into government appropriation for those kinds of projects because the demonstrated payback is so significant that they're all going to want to jump on the bandwagon.

Q: Since customers are dealing with so many disparate pieces of software, what are the challenges of tying information management to service-oriented architecture?

The notion of service orientation touches people, the business process, and the information. So if I can't do semantic reconciliation of data, then I probably can't integrate the process because the process has the data associated with it.

There is the information itself that has to pass. What form does it have to be in as it gets passed down the line from the process? When nobody has a green field, they have multiple applications and expect them to be in different forms.

So customers need to reuse the data in that integration strain in order to deliver a level of service orientation.

Sophisticated customers who have been into this for awhile will tell you that, for the governance and internal costs of how to get the shared service approaches, the data problem becomes the biggest single problem they deal with. The lack of common metadata structures drives them crazy.

Q: IBM seems to be corralling this information integration market more than rivals such as Microsoft, Oracle and SAP. Is that a fair assessment?

There's not much evidence that this is where they're going. Oracle has obviously become obsessed with the application market space so they're in competition with SAP. They've got their hands full with companies they've acquired.

Oracle's always had a view that they want to put all of your data in the Oracle database. They're not investing in federation technology to deal with lots of data and lots of sources. So, they're not really prepared to compete in this market.

SAP talks about their application integration hub, the notion of wiring everything into SAP. This would tend not to be their area of interest anyway. They're in the master data circle to some extent, but a lot of this stuff, they're not too focused on.

Microsoft tends to be into more classical business and statistical analytics, as opposed to complex data-mining scenarios that deal with different platforms across engineering and scientific domains.

We can do the math against large amounts of data from multiple disparate sources very quickly. We've been accumulating the pieces that let us go after opportunities in ways that major software companies haven't addressed at all.

This is an opportunity that IBM is very well positioned to take advantage of.