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BI for SOA comes of age with IBM's Cognos deal

The growing importance of business intelligence tools for SOA is reflected in IBM's announced purchase of Cognos Inc. for $4.9 billion, analysts say.

The era of business intelligence (BI) as a pure play vendor's best of breed add-on to service-oriented architecture is ending with IBM's announced purchase this week of Cognos Inc. for $4.9 billion, analysts say.

What you're seeing is BI is not necessarily this standalone application.
Marc Andrews
Director for Data WarehousingIBM

BI along with business process management (BPM) is becoming integral to SOA as reflected in major vendor acquisitions this year including Oracle Corp., which acquired Hyperion Solutions Corp., and SAP AG, which acquired Business Objects SA, say analysts interviewed for this article.

The era of the pure play BI vendor is ending with the IBM/Cognos deal, according to Neil Ward-Dutton, research director, Macehiter Ward-Dutton, and Bradley F. Shimmin, principal analyst of application infrastructure at Current Analysis LLC. Ward-Dutton said the major software vendors have now purchased most of the major BI pure plays. Shimmin said that moving forward BI will be part of SOA suites rather than an add-on product.

Marc Andrews, director for data warehousing at IBM, who led the acquisition effort, agreed with analysts that BI is taking a larger role in the BPM and SOA space.

"What you're seeing is BI is not necessarily this standalone application," Andrews said. "BI is part of a much broader market around the need to leverage information more effectively and deliver insights to optimize business processes."

With BI data tied to the business processes, updating SOA applications to reflect current changes in the marketplace will be an important advantage for WebSphere customers, Shimmin said. In the past BI was limited to being consider interesting information that could be passed on to an architect to make changes in applications in response to new data, he said.

"Now, if IBM is able to successfully leverage that in the service of its BPM and BAM [Business Activity Monitoring] tools, they are going to be able to have a model of the processes that is tied to the BI data that they can tweak in response to it. It will get looped back to the BPEL [Business Process Execution Language] server and you would have a modified business process," Shimmin said.

Andrews said SOA was one of the drivers for the Cognos acquisition with IBM taking a big picture view of BI as a service available across a wide range of business applications.

"Where we are focused is not on making BI part of a particular enterprise application or ERP environment," Andrews said. "We are focused on delivering business intelligence and performance capabilities as a service that can be leveraged by multiple different business applications and processes."

Andrews said a number of analyst surveys indicate that BI is becoming important to CFO and other C-level executives.

Shimmin envisioned a scenario where a CFO might use data on a Cognos dashboard to take advantage of the agility of SOA to make immediate changes to a business application.

He said, "It will give CFOs the ability to say 'We need to change the way our business is running tomorrow. We're going to utilize our WebSphere agility because it's SOA-based. We can leverage the work we are doing with WebSphere to make changes based on what I'm seeing on this dashboard.'"

Because IBM and Cognos adhere to SOA and Web services standards in their products, Shimmin predicted the integration of the product lines should not be a problem.

"Both Cognos and IBM have architected their product lines to be SOA based," Shimmin said. "In terms of integrating product lines they should be able to start using Web services to send information back and forth. So if IBM wants to pull the BI data into their BPM tools, it's going to be pretty easy because they are both very standards based and SOA based. It will give IBM a lot of opportunities in terms of integrating the Cognos products into its broader suite."

Andrews said because IBM and Cognos had a partnership prior to the acquisition the two companies have already integrated their technologies into joint offerings for businesses. While he said he cannot provide specific details until the acquisition is completed, he said customers can expect to see even tighter integration between the two technologies in 2008.

Shimmin said there is little product overlap between what IBM currently has and what Cognos will add, so that technology rationalization, often an issue in acquisitions, should not be a problem in this case.

Jason Bloomberg, managing partner, ZapThink LLC., saw the lack of product overlap as the most important element in the IBM acquisition.

"The real strength of this announcement is how well Cognos complements existing IBM capabilities, more so than any particular SOA story," Bloomberg said. "It's unusual just how well they do complement each other. Basically, IBM had nothing like Cognos before the acquisition."

For more information
The brainy business: BI-driven SOA

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Cognos will be a separate business unit of IBM after the acquisition is finalized, Andrews said. He also said that IBM will continue its partnership with Business Objects, which was acquired by SAP last month. SAP pledged at the time to maintain Business Objects as an independent business unit.

At that time James Kobielus, principal analyst, data management, Current Analysis LLC., said IBM as been OEMing significant BI technology from Business Objects. "For the most part when they sell you their data warehousing suite, what is in the box actually is Business Objects," he said.

Ward-Dutton said that the competition with Oracle and Microsoft in the database market was also a driver for the acquisition.

"Oracle and Microsoft, who are IBM's competitors in the database space, both provide integrated BI capabilities through a combination of acquisitions and organic development," Ward-Dutton said. "In essence BI is becoming a data management infrastructure capability. As a result customers were looking to IBM to provide more than just the data management engine."

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