I am here at IBM’s IOD (Information on Demand) conference. The keynote is interesting because of the focus on outcomes. IBM has invested more than $12 billion over the past five years in the information management market. More than $8 billion has come through acquisitions (Cognos, SPSS, etc.) and the rest from organic growth.
The biggest changes that I have seen over the past 20 years or so of watching IBM in the information technology market is the change in focus from the database engine and tools to a focus on a process centric approach to information management. In essence, this means that IBM is building a foundation based on outcomes through the lifecycle of information. Last year IBM called this movement to using information holistically to help companies anticipate the future the Information Agenda. Now, there is an interesting and subtle shift to what IBM is calling information-led transformation. What’s the difference? I think that IBM is actually attempting to turn the information management market upside down. There is no doubt that data and information management is a technical discipline. What IBM is saying is that the focus is on business transformation that is supported by information management technology. It is a subtle difference but really important. It is very easy to get caught up in the details about schemas, data cleansing, etc. But if information doesn’t support key business processes and business strategy needs, it is just a pile of technology.
With the growth of social networks, an ever expanding world of information sources – structured, unstructured, images, video, data feeds, and more, it is more important than ever that these sources of data be managed in context with the business goals. The movement to cloud computing will add a lot more information to the mix. It is going to be a complex journey. One only has to look at complexities of managing information in the healthcare industry to start to understand what the implications for managing costs and lives. Today we cannot easily look across information across individual doctors, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, pharmacies, patients, medical equipment, digital images, and more. We don’t have consistent definitions of data; nor can we keep track of how effective a treatment might impact individuals with a symptom. Nor do we have the ability today to use information to determine what solutions could be used to reduce medical errors by 5% a year. If healthcare information management were focused on predicting outcomes rather than creating the next report, image what we could accomplish.
On Friday I got a call from a journalist who had a copy of someone’s IT spending survey. He had noticed that SOA spending was number 11 on the list so his question to me was; “Does this mean that SOA is fading as a requirement for IT organizations?” When I asked him what the top ten were and he told me, I had to chuckle (I often chuckle to myself when I hear stuff like this).
On the list were things like updating existing software packages, updating networks, business intelligence, and integration projects. So, guess what? I took two things away from this profound study – first IT management is stuck in trying to fight fires and get things done based on the existing models – like upgrading that ERP system that runs the accounting function for the company and making sure that the bits flow through the pipes. Second, companies are looking at issues directly related to SOA – like integration and information management.
But most IT managers don’t really understand that SOA is an approach to things like integration and data management. They are still stuck in their morass of shoveling the coal. I am not saying that this is easy to change. It is hard and will take years to start thinking differently about software and packaged applications and integration. So, asking questions like; “Is SOA a spending priority?” without explaining what that is and how it impacts things like integration is sort of dumb…if you ask me.