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Smart Analytics – The Rising IBM Tide

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It's no secret I'm a big fan of the R Project for Statistical Computing, the popular open source platform for statistical computing and graphics. A few weeks back, I was having lunch with executives from a leading commercial open source BI vendor, when I was asked what impact the acquisition of SPSS would have on R. Though I'd  last used long-entrenched SPSS seriously many years ago, preferring in turn SAS, S+ and R for statistical analyses and visualization, the question was still a layup: Having IBM seriously promote an analytics product line will help all statistics/mining vendors – and indeed provide a much-desired commercial jolt for academically-focused R. IBM's endorsement of a “smarter” world will cause a rising tide that lifts all statistical boats.

Though IBM has always been a much-too-large company for my working tastes, I've developed a healthy respect over the years for the company's approaches to professional services, open source, and business intelligence, and the IBM employees I've gotten to know. IBM CEO Sam Palmisano was, like me, born and raised in Baltimore, where we attended rival parochial high schools. Sam was also a college classmate at Johns Hopkins University in the 70's, heading off to IBM immediately following graduation. Somehow, I think his career took a few sharper turns than mine.

Historically, I've had many many positive collaborations with IBM Global Services in my executive roles with boutique BI firms. Maybe it's a small experience sample, but IBM GS has always seemed a more collegial and collaborative partner than its legacy accounting firm competitors. 

I often look to IBM for guidance and affirmation of emerging technology trends. Due in no small part to the leadership of Palmisano,  IBM set the standard early on with professional services, recognizing in the tech boom that consulting and outsourcing were ultimately more significant sources of growth than hardware and software. IBM also made an early commitment to open source, betting heavily in the Linux flavor of Unix to drive its server business, even with a huge legacy investment in its own Unix variant, AIX. Prudent choice. Open source software drives a lot of business and profits for IBM. And now competitor Hewlett-Packard appears to be following IBM's path in professional services.

But it's perhaps IBM's strategic commitment to business intelligence – “smart” and analytics – that inspires the most confidence. Before he left for college, my youngest son and I would often watch sports telecasts together. He'd get a kick from asking his curmudgeonly dad to comment on the quality of commercials, knowing full well I'd skewer 95%. One of the few TV add themes I always liked, however, revolves on IBM's “Smarter Planet”, which promotes the use of data, math, and analytics to solve big problems in all walks of life. The ads -- smart, worldly and hip -- work well for me and, judging by their  ubiquity and longevity, for IBM as well. I'm sure Ian Ayres, Tom Davenport and James Taylor aren't unhappy with IBM's positioning. And judging by the Smart Planet website that details horizontal and vertical intelligence “visions” and “perspectives”, along with comprehensive solutions and services, it seems IBM's made a significant – and smart – bet.

Finally, IBM has recently introduced the Smart Analytics System, a soup-to-nuts intelligence platform that integrates hardware, database, BI platform, OLAP server, and data mining/text analytics into a one-stop shopping appliance. Even though my company, OpenBI, doesn't deploy this version of “SAS”, the open source products like Pentaho, Jaspersoft, MySQL/Infobright and R we do implement are packaged in much the same way in comprehensive BI platforms. IBM's promotion of such a BI/Analytics appliance couldn't be more welcome as we market these solutions to our prospects.

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