Ambuj Goyal, General Manager, Information Management, IBM Software Group, brings IBM's Information Management practice to the on-demand world.

In 1982, Ambuj Goyal took a research job at IBM's famed T.J. Watson Research Center. It would turn out to be one of the great hires in computing hiing innovation awards and several senior assignments later, Dr. Goyal today holds the title of general manager, Information Management, IBM Software Group, a role he took in 2005. DM Review editorial director Jim Ericson recently spoke with Dr. Goyal about IBM's past, present and future.

DMR: We're hearing different spins on the "new" idea of information management. How would you describe it?

AG: Information management is getting more focus today because a set of technologies has emerged which helps our clients make decisions in the context of a business process or [through] an executive dashboard. In the past, information management was about storing data and content, what I call information at rest. Now information is being used in call centers and retail branches at the moment people phone or walk in. Information from many different sources is being prepared and presented in context of the customer service being delivered to provide better customer service or provide an up-sell or cross-sell opportunity. If you look at surveys, 60 percent or more of CEOs and line-of-business executives would say that if they had the right information at the right time they could improve a business process, improve their decision-making. This problem has been around for many years, and a set of technologies we call Information On Demand [IOD] is starting to materialize to deliver on this particular promise.

DMR: We'll get to IOD in a moment. Is information management mostly about merging various structured and unstructured forms of information?

AG: That is only one element of it. Merging structured and unstructured information is not enough if the information is not accurate or timely or in context of a business decision that is being made. People have been dealing with relational databases and unstructured information such as forms and images for 20 years, but what we are trying to do now is reconcile it across multiple silos and deliver it in the context of a business decision or a business process. In the past, we just thought about it as merging information, not reconciling this vertical information semantically.

DMR: IBM has always maintained that it is not in the application software business, but through acquisition and organic growth your business now seems much more involved with software.

AG: That is very true. IBM founded the software group in 1995, but before that we wrote a lot of software - we were the inventor of Fortran, the relational database and many compiling technologies. We focused on delivering software on our platforms as a vertically integrated company. In 1995, we started a middleware-everywhere strategy that addresses the layer of software on top of the operating system and eases the job of building applications. This is messaging middleware, integration middleware, transactional middleware, data middleware, systems management middleware and collaborative middleware. As time has passed, middleware continues to evolve. For example, 10 years ago, people were writing portals on top of application servers and portals were considered an application. Today portals are middleware because people are customizing portals for dealers, retailers, suppliers, executives - the application context is put together inside the portal middleware layer. All of our recent acquisitions and product offerings are just adding to that middleware layer.

DMR: How does IBM's recent acquisition of FileNet support that model?

AG: First, we see FileNet as a growth acquisition, not a consolidation acquisition, because we have seen a fundamental shift in the content management business. In the past, the content management business was about storing documents, managing records and other things that involved saving and retrieving documents and images. Eighty percent of our information is in unstructured documents and content. Now, a new class of content-centric business process management applications has emerged which needs content management capabilities to support the front end of delivery — rather than just storage and records management. We are seeing a huge growth spurt in what we call content-centric BPM [business process management] and compliance-oriented applications. With FileNet and IBM capabilities, we can go into the market and take advantage of this growth opportunity.

DMR: Many people see FileNet more as an application associated with workflows and forms than as middleware.

AG: In fact, FileNet has over 1,000 applications built on the platform by hundreds of partners. We provide the platform for content-centric business process management. The end application - such as mortgage loan origination or case management - is built by systems integrator partners or independent software vendors. The idea is that a more capable platform allows more vendors the ability to create domain-specific applications in different geographies. For example, mortgage loan origination in the western part of Norway may be done differently than in eastern Russia. We want to provide the platform so local vendors can create the right application for their vertical domain.

DMR: Getting back to the earlier topic, there is lingering confusion about what IOD means.

AG: What Information On Demand means is that we need to free up information from operating systems, databases and applications, and semantically reconcile and deliver it in context. We acquired companies like Unicorn for metadata management, Ascential for ETL and real-time ETL tools, DWL for master data management, SRD for entity analytics to find relationships among good guys and bad guys for homeland security and customer care, and Trigo for product information management. While other companies in the marketplace were consolidating in the application space, we were investing billions of dollars building out the Information On Demand platform to deliver significant value to more than 5,000 customers.

DMR: So while some still see IOD as offloading data management to a third party, you're talking more about an architecture of services?

AG: Exactly. With capabilities around metadata, information integration, federation and master data management, a single platform can deliver significant value. As an example, when you pick up the phone and call Bell Canada, they offer a set of common services from their call center across multiple product lines - wire line, wireless, email, satellite channel - while in the background these are all independent silos. When Bell Canada wants to do a promotion like "Friends & Family," it is easy enough to create a marketing program but it is extremely hard to implement it across various silos because multiple systems need to be updated. The same infrastructure that enables customer care in the call center enables updating multiple silos to implement a particular marketing program. This kind of value was not possible in the past by delivering an applet into the marketplace. You could build the infrastructure, but it would be extremely brittle. As new sources and uses of information evolve, you can integrate them easily with a standards-based information platform. We have introduced a new product line called WebSphere Information Server, which is the foundation for delivering all information in the enterprise in the context of the business. It has capabilities for metadata management, information integration, federation, movement and a set of tools for the business user to easily access and update information across the enterprise. We have also released WebSphere Customer Center 7.0 to address a single view of the customer. This is a major release with a full set of SOA [service-oriented architecture] interfaces that starts to do a much better job of integrating data quality. It does a much better job of integrating entity relationships. It leverages WebSphere Information Server and the metadata management products to deliver ease of use in deploying master data management for a single view of the customer.

DMR: Do you see any potential "game changers" for our industry?

AG: One could say the database market is mature, but from time to time ideas come along or things come together that make a difference in a mature market. With the Internet, SOA and XML coming along, there's a huge amount of information being created which is structured or semistructured but the typical relational store is not made for it. The latest DB2 Viper release does a great job of creating a pure XML capability inside the DB2 environment, a true multistructure database, and there is huge performance associated with creating and searching the XML structure and integrating that with relational queries. At the same time, companies like Justsystems are evolving in the marketplace to offer a new class of applications in finance, retail or government, which natively take advantage of XML information. So figuring out what class of ISVs or applications we ought to be leveraging on DB2 Viper changes the game, and it is starting to happen. My view is a new class of application needs to be developed which integrates both XML and relational [data]. If you're doing tax forms or logistics forms, anything related to semistructured and structured information, you deal with XML and relational at the same time.

DMR: How do you see that playing out?

AG: That jury is still out. All forms-based applications can be on DB2 Viper, but I'm thinking generally that every content-based application should be done in the future on a multistructure database. There are customers who will stand up and say, "Here's a class of applications in financial service or the public sector we ought to be building on Viper," and some are already doing it. It's an amazing new thing that is going on in the marketplace, and it may be a trend that will last.

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