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IBM wants to become the dominant player in information management and, to do it, is planning an aggressive push deeper into business intelligence. But it won’t be easy. The company must balance its moves with its commitment to its partners, while, in the meantime, fending off competitive challenges from Oracle Corp. and Microsoft Corp.

IBM is planning several initiatives for this year to add depth to its BI portfolio. Foremost among them is the planned second-quarter release of a new version of the company’s flagship BI offering, Data Warehouse Edition.

Currently a catchall term for a number of different BI technologies, Data Warehouse Edition will be merged into a single, integrated package later this year. The package will comprise IBM’s DB2 database; DB2 CubeViews metadata bridge; Information Integrator data integration tool; Intelligent Miner data mining tool; Warehouse Manager, for basic data extraction, transformation and loading; and OfficeConnect, for presenting data in spreadsheet format.

Those components will be tightly integrated for the first time. (Currently, such integration requires extra post-implementation work by IBM and the customer.)

To this stack, IBM will add its consulting and implementation services as well as a host of partner offerings.

“We packaged all of the functionality that we thought was needed to build a warehouse from scratch,” said Karen Parrish, vice president of worldwide BI solutions at IBM. “And we’re offering it at an attractive price point. But the desire, and what we will be delivering [this] year, is to come to a fully integrated platform.” In addition, IBM, of Armonk, N.Y., plans to roll out several vertical-industry-specific BI offerings this year, including crime prevention, health care, retail, telecommunications and financial services.

Click here to read an interview with Karen Parrish.

“You’ll see more solutions from us, and those solutions are going to heavily leverage our technology in business intelligence and in information management,” Parrish said. It’s Parrish’s job to marshal IBM’s resources—software, services, servers and research—around BI and present customers with a single view of those offerings together with partner offerings.

Parrish works closely with veteran IBM database executive Janet Perna to present BI to customers as part of an overarching information management strategy, integrated with such technologies as content management, search and text mining, though much of that work is still in the early-discussion stages.

“We look at this business as an information management business, and information comes in many sources,” said Parrish. “Data is not nicely tied up with a big red bow in a relational database everywhere. It sits in Lotus e-mails and it sits in spreadsheets and it sits on video. All of that data you would love to be able to mine and get value out of it.”

Not everyone is sold on IBM’s vision, however. “If they’re going to get serious about this space, then they can’t just be in partnership mode all the time,” said Mark Smith, CEO and senior vice president of research at Ventana Research Inc., in Belmont, Calif. “If they really want to push into the BI space, they’re going to have to make a major acquisition. They’re not going to be successful managing partnerships, though their [Business Consulting Services] folks love it.”

But Robert Catterall, database technology strategist in CheckFree Corp.’s Applied Research and Technology Group, said he doesn’t think IBM needs to buy a BI platform vendor. CheckFree runs its BI system on an IBM infrastructure, using both DB2 for AIX and DB2 for z/OS. The company uses technology from Actuate Corp. for reporting and Cognos Inc. for OLAP (online analytical processing).

“I feel that IBM’s strength is IT infrastructure,” said Catterall, in Norcross, Ga. “It seems partnering with BI specialty companies is an effective strategy for IBM. IBM provides the infrastructure, and the BI-specialized partners provide the solution finish-out.”

Rumors have circulated since last fall that a BI platform vendor such as Cognos, Business Objects S.A., Hyperion Solutions Corp. or Microstrategy Inc., all of which have a strong partner relationship with IBM, could be on IBM’s shortlist of acquisition targets. But as with the enterprise application space, IBM has been loath to acquire and upset its many partnership agreements or violate its 1999 Business Partner Charter. The only BI acquisition IBM made last year was Alphablox, a small analytic applications development software vendor. But late last week, IBM acquired Systems Research & Development Inc., of Las Vegas, which develops analytical applications for profiling and identifying people and finding relationships between them hidden in data.

Rupert Bonham-Carter, director of global alliances at Ottawa-based Cognos, said he expects IBM to remain a good partner: “Karen [Parrish]’s mandate is to build the best technology on the back end and partner with the companies who can complete the solution on the front end, like Cognos.”