IBM’s Big Data Strategy: the sum of the parts

April 29, 2013

IBM’s Big Data Strategy: the sum of the parts

In researching our new book, Big Data for Dummies, it became clear that Big Data is not simply about a specific tool or technique for Big Data analytics.  You would never know this by examining the hype around this emerging market.  Yes, Hadoop is important but it not the entire big data ecosystem.  Big Data is not one tools or manipulating and analyzing huge volumes of data. And Big Data is not about calculating how many individuals on Twitter or Facebook mentioned a certain event.  It is easy to get caught up in the hype and focus on the tools and techniques and lose sight of the big picture.  My view is that Big Data is about how you leverage vast amounts of data from a variety of sources to impact outcomes in business, society, healthcare, and the environment  — to name but a few.

So, this leads me to a discussion of IBM’s Big Data strategy.  I think that the most important part of IBM’s Big Data strategy is its intersection with its Smarter Planet initiative.  To refresh your memory, the idea of Smarter Planet was introduced more than five years ago as the cornerstone of IBM’s business strategy.  IBM hoped to leverage this ambitious vision to focus its technology to support how organizations, cities, governments, corporations, etc. could leverage technology to innovate the way the world operates.  Over the years, IBM has evolved this strategy in the form of initiatives such as Smarter Cities, Smarter Commerce, and Smarter Traffic, etc.  While many of the aspects of these implementations are tied to complex business processes, data generated by sensors, transactions, systems of record, social media, and a variety of external data sources.  If managed well, this aggregate data can be used to improve complex interrelated systems.  It is becoming increasingly clear that everything on the planet is data driven.

It is my perception that the design point for IBM’s Big Data strategy is Smarter Planet.

Here is the way IBM describes Smarter Planet on its website:

For five years, IBMers have been working with companies, cities and communities around the world to build a Smarter Planet.

We’ve seen enormous advances, as leaders are using an explosion of data to transform their enterprises and institutions through analytics, mobile technology, social business and the cloud.

We’ve also seen how this new era is starting to create winners. They’re changing how their decisions are made. They’re redesigning how their teams work, reassessing how to serve their customers, and changing the very nature of business.

It’s the ability to harness data that gives these leaders their competitive advantage in the era of “smart.”

Today, conventions once universally held are giving way to new perspectives, new ways of working, and new solutions across industries. Roles are changing. And more than ever, leaders need a partner with their customers, suppliers and partners to be able to adapt and thrive.

The operative word in this description is data. IBM has been on a journey beginning with its Information On Demand strategy that evolved into its  Information Agenda.  The foundation of this evolving strategy was based on creating a consistent set of common underlying services that could support the way data is used to meet a variety of requirements.

Clearly, IBM evolution of its information management strategy began as a way to create a cohesive strategy to manage the large number of data products IBM was beginning and continues to buy.  Often these companies had overlapping components and architectural frameworks that were all different.  Now put this problem in context with the long term goal of turning IBM into a company focused on just on technology tools but on helping customers create a smarter planet – a dramatic new approach was required.

In my view, IBM Big Data strategy isn’t a tools strategy. Rather it is an expansive strategy is based on three concepts: data in motion (i.e., data coming from sensors or business transactions), data at rest (i.e., data stored in warehouses or marts based on systems of record, and the huge variety of data (i.e., structured, unstructured text data, unstructured from videos, networks, images, etc.) that are required for different requirements.   Surrounded by accelerators like IBM’s new BLU accelerators, and various offerings such as the Big Data platform in the form of Infosphere, and Big Data Insights.   These elements are combined to support different deployment models (private cloud, integrated expert systems, and on premises implementations), data integration frameworks, governance, and security frameworks.  The plan is a work in progress. But from my point of view, it is the right way to handle the complexity of data that has to be brought together to transform data into the core of business strategy and innovation.

IBM’s new generation of data strategy is centered around the ability to manage a dramatically changing data landscape where everything from the washing machine to the sensors that measure activity in a power plant. When you understand that data will drive the future then it is clear that you can’t look at data strategy as a set of tools.  Rather, we are seeing a new view of reality where data is the lynch pin of improving the way the world works.

Judith Hurwitz , , , ,
About Judith Hurwitz

Judith Hurwitz is an author, speaker and business technology consultant with decades of experience.

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