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While much of the acquisition talk this year has been about Oracle and its spate of purchases, IBM has been quietly building up its portfolio of capabilities within the business intelligence area and associated technologies. Of course the most notable of these acquisitions was Ascential but there have been a number of others, including what is now Entity Analytic Solutions (previously SRD) as well as both customer and product master data management offerings.
This means that IBM has the building blocks of a complete master data management solution, ditto for data integration, ditto again for data quality and, of course, it has Alphablox as well as existing data mining capability.
Now, bear two further thoughts in mind: first, IBM describes itself as a BI vendor despite the fact that it does not offer a business intelligence solution per se, and secondly it divorced from Hyperion early this year although the two companies retain a close relationship. Put all this together and you have to wonder if IBM may not be positioning itself for a further acquisition.
If we follow this thought experiment through then the next logical question is who they might buy? One of the smaller vendors is theoretically possible but this would not make the sort of impact on the market that IBM would be likely to want to make—though Actuate is a possibility because of its work with Eclipse—so a major player is much more likely.
The major players (leaving aside other infrastructure players such as Microsoft) are SAS, Business Objects, Cognos, Hyperion and MicroStrategy. Any of the last three seem more likely targets than the first two because there is less overlap between the various product sets: both SAS and Business Objects are significant players (or aiming to be) in the data integration space, for example. Cognos, on the other hand, only markets its ETL (extract, transform and load) tool within the confines of its product set whereas SAS and Business Objects both market their tools in non-BI environments. Similarly, both SAS and Business Objects play (or will play) in the EII (enterprise information integration) space whereas Cognos partners for this technology.
There is one final consideration: IBM is adamant that it does not want to sell application software. While this might change, if we assume that this remains the case then MicroStrategy is the obvious target since it is the only one of these vendors that does not offer market planning, consolidation and other front-office corporate performance management (CPM) software. IBM could then market this BI software as the partner of choice for in-depth BI and analytics for those vendors, like Cartesis, Geac and others who address the CPM space but whose strength and expertise is in the operations and finance space rather than BI per se.
Will this happen? I don’t know. But it seems an obvious hole in IBM’s infrastructure and the purchase of MicroStrategy seems the natural conclusion if it wants to plug that gap. Unless, of course, it can convince itself that Planning and allied applications are not really applications at all but just part of the BI stack: in which case either Hyperion or Cognos would be targets.