IBM gets Cognos to fill the gaps

IBM has been on quite an acquisition spree of late, but the latest is perhaps the most predictable and potentially powerful. IBM is buying Cognos, the business intelligence and performance management vendor, for $5B.

This has been on the cards for some time, and increased in likelihood when SAP acquired Business Objects recently - Cognos and Business Objects were acknowledged as the two leading players in the BI space.

This looks to be a great deal for both companies, and users should be pleased. With 25,000 customers spread across some of the largest companies in the world, Cognos is a well established BI player, and shares many customers with IBM.

On top of this, with the SAP acquisition of Business Objects, Cognos was the last big pure-play BI vendor and a major target for acquisition, so its users must have had concerns over potential new masters - however they are likely to be very comfortable with IBM since it does not really have competing products and will therefore keep the technology alive and moving forward.

From an IBM point of view, it will be particularly keen to get its hands on the 1000+ BI-experienced R&D team in Cognos. as well as the 2000 or so customer-facing field force.

The key here is that the two companies mesh really well together. IBM's Information on Demand initiatives have made every effort to ensure that data is accessible wherever and whenever it is needed, while Cognos concentrates on interpreting the data and generating business value from it.

Combining the two promises to deliver even more accurate, timely and understandable information to support executive decision-making and business-driven data mining initiatives.

This also fills some gaps for IBM in its service-oriented architecture (SOA) strategy. At the moment, one of the few weak spots for IBM is its lack of an industry-leading BAM (Business Activity Monitoring) initiative.

That is, IBM SOA can make programs visible in terms of business services, improving the propensity for getting a clearer understanding of business activity in IT operations, but it was not particularly good at interpreting the information in BAM terms.

Now it will be able to deliver one of the best BAM solutions in the marketplace, making it possible not just to streamline and automate processes but also to continually improve their effectiveness.

If there is a challenge for IBM in absorbing Cognos, it is in the area of organization. IBM has made the decision to keep Cognos in its own business unit - BI and performance management. However, this unit lies within the IBM Information Management division.

While this makes sense at one level, in that BI is very related to information, the performance management part is closely linked to the IBM SOA initiative driven from another division.

It will be important for IBM to manage this carefully, but it is not the first time it has had to deal with this sort of cross-divisional issue - for example, it had to handle this when Tivoli, the management software company, was acquired.

All in all, this acquisition looks to be good for just about everyone - IBM users, Cognos users, IBM and Cognos companies and employees....but perhaps not for the competition!