Event review: IBM Information on Demand, Berlin

Organisations are accumulating information rapidly – a lot of information – and as research shows, the majority have challenges managing and exploiting it.

It was against this background that I recently attended IBM’s 2009 ’Information on Demand’ event (IOD2009) in Berlin, designed to bring together customers, partners and industry analysts like me to discuss information management related matters and how IBM technology and services are relevant to them.

The danger with such end-user oriented gatherings is that they are so often designed primarily to cater for the immediate needs of ’the faithful’, i.e. existing customers that are already committed the vendor’s offerings, and just want to know about the latest releases and roadmaps, and perhaps have an opportunity to network and party with their peers.

Now I am not going to say that IOD2009 didn’t have an element of this. Indeed, I would have been worried if it didn’t as it’s important to keep customers in the loop and gather their feedback at a detailed product level. It is also extremely valuable when a vendor facilitates networking and knowledge exchange within its user and partner community. Beyond such essentials, however, it is nice when events push the out the boundaries, tackle some of the bigger questions and issues, and even promote some thought leadership and best practice. IOD2009 delivered on these things too.

One of the enabling factors here is the breadth and depth of the IBM information management portfolio. Unlike niche vendors who can only address one part of the problem, and therefore sometimes define the world in a very blinkered manner and skew conversations accordingly, IBM has the luxury of considering the bigger picture holistically, in the knowledge that it has solutions relevant to most parts of it. In addition, the presence of its professional services divisions helps it to maintain solid bridges between the PowerPoint-centric world of product management and the real world in which solutions must be made to work in practice.

The only thing that gets in the way, at least for a pragmatic Brit like me with simple working class roots, is the amount of management consulting speak that American IBM executives insist on using when articulating visions, problems and solutions. Having said this, you can get a pretty good feel for the central theme of IOD2009, the ’Information Agenda’, from some of the sound bites and phrases used in various keynotes:

* Leverage information for smarter business outcomes

* Move from information based projects to an information based enterprise

* Effective analysis and decision making starts with trusted information

* Creating meaningful business insights is what matters

* Put new intelligence to work to achieve ongoing differentiation and market leadership

* From application led transformation to information led transformation

* Right information at the right time at the right point in the business process

* The workplace is everywhere so data needs to be available everywhere

* Become an intelligent company

These are from my notes, and while I may not have jotted all of them down exactly right, the flavour and sentiment of what the audience heard should be pretty clear.

The overriding message was to move forward from the fragmented way in which information has typically been managed and exploited in the past, and start joining the dots. There is an organisational value perspective to this, which centres on a view of information as an enterprise level asset with the potential to contribute a lot more benefit than is being realised today. The key here is to break down barriers and open up silos to generate more coherent higher level insights into performance and operations.

Related to this is the functional dimension, based on the argument that we can manage and exploit information more effectively if we coordinate policy and practice across storage, backup, archival, description, discovery, retrieval, search, analytics, access, delivery, and so on. The cost and risk benefits of such a coordinated approach are particularly relevant against the backdrop of the current economic and regulatory environment.

The Information Agenda represents a step forward for IBM in the way it articulates information related challenges and how its various products and services work together to help tackle them. IBM is not telling us anything we don’t already know in terms of defining the problem, and is certainly not the only vendor waking up to what’s required. But now it is getting its own act together in terms of joined up thinking and offerings, which is something it has sometimes struggled with in the past, it’s got to the stage where it really can help its customers to define or review their thoughts, priorities and plans in the bigger picture context.

The maturing of IBM’s approach around the Information Agenda concept therefore has to be welcomed. Suppliers that can see beyond point products and have a grown up conversation about pulling the relevant threads together in a practical way have much more to contribute.

With this in mind, I found the detailed breakout sessions dealing with best practice and cross domain views of the world particularly interesting at IOD2009. The traditional product oriented content was still there, but set against the backdrop of the holistic Information Agenda concept, I am sure a lot of delegates couldn’t help but return to their organisations with bigger ideas and a motivation to put them into practice.

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