By James Kobielus, Boris Evelson, Paul Hamerman, Rob Karel, Kyle McNabb, Craig Le Clair, Colin Teubner, Merv Adrian, and Connie Moore

Simplicity is bliss, but complexity has the upper hand in many enterprise information and knowledge management (I&KM) environments.

To keep a lid on runaway complexity, enterprise I&KM professionals often limit their strategic solution vendors and professional services partners to a chosen few. Typically, strategic vendors are those that can offer the widest range of best-of-breed I&KM solutions. Sourcing from a core group of solution providers also allows enterprise IT staff to obtain better licensing terms, reduce maintenance costs, and tighten cross-product and platform integration across diverse solution components.

IBM, like other all-in-one solution vendors, benefits from this enterprise sourcing best practice. Over the past few years, IBM has sought to deepen its best-of-breed status in the I&KM market by adding a growing range of offerings to its already substantial portfolio. Under the Information On Demand (IOD) banner, it has assimilated a wide range of solutions: some of which were developed in-house, while others were picked up through strategic acquisitions. Few vendors now offer as comprehensive an assortment of I&KM products as IBM. The vendor’s offerings range across such I&KM segments as business intelligence (BI), business performance solutions (BPS), database management systems (DBMSs), data warehousing (DW), data integration (DI), data quality (DQ), master data management (MDM), and enterprise content management (ECM).

However, comprehensive is not the same as comprehensible. For all its functional breadth and platform integration, IBM’s IOD solution set has grown so large that users may be hard-pressed to weave it all into a unified, enterprise-wide I&KM environment. Every new strategic acquisition by IBM adds more complexity that the vendor, its partners, and its customers must absorb into their strategic plans.

To IBM’s credit, it has steadily knit together its recent acquisitions over successive enhancement cycles. Slowly but surely, it has begun to assimilate Ascential, Trigo, DWL, Venetica, SRD, Unicorn, FileNet, DataMirror, and other acquisitions. It has done this through a multi-pronged approach that includes unified messaging, tighter cross-product and platform integration, and more cross-solution professional services engagements. The initial rollout of IBM Information Server as a common integration backplane in 2006 was a major step along that road.

This week’s announcements demonstrate how IBM is both adding to its IOD portfolio and focusing its go-to-market message. With these most recent moves, most of which were pre-announced in late 2007, IBM has taken its already substantial IOD value proposition and strengthened it further. Most important, it has finalized the Cognos acquisition, rolled out its converged MDM server solution, and rebranded its IOD offerings around the new InfoSphere moniker. Through these and other, related moves, IBM now offers I&KM professionals a robust range of best-of-breed IOD solutions that leverage its dynamic warehousing, middleware, metadata, and modeling tools.

Clearly, completion of the Cognos acquisition is the most significant of these announcements, both for IBM and for enterprise customers. IBM has presented a solid go-to-market message on the acquisition, illustrating how little ongoing product rationalization will be needed to fit Cognos into IBM’s multi-brand IOD solution portfolio. As we’ve stated previously, rivals such as Oracle/Hyperion and SAP/Business Objects have more product overlap in the core BI and BPS of the converging vendors than do IBM (which was not a major player in these niches before the acquisition) and Cognos (which was one of the recognized leaders).

This is not to deny that IBM and Cognos have functional overlaps in areas critical to a full-fledged BI/BPS portfolio. The vendors offer comparable solutions in enterprise information integration (i.e., IBM WebSphere Data Federator and Cognos’ OEMd version of Composite), extract transform load (i.e., IBM WebSphere DataStage and Cognos 8 Data Manager), and online analytical processing (OLAP) engines (i.e., IBM DB2 9.5 Cubing Services, Cognos PowerCube, Applix TM1). But with the formal close of the acquisition, IBM has clearly positioned these offerings for distinct customer requirements. Yes, it’s a complex convergence message, but IBM has done a good job of minimizing the inevitable marketplace confusion that stems from an acquisition of this magnitude. Indeed, IBM has a strong track record of integrating acquisitions such as Ascential, which gives us confidence that it will waste no time bringing Cognos’ solutions fully into its IOD stack.

Just as significant as the complementary aspects of the Cognos acquisition are the new solutions that the combined vendors have now made available to their customers. IBM has identified several new industry solutions, product bundles, and service offerings that are immediately available and leverage both its and Cognos’ technology. Furthermore, IBM has presented a roadmap that spells out its long-range priorities for product integration, convergence, and bundling across its existing IOD and service-oriented architecture (SOA) portfolios and Cognos’ established BI and BPS offerings. Of course, the roadmap is still sketchy in many places, and it’s not yet clear whether or how far IBM will evolve its Cognos solutions into a more comprehensive business application portfolio.

One of the most promising convergence themes that IBM has identified for Cognos going forward is expanded support for unstructured and semi-structured content in BI and BPS applications. Even in advance of taking that step with its Cognos brand, IBM has rolled out its Compliance Warehouse for Legal Control, an important new version of its DW appliance solutions family offering in the market that is geared to handling unstructured and semi-structured data for ECM all compliance-related content and process information. However, it remains to be seen whether IBM will now be able to catalyze its diverse brands–BI/BPS (Cognos), ECM (FileNet and WebSphere Content Manager), application data management (Optim), and text analytics (OmniFind)–into a unified solution portfolio for handling complex data types.

We’re also encouraged by the extent of IBM’s commitment to maintaining Cognos’ operating autonomy as a product group, as well as allowing Cognos to expand its partner ecosystem and execute on its established solution roadmap. Cognos customers should have confidence that IBM will continue to preserve and enhance their investments through growing integration into the InfoSphere and WebSphere portfolios. Cognos now takes its place alongside other solid enterprise-grade brands — including FileNet, Lotus, Rational, and Tivoli — within IBM’s comprehensive solution portfolio.

IBM’s rebranding of its MDM, DW, and other (but not all) IOD offerings around the InfoSphere moniker should help clarify its value proposition for enterprises. The vendor’s new InfoSphere brand distinguishes those established solutions from its core DBMS (DB2 9) and from its platform/tool offerings (WebSphere). It should also help IBM to more clearly present its message that InfoSphere’s data integration, data quality, MDM, and DW solutions are heterogeneous and SOA-focused and can also be sold into non-IBM accounts. Of course re-branding aside, IBM will still likely meet resistance from non-IBM footprint customers targeting specific technology investments like ETL or MDM that want to avoid a sales pitch for a comprehensive IOD stack.

One of IBM’s most exciting strategic opportunities from the Cognos acquisition centers on business optimization—Forrester’s term for BI’s next generation. Business optimization combines operational BI with business process management (BPM) and business rules engines (BRE) to enable better decision making. By focusing on business optimization, the combined IBM/Cognos is in a position to shift BI’s traditional focus from historical reporting and analytics to predictive analytics and business transformation.

Though we’re positive on IBM’s recent announcements, we must acknowledge that the vendor confronts vulnerabilities of its own making. For starters, it appears to be ramping up its Global Services push for IOD, stirring up concern among some I&KM professionals who suspect that IBM wishes to sell them heterogeneous wares with “some assembly required” (i.e., assembly for the price of an IBM Global Services engagement). Also, adding Cognos to the IOD equation complicates IBM’s partnerships with Business Objects (now a SAP subsidiary) and with other BI and BPS vendors. In that regard, customers of rival BI/BPS vendors should hold IBM to its pledge to maintain SOA-based heterogeneous interoperability on a par with what it provides to its Cognos offerings.

IBM is without a doubt a best-of-breed solution provider in data management, but it still struggles to simplify its busy IOD go-to-market message. Now, as we move further into 2008, IBM will have to show how its comprehensive IOD family of brands can compose into a unified solution set that enterprises may deploy swiftly and with minimal handholding.

Just as important, if IBM continues to acquire niche vendors in BI, BPS, and other key IOD niches — and there are still many exciting startups on the market — it will have to figure out how to integrate it all without bursting its bulging portfolio at the seams.