By James Kobielus

If it’s October, it must be time for IBM’s annual Information On Demand (IOD) conference. Initiated 3 years ago, IOD has become an indispensable event for any Information and Knowledge Management (I&KM) professional who has deployed IBM’s sprawling data management solution portfolio.

And IBM doesn’t disappoint: each annual conference is jampacked with important announcements that improve the vendor’s positioning in the forefront of today’s information-driven economy. If anything, IOD has become so crowded with IBM announcements that some important events or themes can easily be overlooked or given less emphasis than they deserve.

IBM realizes this, which is why the vendor works hard in advance of the show to define a coherent set of themes that not only address key customer requirements but also tie to key new product initiatives or releases. This year, that overarching theme is “Information Agenda,” which, you’ll notice, I blogged on several weeks ago. At heart, Information Agenda refers to IBM’s IOD solution focus: positioning its offerings as key customer enablers for business agility, transformation, optimization, and efficiency.

It’s a great theme: very empowering, hopeful, and solution-focused. But, sitting here at IOD, it occurs to me that another key theme is looming in the background, threatening to eclipse it all. The approaching storm is the worldwide financial meltdown, economic slowdown, and the very real likelihood of sharp cuts in IT budgets everywhere. It manifests itself in the increased economic volatility and risk we all face, and for which we’re all trying to hedge all of our strategies and plans. It’s clamping down on us in the increasing government regulation, control, and monitoring being imposed on a growing swath of the world economy. It will result in government-mandated deployment of governance, risk, and compliance (GRC) solutions, which will need to leverage companies’ investments in business intelligence (BI), performance management, and data warehousing (DW) solutions.

Oddly, IBM paid precious little attention to GRC at this year’s IOD–though its Cognos group rolled out  enhancements to its financial performance analytics portfolio,  its enterprise content management (ECM) portfolio enhanced its e-discovery and records management features, and it deepened its already comprehensive Optim portfolio for information lifecycle management (ILM).

And it’s not as if IBM has no GRC strategy. On previous occasions, IBM has put forth a credible strategy that ties its ECM, identity management, and other offerings into a portfolio that is roughly on a function par with Oracle, SAP, and other diversified software vendor.

But not at this year’s IOD. To IBM’s credit, many of their execs discussed the economic climate soberly and insightfully. But nobody, it seemed, wanted to rain on the IOD parade–in which the sunny “business optimization” theme prevailed–by bringing the teeth-gritting GRC theme into it in any way.

My primary beef with Information Agenda? As noted in that previous post, it’s a bit too vague, and a tad too blandly optimistic. Yes, there are always business opportunities, but we’re now in a business landscape where the threats are even more salient.

So, IBM, let’s also discuss customers’ Governance Agendas….their Risk Agendas…their Compliance Agendas…their Demonstrate-to-the-Feds-That-Our-Books-Are-Shipshape Agendas…their Son-of-SarbOx Agendas…their Survive-and-Avoid-Government-Takeover Agendas. How does the IOD portfolio support those agendas?

The big bad recession. Everybody from Ben Bernanke on down says it’s here or coming soon. So why not address it head-on, soberly, with solutions, or, at the very least, approaches that leverage solutions in which customers have already invested?

On a related note, IBM failed to fully address another key concern in a sour economy: cutting IT costs without compromising investments in core BI, analytics, and operational data assets. On the DW appliance side of the equation, IBM did not present a strategic response to recent announcements by Oracle and Teradata, under which those competitors are now providing highly affordable petabyte-scale DW solutions. IBM has strong DW appliance offerings in its InfoSphere Balanced Warehouse portfolio, but it had no new announcements that match Oracle’s and Teradata’s big splashes.

So, if anything, those were the prime disappointments at this year’s IOD show. It was a missed opportunity for IBM both to counter the competition and also address a key concern of its budget- and survival-stressed I&KM customers.