As an analyst, I’m often asked to make predictions as if I have a crystal ball on my desk or know some special magic. Magic seems to feature heavily in the analyst part of the IT ecosystem. But that’s another story… I do feel confident in making this prediction though: That the big news from IBM Insight will be the partnership with Twitter. Big announcements like that tend to catch the attention of journalists, pundits, and other opinionated people. It is a big deal but only as part of an even bigger deal. Think of the IBM-Twitter announcement as the natural progression of what IBM has been up to all along: Building one of the most comprehensive big data and analytics platforms, both on-premises and in the cloud.
At the highest level, IBM can bring to bear traditional business intelligence tools, big data infrastructure of both the Hadoop and in-memory database varieties, hardcore statistical analytical tools, user friendly analytics, stream data capabilities, data integration and governance, and cutting edge cognitive computing. Try saying all that without taking a breath. They have tried and true products with extensive expert followers such as Cognos and SPSS, and newer edgier tools such as Watson Foundation. Some products are clearly for geeks such as BlueMix and SPSS while others are for the rest of us especially Watson Analytics and InfoSphere BigSheets.
In other words, IBM has everything you could want in your big data and analytics toolbox. Sometimes it’s hard to see the breadth of their product since they are spread around a bunch of different product lines. If you think about InfoSphere BigSheets and the other products in that line – mostly information governance and Hadoop products – you have to wonder why more customers aren’t confused. I almost wish they would gather all the big data products up under the Watson moniker.
What’s the value of such a broad offering? Can’t you buy a bunch of point products and assemble your own big data version of Marvel’s Avengers? Sure but, like the real Avengers, getting them to work together isn’t always easy. There’s always a Hulk in the group that doesn’t want to play nice with the others. For companies that plan to lean heavily on comprehensive analytics, trying to get all the parts to work together might keep them from achieving their project goals. Pre-integration is especially important in hybrid, cloud/on-premises environments. Getting cloud and on-premises systems to work together is tough enough. Adding multiple vendors into the mix makes that a much more difficult task.
If big data needs are simple, for example only crunching social media data to get a sentiment score, then by all means go ahead and choose from the dozens of big data-analytics companies out there. If, on the other hand, the plan is for pervasive big data and analytics, then it’s worth considering a broad, comprehensive solution set and IBM has one worth looking at.
This week at the Salesforce.com Dreamforce event, amongst the all the charity appeals and hugging, alongside the usual advances in Sales Cloud and Marketing Cloud, there was one announcement that was truly interesting. While the other technology advancements were important, especially to customers of Sales, Service, and Marketing Cloud, this one was significant. It’s the new cloud, the Analytics Cloud, which was given the moniker “Wave”. In true Salesforce.com fashion CEO Benioff and Company are not just dipping their toes in the waters. They are diving in head first. Wave is a full-fledged business intelligence tool capable of making sense out of the treasure trove that is contained in Salesforce.com databases. So much more than simple reporting, which usually only benefits management, Wave attempts to bring relevant information to the small fish in the organization to help them perform better.
For the Salesforce.com customer, especially those who are all-in with marketing, sales, and service, Wave will be a boon. Simply put, it’s easy. The data is already in the various Salesforce.com clouds, the models are already developed by Salesforce.com, and the UI is designed for a typical Salesforce.com user/customer. I predict that sales and marketing managers already using Salesforce.com products will be attracted to it.
Unless of course you need to import other data in in which case the argument for going Wave is less. Yes, Wave can also integrate external data sources but I can’t imagine data integration still won’t be a difficult. It also means that the decision to surf the Wave will no longer be one that sales and marketing can make on their own. IT will need to get involved and they may have thoughts of their own when it comes to BI tools. For example, IT and legal may not be pleased with pushing operational or product data up into the Salesforce.com cloud. Issues of security and privacy take on new meaning when company financial information or supply chain information is placed in someone else’s control. Even if you are only looking to Wave for sales and marketing data, the attraction diminishes when you are not an all-Salesforce.com customer. Imagine the complexity of integrating data from with multiple cloud vendors? If you like Sales Cloud for CRM but are keen on Oracle Marketing Cloud or Adobe Marketing Cloud (yes they all call their marketing suites the same thing), then a more vendor neutral solution would seem safer or at potentially easier.
Wave is a necessary step forward and is done with the usual Salesforce.com flourish. For much of the existing Salesforce.com customer base, Wave will be a great product with tangible benefits. From the point of view of the sales, service, or marketing team member already using a Salesforce.com, Wave will feel like empowerment. For more heterogeneous environments though, Wave probably won’t make much of a difference. Hopefully, the Salesaforce.com sales force can use Wave themselves to tell when it’s worthwhile to push the new product and when it’s a waste of time.