IBM Preparing Advanced Cloud Services

Last Updated Oct 27, 2009 7:06 PM EDT

When you hear that IBM is creating a mashup service for Cognos 8, its business intelligence group, what's really happening is a lot more than an application programming interface (API) that will let corporate programmers pull data from their employers' installations of Cognos into web applications on an intranet. What you're seeing is the direction that IBM will take for its cloud services, making massive sources of information and fundamental business services available to companies to integrate across applications, business needs, and even platforms.

Tipping me off was a conversation I had early today with Bitcurrent analyst and sometime tech entrepreneur Alistair Croll. The topic cloud computing and he pointed out that there were two basic ways of looking at clouds: either as a business model, which focuses on outsourcing infrastructure, or as a set of technologies, often developed for cloud computing "primarily redefining what is possible for IT to do."

One of the keys to cloud computing being successful is treating computing in a way like electrical engineering often is. You have a lot of black boxes and need to find create the interfaces so you can get results. The greater variety of black boxes you have -- whether silicon-based chips or software-based services -- the greater a variety of problems you can solve faster than you would have been able to before.

That brings us back to the IBM announcement. It's not about business intelligence exactly. It's about all services that Big Blue has stockpiled over the decades through in-house development, consulting, and acquisitions. Back in July, when IBM acquired SPSS, I wrote:

Where the SPSS acquisition makes sense is when you remember that both it and competitor SAS Institute offer the fullest statistical suites you can find and are really in the business of helping people make predictions based on large amounts of data. Whether you're trying to increase the amount of green widgets you can sell to customers in Sri Lanka, reduce credit card fraud for an e-commerce ventures, reduce claims in insurance, increase yield in manufacturing, or increase efficient routing of traffic in a network, statistical prediction becomes a fundamental ability.
Making use of such facilities gets a whole lot easier when they are effectively as easy to integrate as Google Maps. And here are the areas in which IBM says that it plays ball:
  • business intelligence
  • customer relationship management
  • enterprise resource planning
  • financial management
  • human capital management
  • product lifecycle management
  • security
  • sensors
  • strategy and change
  • supply chain management
Granted, some of this is with third party applications, but how many cloud vendors that you can think of have this breadth of expertise in the core business processes that will get them in front of, oh, 99 percent of companies? Google? Not a chance. Dell? Nope. Cisco? No. Amazon? Uh-uh. HP? Mmm, maybe.

If business intelligence is turning into mashup services, then how about all the others? I think you just wait for a while and see how IBM starts rolling them out. And that is going to grab a lot of attention from enterprises, where for a number of years the top issue for CIOs when polled has been alignment between technology and business needs. IBM can create a case of Lego blocks that few large corporations could turn down, and the amount of time it would take for competitors to catch up is too long to even consider.

Image via stock.xchng user cobrasoft, site standard license.

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    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.