Companies to Watch: IBM & SAP

In a time of monumental change it’s important to look at how the big player’s are adapting. Their moves are typically the most heavily researched and financed attempts at divining the underlying currents and capitalizing on the shifting technological marketplace. It’s especially interesting when conservative tech stalwarts like IBM & SAP suddenly start looking cool.

Both IBM & SAP are moving quickly into 3 of the most powerful trends in computing, each of which are driven by the enormous amounts of data being captured across all domains: business intelligence & modeling, stream computing, and sustainable systems analysis.

IBM’s new initiative A Smarter Planet states succinctly, “the planet will be instrumented, interconnected, intelligent.” This is a powerful statement from one of the largest and most technologically advanced companies in the world. They’re not just talking about business. IBM CEO Sam Palmisano speaks to the really large-scale planetary challenges in creating smart infrastructures for energy, water, transport, and data.

A key component is the recently-announced System S project for supporting so-called Stream Computing.

System S is designed to perform real-time analytics using high-throughput data streams… to host applications that turn heterogeneous data streams into actionable intelligence… System S applications are able to take unstructured raw data and process it in real time.

“This is about what’s going to happen,” explains [director of high performance stream computing at IBM] Nagui Halim. “The thesis is that there are many signals that foreshadow what will occur if we have a system that is smart enough to pick them up and understand them. We tend to think it’s impossible to predict what’s going to happen; and in many cases it is. But in other cases there is a lot of antecedent information in the environment that strongly indicates what’s likely to be occurring in the future.”

With enough data you can start to create connections and patterns. With patterns you can derive meaning and ultimately be better enabled to make more accurate predictions. Since humans aren’t very well-adapted to processing large data sets, we build tools to handle the heavy lifting. Whether Wall Street indexes, ERP scenarios, government accounting, energy grid analysis, or dynamic climate models, serious hardware & software is required to process operational data into meaningful determinations and prescriptions.

SAP has introduced the Clear New World initiative built on their Business Objects service architecture. Again, the notion is that businesses, enterprises, and even governments can run more efficiently when there is a free-flow of data and a suite of integrated services to crunch and render the info into meaningful contexts.

It’s time to build greater visibility, transparency, and accountability into the way your organization works. Because being clear allows timely and relevant information to be available when and where it is needed. Clarity demonstrates that your company is willing and able to stay accountable to key stakeholders. Clarity helps call out inefficiencies, reveal your best customers, create credible sustainability, and give your business the flexibility needed to anticipate and respond to a complex, ever-changing, global environment.

[See James Governor’s recent post for more on how SAP & IBM are tackling enterprise sustainability.]

Note the statements about accountability to stakeholders & creating credible sustainability. Clear data & clear reporting. Now consider the latest announcement about SAP for Public Sector “to support the management and reporting of economic stimulus funds”. As a plugin to their Business Objects suite, this utility drafts on the trends towards open accountability and government transparency, often termed Gov 2.0, to provide support for determining just how stimulus money is being spent.

Both IBM and SAP have the power to execute effectively on these strategies, though it remains to be seen how enterprise spending will move to implement these services or if the companies will offer flexible licensing to LLC’s working on the really challenging non-profit global issues. Likewise, SAP has suffered usability problems for years and their core object architecture is old and slow. They will need more than just branding and plugins to make a more transparent world.

Finally, it’s worth noting the branding for these projects. “A Smarter Planet” is a global posture indicating agency and identity on a planetary scale. This hints at the real deep trend across the human species towards a global sense of purpose and strategy. “Clear New World” acknowledges both the occlusions under which human endeavor has marched thus far and the great clarity of visibility we’re now gaining across all domains & enterprises, while admitting that indeed everything is changing and we are moving into a New World. The technology is stepping forward to help us more effectively manage the present and navigate into the unknown future. But of course like all foresight, it remains to be seen whether individuals will choose to act appropriately with the knowledge they come to possess…


  1. Beckie

    great post- I will pass this on to my husband he will find it interesting since he works in the computer world

  2. Jack

    High profile handwaving. Jargon hijacking while it all really happens on a smaller scale and bypasses these behemoths.

  3. chris arkenberg

    Mebbe, Jack, but they’re spending a lot of money and creating real product. Seems more than merely hand-waving for a couple of savvy and conservative corps. SAP I question some but IBM has the chops to back it up. Either way, the fact that these behemoth’s are getting on board indicates a growing technological shift towards a world of sensors, crunchers, visualizers, and modelers. Their posture will actually bring more recognition and value to the little fish in the ecosystem and light the way for more parties to invest in the path. Expect growth & acquisitions.

  4. James Governor

    Jack – look at some of IBM’s recent customer wins. You may think they are not on target, but this is a lot more than handwaving. IBM has been investing fairly heavily in clean water, urban transport, food traceability and smart grids. Not exactly the obvious places to invest. It is putting its money where its mouth is – which is by definition more than hand-waving.

    Meanwhile SAP is showing a real commitment to sustainability, at least internally. I agree Clear New World is about marketing, but big complex companies, and SAP is one, need Big Themes to hold employees, partners and stakeholders together when there are so many forces pulling them in different directions.

    I should disclose that I have worked with both companies on this stuff.

  5. chris arkenberg

    Thanks for your input, James. I have a favorable view of IBM and do honestly expect great things to come. I have my own issues with SAP usability but I know that they know they need to move on triple-bottom-line accounting in order to defend their ERP offerings.

    BTW, I added a link to your recent article – SAP Situational Apps: Tracking Public Sector Stimulus Dollars in my post. Not sure why I missed this seeing as how I read it from your Twitter stream before making my post! Hypermedia-induced ADD, right?

  6. james governor

    i find it hard to keep track of sources myself. i now save a tab of the tweet that inspired me, not just the URL itself. makes it easier to keep track of your best sources. Very glad you’re reading me and contributing. You use twitter so well i thought i was already following you. i am now.

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