IBM Makes A Good Catch With Clarity Systems Acquisition

Today, IBM announced the acquisition of privately-held Clarity Systems for an undisclosed sum. The acquisition bolsters IBM’s solution set for the CFO, and complements its recent acquisition of OpenPages, a governance, risk, and compliance (GRC) vendor. Clarity, based in Toronto, had approximately 390 employees and 600 customers at the time of this deal.

Clarity Systems is a Strong Performer in "The Forrester Wave™: Business Performance Solutions, Q4 2009", offering a very good planning, budgeting, and forecasting solution as part of its flagship product, Clarity 7, along with an improved financial consolidations component. During the past few years, Clarity developed a market-leading regulatory reporting solution, Clarity FSR, which supports the process of creating full SEC filings and also embeds technology for XBRL reporting. IBM Cognos is ranked as a Leader in the same comparative evalution.

The success of FSR alone during the past two years made the large BPS vendors, IBM, SAP, and Oracle, envious of Clarity’s success. Oracle made a competitive response early this year with the release of Oracle Hyperion Disclosure Management. It seemed to this observer that SAP would make the next move by doing a deal to acquire Clarity, but IBM beat them to the punch.

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Taking Lessons From Smart Cities

On Sunday I will be participating in IBM’s Middle East and North Africa CIO Conference 2010, where I will present my research on Smart Cities. I’m looking forward to speaking with practitioners from the region to hear about their experiences in making their cities, organizations, and businesses more efficient through innovative technology-based initiatives. My presentation is entitled “Taking Lessons from Smart Cities,” because the real smarts lie in how these “cities” – whatever form they take – have overcome obstacles from budget battles to stakeholder standoffs. 

One aspect of those smarts lies in the business models that have enabled smart cities. With talk of municipal bankruptcy and public sector debt, it is not surprising that public sector IT decision-makers are not all that optimistic about their industry outlook. In Forrester’s Forrsights Budgets And Priorities Tracker Survey, Q2 2010, only 26% of public sector IT decision-makers considered their industry outlook to be good, while 70% – the vast majority – expected a bad year. The public sector came in next to last among other industry verticals.

That same survey, however, also revealed expectations of IT spending increases in the public sector: 37% of public sector IT decision-makers expected IT budgets to grow by at least 5%; 11% expected increases of more than 10%. Some of that spending is creatively financed. 

Several new business models have emerged to enable technology investment.

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IBM Acquires BNT – Nuclear War In The Converged Infrastructure World?

There has been a lot of press about IBM’s acquisition of BNT (Blade Network Technologies) focusing on the economics and market share of BNT as a competitor to Cisco and HP’s ProCurve/3Com franchise. But at its heart the acquisition is more about defending and expanding a position in the emerging converged server, networking, and storage infrastructure segment than it is about raw switch port market share. It is also a powerful vindication of the proposition that infrastructure convergence is driving major realignment in the vendor industry.

Starting with HP’s success with its c-Class blade servers and Virtual Connect technology, and escalating with Cisco’s entrance into the server market, IBM continued its investment in its Virtual Fabric and Open Fabric Manager technology, heavily leveraging BNT’s switch platforms. At some point it became clear that BNT was a critical element of IBM’s convergence strategy, with IBM’s plans now heavily dependent on a vendor with whom they had an excellent, but non-exclusive relationship, and one whose acquisition by another player could severely compromise their product plans. Hence the acquisition. Now that it owns BNT, IBM can capitalize on its excellent edge network technology for further development of its converged infrastructure strategy without hesitation about further leveraging BNT’s technology.

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IBM – Ramping Up x86 Investment

I recently spent a day with IBM’s x86 team, primarily to get back up to speed on their entire x86 product line, and partially to realign my views of them after spending almost five years as a direct competitor. All in all, time well spent, with some key takeaways:

  • IBM has fixed some major structural problems with the entire x86 program and it perception in the company – As recently as two years ago, it appeared to the outside world that IBM was not really serious about x86 servers. Between licensing its low-end server designs to Lenovo (although IBM continued to sell its own versions) and an apparent retreat to the upper-end of the segment, it appeared that IBM was not serious about x86 severs. New management, new alignment with sales, and a higher internal profile for x86 seems to have moved the division back into IBM’s mainstream.
  • Increased investment – It looks like IBM significantly ramped up investments in x86 products about three years ago. The result has been a relatively steady flow of new products into the marketplace, some of which, such as the HS22 blade, significantly reversed deficits versus equivalent HP products. Others followed in high-end servers, virtualization and systems management, and increased velocity of innovation in low-end systems.
  • Established leadership in new niches such as dense modular server deployments – IBM’s iDataplex, while representing a small footprint in terms of their total volume, gave them immediate visibility as an innovator in the rapidly growing niche for hyper scale dense deployments. Along the way, IBM has also apparently become the leader in GPU deployments as well, another low-volume but high-visibility niche.
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IBM Shows Why Tech Companies Should Take Serious Games Seriously

IBM recently launched CityOne, a serious game that poses the kinds of questions about water, power, finance, and retail that city planners face daily. It's a powerful tool for a B2B company like IBM to market its products and services in a way that engages the customer more deeply, making the company's value proposition more clear and compelling. 

IBM has been making a serious investment in serious games for quite a while. Here's a short interview with IBM's serious games program manager Phaedra Boinodiris, in which she lists some of the business applications of serious games. Here's a brief overview of the work IBM has done with USC to incorporate a serious game about business process management (BPM) into the USC business school's curriculum.

The BPM game, INNOV8, demonstrated that a serious game can translate a dry and complex subject like BPM into something more interesting and vivid. It appeals to human psychology in a way that even the best white paper can't. Humans are visual creatures, so it's often more effective to show us a principle in action rather than talk about it. A serious game like INNOV8 pushes other buttons in our brains, too. For example, there's a higher probability that someone will finish playing a game than reading a white paper. If the game succeeds at keeping your attention, you want to see it through its conclusion.

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IBM's CityOne Makes A Global Debut

CityOne, IBM's new Smarter City Simulation game, is interesting. But who will really play?

IBM introduced a new Smarter City Simulation game yesterday.  I took a few minutes to play around with it.  I love the idea.  It is SimCity meets Smarter City, and together they make CityOne.  Players are presented with challenges faced by decision-makers in Retail, Banking, Energy and Water industries within a city.  They start with a budget for each industry.  And, for each challenge, they are provided with a list of recommended actions and must choose among them.  Each action has a cost and associated benefits.  Some are more “right” than others, earning bonus credits and increasing customer satisfaction and other key performance indicators, as well as earning special awards.  A player likely knows not to pick the "Ignore the problem" option.  Yet, when in doubt you can also query a consultant for additional advice.   

My sense was that the “right” answers seemed pretty obvious.  However, that said, I certainly didn’t get a high score.  And, when I got to the end of my ten turns, I was feeling pretty overwhelmed by the issues across these industries. 

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