Tuesday, January 8, 2008

IBM remains way out in front on information access despite Microsoft's Fast bid

Ever notice that Microsoft -- with cash to burn apparently -- waits for the obvious to become inevitable and then ends up paying huge premiums for companies in order to catch up to reality? We saw it with aQuantive, Softricity and Groove Networks.

It's happened again with today's $1.2 billion bid by Microsoft for Norway's Fast Search and Transfer. Hasn't it been obvious for more than three years (at the least) that enterprise information management is an essential task for just about any large company?

That's why IBM has been buying up companies left and right, from Ascential to Filenet to Watchfire to Datamirror to Cognos. Oracle has been on a similar acquisitions track. Google has exceptionally produced search appliances (hardware!) to get a toe-hold in the on-premises search market, and Google and Yahoo! have also both been known to make acquisitions related to search. EMC even got it with Documentum.

Ya, that's what I'd call obvious. What's more, data warehousing, SAN, data marts and business intelligence (BI) have emerged as among the few consistent double-digit growth areas for IT spending the last few years.

So now some committee inside of Microsoft took a few months to stop fighting about whether SQL Server, SharePoint and Office 200X were enough to get the job done for the Fortune 500's information needs. I guess all that Microsoft R&D wasn't enough to apply to such an inevitable market need either. What do those world-class scientists do at Microsoft? Make Bill Gates videos?

And so now Microsoft's smartens up to internal content chaos (partly the result of all those MS Office files scattered hinther and yon), sees the market for what it is rather than what they would like it to be, and pays a double-digit multiple on revenues for Fast. Whoops, should have seen that coming. Oh, well, here's a billion.

It's almost as if Microsoft thinks it competitors and customers are stupid for not just using the Windows Everywhere approach when needs arise in the modern distributed enterprise. It's almost as if Microsoft waits for the market to spoil their all-inclusive fun (again), and then concedes late that Windows Everywhere alone probably won't get the job done (again). So the MBAs reach into the Redmond deep pockets and face reality, reluctantly and expensively.

Don't get me wrong, I think highly of Fast, know a few people there (congrats, folks), and was a blogger for Fast last year. I even did a sponsored podcast with Fast's CEO and CTO. That's a disclosure, FYI.

And I'm a big fan of data, content, information, digital assets, fortune cookies -- all of it being accessable, tagged, indexed and made useful in context to business processes. Meta data management gives me goosebumps. The more content that gets cleaned, categorized and easily found, the better. I'm a leaner to the schema. I'm also quite sure that this information management task is a prerequisite for general and successful implementations of service oriented architectures and search oriented architectures.

And I'm not alone. IBM has been building a formidable information management arsenal, applying it widely within its global accounts and a new factor as a value-add to its many other software and infrastructure offerings. The meta data approach also requires hardware and storage, not to mention professional services. IBM knows getting your information act together leads to SOA (both kinds) efficiencies and advantages. And -- looking outward -- as Big Blue ramps up its Blue Cloud initiatives, content access and management across domains and organizational boundaries takes on a whole new depth and imperative.

And now we can be sure that Microsoft thinks so too. Finally. My question is with all that money, and no qualms about spending lavishly for companies, why doesn't Microsoft do more acquisitions proactively instead of reactively?

Both Microsoft's investors and customers might appreciate it. The reason probably has to do with the how Microsoft manages itself. Perhaps it ought to do more internal searches for the obvious.