When IBM kicks off its PartnerWorld conference in Las Vegas today, it will have much to say to its Business Partners about its plans for transforming business processes in vertical industries. Those plans will have far-reaching consequences for IBM's customers, including those that use its iSeries servers.
As I explained in an article last year, IBM will create industry-specific versions of its middleware that bring together multiple products from across IBM's software brands. These offerings will be integrated, extended, and configured to support vertical industry applications in a superior manner to off-the-shelf middleware. At the same time, IBM will partner with independent software vendors (ISVs) to develop solutions on these offerings that transform business processes on an industry-by-industry basis.
Since I wrote that article, IBM has done considerable work to flesh out its new middleware strategy. Because the company will discuss that work with its Business Partners in Las Vegas this week, I am now at liberty to discuss it with you.
The Matrix Unleashed
When IBM talks with its Business Partners this week, it will reveal three important things about its industry strategy. First, it will not only tell partners which industries it will target with vertical middleware offerings, but also tell them the specific business problems that these offerings will help to solve. Indeed, for each of its 12 targeted industries, IBM will identify the top five "pain points" that it will work with partners to address. This is what IBMers refer to as the "12 by 5" matrix. Here is a sample of what is on the matrix for three industries that are heavy iSeries users:
- For automotive parts suppliers, the matrix includes product lifecycle management, build-to-order manufacturing, and maintenance early-warning systems.
- Retailers and wholesalers will receive middleware to improve retail store operations, supply chain management, and promotions management.
- Government agencies will get assistance with citizen service, emergency response, and agency collaboration, among others.
Second, IBM will offer more detail about what it will do to address the business issues on its matrix. For each of the 12 industries it has targeted, Big Blue will create platforms that integrate all of the middleware that is needed to address that industry's issues. In addition to middleware, each industry platform will contain accelerator code, process templates, adapters, portlets, and database schema that are relevant to the identified business issues. To some extent, these platforms will resemble what the WebSphere Business Integration team is doing with its collaborations for the healthcare and retail industries. Unlike collaborations, however, the industry platforms will address a wider range of business issues with more comprehensive packages of middleware.
It is not yet clear whether these industry platforms will become standalone retail products. IBM may choose to package them as feature codes of other products. If this turns out to be the case, Big Blue could simply weave the code and intellectual capital into its existing middleware and development tools. Whatever IBM decides to do, many customers will never know about or actively use this industry-specific content. However, that content will be part of the solutions that customers buy from ISVs who build on IBM's middleware environments. Those ISVs--as well as highly skilled in-house developers--will work with the industry content.
This leads to the third topic that IBM will discuss with its Business Partners: its plans to embed industry-specific knowledge in its application modeling and development tools. As I mentioned in an article earlier this year, IBM is creating a Software Development Platform (SDP) that is based on Eclipse and covers every aspect of solution development, from modeling to testing. What I did not mention in that article is that IBM intends over time to drive "industry awareness" into the SDP. This means that when a development team works on an application for which IBM has created an industry middleware offering, that offering's content will appear in the modeling, design, and coding tools of the SDP. Moreover, when the team compiles its application, the SDP will optimize it for the runtime environment of the middleware.
Why is IBM creating these industry-specific middleware and development offerings? Because it is the only way that it--along with its partners--can deliver real business value in the short payback periods that customers are demanding. The days are over when a software vendor can sell a product that takes two to three years to deploy and just as long to return the original investment. Today, software must be able to transform specific business processes "on demand" to get customers to pull out their checkbooks. This means that IBM must work with ISVs to reduce the time that it takes to turn software into solutions. That can only happen when much of the business knowledge is already integrated into the middleware.
Of course, IBM's strategy will succeed only if ISVs deliver industry-specific solutions on its new middleware offerings. IBM understands this and has specific plans for how it will recruit and work with ISVs to deliver such solutions. Moreover, it intends to announce those plans at PartnerWorld. I'll discuss those announcements in next week's article, so stay tuned.