IBM Corp, the $75bn behemoth of the computer industry, has long been associated with the notion of intensive customer support. From the 1950s through to the 1980s, it smothered its customers with support and services as a method of holding onto their business and denying others new business opportunities. It has held razzmatazz events boasting its commitment to customers, run TV ads demonstrating how computers can enhance customer service, held a Year of the Customer, and has several senior executives with customer-oriented job titles. But despite this, IBM is not clearly perceived as a significant player in the key areas of data warehousing and data mining, nor in data extraction and analysis tools, nor in customer asset management. Only in high-end call center management, where applications can be highly specialized and expensive, is it among the market leaders. Even so, IBM is clearly the biggest single revenue earner in the broad, loosely defined category of supplying customer-centric solutions, partly because it does participate in a small way in almost all of the component markets, but largely because it is the world’s largest systems integrator. A growing proportion of large scale systems integration is associated with building advanced customer facing systems, especially related to the internet and electronic commerce. Data warehousing has proved a difficult market for IBM – something that has clearly frustrated senior executives.
Rival to Oracle
They argue that IBM was, in part, responsible for the idea of data warehousing when it first sold small mainframes to analyze and hold non-operational data as Information Centers back in the 1980s. IBM’s lack of market share and profile in this is surprising, given that it has a strong position with the two of the key component technologies. Its DB2 database management system is now emerging as the clearest rival to Oracle. And IBM’s massively parallel multi-processing systems, the SP2, can be used as a powerful engine for analysis and data mining, though simpler systems, including standard mainframes and high-end SMP (symmetric multiprocessor) Unix servers are a more popular choice here because they are more easily programmed. IBM’s lack of presence in some key areas is not necessarily a sign of weakness. It has strong relationships with partners such as SAS, a leader in the field of data analysis and extraction. Over the past year, IBM has been attempting to step up its presence in data warehousing through new partnerships and improved marketing packages. A key development is its alliance with the OLAP (online analytical processing) database company Arbor Software. Arbor suppliers the highly regarded multi-dimensional database, Essbase. The two companies are tightly linking DB2 and Essbase so that data can be fed quickly and seamlessly through from the operational system to the ‘DB2 OLAP’ analysis system. IBM is now also distributing Essbase. Other areas where IBM can claim a strong position in customer systems is in call management, and interactive voice response, both components of computer telephone integration.
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