I came to Impact 2011 from my previous following of Sterling Commerce and Infosys Technologies. Thus, as a supply chain blogger, I did not anticipate that an IBM technology conference would have such applicability to the long-term implications of supply chain and multi-channel commerce management.  My have events changed in such a short period of time.

In anticipating what I could expect at this conference, candidly my  expectation was that there might have been an outside mention of Sterling Commerce capabilities and its associated application integration components, let alone capabilities of ILOG in business rules, supply chain optimization and design.  To my pleasant surprise, all of these various standalone vendor technologies were mentioned by select customers in the context of a combined set of current and planned future capabilities.

A mere 15 months ago, IBM’s notion of smarter commerce did not exist. In a short period of time, by enterprise technology vendor norms, $14 billion has been invested in acquisitions of business analytics technologies.  Add to that $2.5 billion in end-to-end value chain, order fulfillment and other supply chain related applications and IBM now has the potential to make a definitive statement and presence in the B2B and B2C commerce domain. There are distinct advantages for being a cash rich, global player in enterprise IT and services, especially with the IBM name and reputation.

Five capability areas have been defined thus far:

  • Advanced analytics
  • Cross-channel commerce
  • Cloud computing
  • Supply chain planning and execution
  • Social business

At today’s news conference focused on smarter commerce, as well as executive interviews, I probed for the declaration of a definitive roadmap that defines the end-state of where IBM is headed in this area.  The answer, as expected, was somewhat coy, which, in our view, reflects on the fact that this is still a work-in-process.  Existing customers, whether Sterling Commerce, ILOG, Coremetrics, Cognos, Unica and perhaps others to come, will seek and demand elements of strategic direction and business strategy.  Our sense is that the game plan is still evolving and there may well be some further acquisitions in the coming months.

IBM has moved quickly and aggressively to make its statement of capabilities in this evolving area and competitors such clearly take notice.  Something big is underway and the stakes are high for existing enterprise software and best-of-breed vendors  Customers will still demand choice and independence in these areas, and IBM will need to move carefully in assuring that customers will have options in technology, database and integration partner selection.  Then again, having the IBM name behind all of these various capabilities does provide certain comfort for customers.

Clearly missing is articulation of industry-specific capabilities, but the elements are already forming in areas such as retail.  Broader user messaging that blends the needs of supply chain operational, planning, as well as IT process needs is underway but needs more refining.

Bottom-line, supply chain professionals should keep an eye toward IBM as being a significant new force in the multi-channel commerce and supply chain analytics area.  The competitive landscape is about to get much more interesting in electronic commerce, customer intelligence and social related technologies.

Bob Ferrari