IBM Furthers Convergence Strategy With MRO Buy

IBM's Software Group was one of the bright spots on its recent annual earnings call. And if you look closely at what the company is trying to do to leverage its successes there, you'll find a strategy bent on connecting the dots between IBM's myriad software products and its vast consulting and services offerings.

A key element of this has been growth through acquisition, namely buying up other software vendors that enable IBM to gain new technologies or augment its existing platforms. The company then integrates the third-party software into a solution to sell through IBM Global Services and, presumably, its army of business partners.

This week saw another step in that direction when IBM announced its intent to acquire MRO Software, an asset-management software specialist based in Bedford, Mass., for $740 million. By bringing MRO into the fold, IBM will be gaining technology that complements its Tivoli management software portfolio and leads a trend toward the convergence of tools that manage IT assets and those, like MRO's, that manage industrial assets, such as a fleet of trucks.

"Clients want a consistent way to manage all of their industrial assets, from procurement to retirement, along with their IT assets," said Al Zollar, general manager of IBM's Tivoli division, in announcing the MRO deal today. "Clients have a common goal of a single, consolidated architecture."

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Fact is, with so many core industrial assets, from trucks to planes to parts, now sporting embedded chips, RFID tags or other technology, this kind of convergence becomes possible, Zollar explained.

"You can perform incident management on those assets just as you would on a farm of servers," he said.

In addition to its flagship Maximo Enterprise Suite, MRO also brings to the table a service desk and service management portfolio that can be baked into solutions developed by IBM and its partners, according to MRO CEO Chip Drapeau, who will stay on board at IBM, reporting to Zollar.

The asset and IT management space is heating up among the big players, as evidenced by this transaction but also Hewlett-Packard's major deal to acquire Mercury Interactive last month.

From an IBM perspective, the goal is to meld the products into solutions that become repeatable tools for its consulting arm and partners. Partners are also expected to find further opportunity through customizing based on vertical industry. To date, Tivoli has not been the bastion of much channel activity as compared with IBM Lotus, DB2 or WebSphere.