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Interview With IBM's GM Janet Perna

On a somber day, when IBM revealed a corporate restructuring that involves 10,000 to 13,000 employee layoffs, mostly in Europe, Janet Perna, IBM's general manager, ironically had the happy task of addressing about 1,000 of the company's newest employees from Ascential Software.

On a somber day, when IBM revealed a corporate restructuring that involves 10,000 to 13,000 employee layoffs, mostly in Europe, one IBM executive ironically had the happy task of addressing about 1,000 of the company's newest employees. IBM general manager Janet Perna made the trip to Westboro, Mass., to the headquarters of Ascential Software, which IBM purchased for $1.1 billion in March. The deal closed last Friday and Perna, who heads IBM's now 5,000-employee Information Management group, was there to greet the new staffers and outline the strategy going forward.

Her group's product portfolio is anchored by the flagship DB2 relational database and a raft of other solutions that attempt to tame the flood of corporate data that swells by the day. Perna's information-management strategy is heavy on data federation and the ability to access, in context, information housed in different formats in any array of places within a corporation's vast IT network. At the event, she rolled out some new products: one, the beta version of WebSphere Data Integration Suite (formerly Ascential's Project Hawk) begins this quarter. The suite is a next-generation platform for information integration and has been enhanced with a new user interface that opens the software up to the likes of business users. Second, she announced IBM Federated Records Management software, which eliminates the need to maintain separate records-management systems for every data store.

Perna sat down with VARBusiness editor Carolyn A. April following the presentation to talk about her goals and how IBM business partners fit into the mix.

VARBusiness: Where do partners fit into the information-management business?

Perna: Partners are important to the overall business, every aspect of it, whether it's the database, content management or information integration. Seventy percent of information-management deals are influenced by partners. This is a lot like building an engine for a car. So when you look at my strategy from a macro sense, I want to continue to grow the core relational DB2 base, and then come up the value chain to provide higher-level value capabilities like business-intelligence platforms and information-integration enablement, and enterprise content-management solutions. I want to make it easier for partners to build applications that leverage all of the information that customers have, reduce the time it takes for them to do that and minimize the risk of doing it. The more that we can do in the middleware layer, to abstract and simplify it, the faster partners can move to build their solutions. And we want them to build on IBM's infrastructure.

VB: You talk about your vision for a simplified information infrastructure. What's involved, and how do partners benefit?

Perna: In this infrastructure, you have relational databases and files, data warehouses, content-management repositories. These are all the information assets, whether they are IBM's or someone else's products. Then there is a set of information services that simplify that whole body of information assets. So app developers can access, search and aggregate any piece of information as if it is coming from one place and with one interface. Today when you build a solution, you have to know which database you are writing for, what programming interfaces correspond to this IBM content repository and this one from FileNet, for example. If want to do something as simple as a search of customer information that might have pieces in a content repository, some in e-mail and some in a relational, there is an enormous amount of coding you have to do to build that.

I want to be able to deliver to partners an aggregate way to do that through one interface. If the application environment is abstracted, then solution providers can spend their time and money on adding business-process-level value.

VB: How far are away are we from this nirvana of sorts?

Perna: Today, with IBM's Information Integrator, you can do a lot of this. You can integrate data from IBM and non-IBM places. And now with the acquisition of Ascential, we get more capabilities because there is a better way to move information around and transform and cleanse it.

VB: Where are the biggest business opportunities inside the information-management portfolio?

Perna: [In terms of revenue], the largest opportunity continues to be relational databases, and that's in the industry in general. What's driving that is more and more transactions and data warehousing, and BI applications. It also happens to be the slowest-growing opportunity. The relational-database market is growing at about 9 percent. Enterprise content management is the next biggest slice; and what's driving that is cost-savings, because it is cheaper to store information in electronic form, and it helps operating efficiency because you can apply workflow technologies. That market is growing in the double digits. Then there's information integration. It is the smallest piece now in terms of [revenue] opportunity, but it is the fastest-growing piece of the market. Higher double digits than content management. If you look at our investments, they are big in content management. We are the market leader there with 19 percent share, which shows how fragmented the market is there. We also are investing in relational databases and information integration.

When I look at partners and solution providers, I'm looking to deliver value to each one of them in [each of these areas]. A number of them are building great enterprise content-management solutions, and many work with the relational databases, both DB2 and Informix. The Express versions of DB2 and Content Manager are doing well. And we are also in the process of shipping an Express version of IDS, the Informix database.

VB: You have made many acquisitions over the past few years to shore up your portfolio. What pieces, if any, are still missing? And are you still looking to expand?

Perna: We are always looking when it comes to options for build vs. buy. Where we have decided to acquire technology, it's been in order to get to market faster. In terms of other investments, we are looking around master data management, which lets you provide a unified view of business information. Other areas we are looking to expand in are around customer hubs, and we are investing in customer data models and base technology to create such hubs of information. From an ISV or solution-provider point of view, if they can get information out of a product hub that's already cleansed and up-to-date, they can spend more time building on top of it.

VB: Can you talk about the impact regulatory compliance mandates like Sarbanes-Oxley are having on IBM's sales?

Perna: Well, it's had a very positive impact in terms of our business. But the CEOs who have to comply, obviously aren't happy. We think there are two approaches to compliance solutions. One is that you install some niche product that allows you to comply but does nothing else. Our approach is [different]. We have a platform and framework for compliance that allows you to not only comply but also to use it for other things like creating enterprisewide information around customers, or as a financial consolidation platform. So, think of it as a unified platform able to support various regulatory initiatives and other initiatives.

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