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As IBM Accelerates Analytics Business, Can Anyone Keep Up?

IBM has put analytics at the heart of its corporate strategy and is leveraging its entire $100-billion business to drive the "smarter" solutions that analytics animate.

It's not just the $14 billion IBM has invested in acquiring 24 analytics companies in the past four years.

It's not just that revenue for IBM's Business Analytics and Optimization unit are expected to double over the next five years to $16 billion from this year's $9 billion.

And the battle won't be won or lost on the fact that IBM in the past year has almost doubled to 7,000 its in-house roster of full-time business consultants specializing in applying analytics and optimization across multiple industries.

Or on the fact that IBM has 200 mathematicians and 10,000 software developers devoted exclusively to expanding and refining IBM's extensive product line for this high-growth business.

But when you put all those pieces together, and then add on top some of the customer testimonials IBM is compiling, it's clear that the game's going to get very tough out there for companies that don't have distinctly differentiated products, market segments, and solutions in the dynamic analytics market.

That's why yesterday's kickoff of IBM's Business Analytics Forum represents more than just the beginning of yet another industry event: I think we can look on it now, and will certainly look back on it later, as the beginning of a new era for how the IT industry defines analytics within our own closed confines.

More important, this is also a time when we are seeing critical masses of customers—including businesspeople as much or more so than CIOs—change their view of analytics from something that's fuzzy and impossible for non-specialists to understand, to a mainstream set of business tools that no companies can afford to be without.

Those customers are demanding that software providers like IBM demystify the weird science of analytics—witness the 200 mathematicians cooking up new algorithms—and make these essential products more consumable, more accessible, and more in line with the way people work today instead of being the province of eggheads through whom all analytics requests must flow.

And they are also demanding that the user interfaces for these new apps and the insights they offer enter the modern world of social media and collaboration tools, with those capabilities built-in rather than being cobbled together awkwardly after the fact.

Consider the forecasts IBM released this week:

--In three years, the global mobile workforce will reach almost 1.2 billion people.

--In five years, the volume of mobile transactions taking place will be 40 times higher than it is today.

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--This year alone, 30 billion RFID tags will be deployed in retail stores, hospitals, factories, supply chains, and other locations—and each of them will be blasting out huge volumes of data that powerful new sensors and systems will need to gather, digest, analyze, and distribute as appropriate.

As IBM noted in its materials kicking off its analytics event:

Page 2: Fully In The Mainstream

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