This posting will address our final Supply Chain Matters summary impressions from the recently held IBM Impact 2011 conference.  Readers can view any of our update commentaries that occurred during the conference at the following web links:

Commentary One– Initial impressions of the conference.

Commentary Two– Highlights of the Smarter Commerce mini-tent session.

Commentary Three– Highlights of Target Stores implementation of online commerce platform in eight weeks.

Commentary Four– Product strategy implications in Smarter Commerce offerings.

Commentary Five– Joint interview with Infosys Ltd. senior executives on supply chain executive top-of-mind topics related to cloud computing and other business processes.

We attended Impact 2011 with mixed anticipation.  IBM is a fairly large, globally based technology provider and conferences of this kind, especially with over 8000 attendees, can tend to be overwhelming with not a lot of clarity in product direction and strategy.  Having previously attended the Sterling Commerce annual customer conference (Sterling has since been acquired by IBM), we were not sure of what to expect in the area of support for B2B/B2C commerce, order fulfillment and other supply chain business analytics and intelligence process needs, other than the fact that IBM has been conducting multiple acquisitions related to these areas.  We were pleasantly surprised by the level of product assimilation that has occurred thus far, as well as the longer-term direction.

We also attended Impact 2011 under the sponsorship of the Infosys Ltd. SCM practice, which has a long history as an implementation partner of Sterling applications.  Under the IBM umbrella, Infosys can possibly be viewed as a competitor for integration services.  During all of one-on-one interview sessions with IBM executives, that did not appear to be an issue and we were provided an openness of information.

Much of the IBM acquisition activity is now being assembled under the Smarter Commerce umbrella of products and services. The highlight of this activity came on the afternoon of day one in a session titled Smarter Commerce Mini Main Tent, which attracted by our unofficial count, over 500 attendees.  The session outlined IBM’s intentions to direct Smarter Commerce around Buy-Market-Sell-Service process support with on-premise and cloud type software and support offerings. (For more detailed overview, please review our Commentary Two posting).  Today, the focus of smarter Commerce lies in Retail, CP and Distribution industry support, but IBM will surely provide specialized support for additional industry sectors.

Another important observation is that even IBM has come to acknowledge that customers, while valuing the broad vision and overall support capabilities of enterprise-class technology providers, demand that deployments be provided in smaller, more manageable increments.  It was rather interesting to observe IBM Services, similar to an SAP or an Oracle, announce and speak to bundled value accelerators offerings designed to get customers up and running in a quicker manner with more manageable portions of technology with each phased increment.

As with many IBM conferences, there was multiple messaging directed at what’s on the mind of senior executives (your boss) and why you should care.  In our view, IBM would be better served in also messaging on how supply chains, and supply chain professionals can be better helped with IBM technology.

As noted in our commentaries, IBM has moved quickly and aggressively to make a renewed presence in software and Smarter Commerce will umbrella B2B/B2C commerce and supply chain intelligence capabilities.  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 services selection.  Then again, having the IBM name behind all of these various capabilities does provide certain comfort for customers.

Moving forward, IBM will need more industry focused offerings and additional acquisitions will follow. Smarter Commerce and supply chain analytical capabilities may well deserve their own dedicated customer conference.

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