IBM headquarters in Armonk, NY

New York City — IBM might have finally gotten its data play right.

Last night, Armonk, New York-based IBM took over the trendy Hudson Mercantile building to unveil Project DataWorks, a cloud-based data and analytics platform that it claims can integrate all (yes, all) types of data to enable AI-powered decision-making. 

According to the company, what sets this solution apart is not only its ability to load and transform all data types, but that it makes it simple for users — everyone from CEOs to data scientists — to glean insights based on the same information at the same time. It literally meets you at your competency level.

"Most insight efforts have been stovepiped into single business functions, creating multiple realities for an enterprise. Project DataWorks, and IBM's associated Data First method, is IBM's initiative to show that enterprises can build insight applications for all users — not just data scientists — but also more end users," Constellation Research analyst Holger Mueller told CMSWire.

'Dawn of a New Day'

"We're at the dawn of a new day in the cognitive era," Bob Picciano, senior vice president at IBM Analytics told a crowded house.

The test for business right now, Picciano explained, is "how well we can scale insight as we shift from a process economy to an insight economy."

"In order for that to happen we will need new platforms," he continued, "that leverage internal and external data and make it simple, for everyone, to find and put insight to work."

"This is a leadership challenge," said Picciano, implying that the technology is the easy part, which might be the case for companies who leave the heavy infrastructure lifting to IBM and simply tap into DataWorks on Bluemix. It leverages IBM Watson Analytics, the IBM Data Science Experience, IBM Watson and an entire ecosystem of projects, products and services that are part of its open ecosystem.

It looks as if the release struck a nerve, as the #datafirst hashtag trended on Twitter yesterday at times when large technology conferences like Microsoft Ignite, O'Reilly Strata + Hadoop World and Workday Rising did not. (Or maybe people were just excited about the pretzel wall, open bar, IBM-sponsored pedicabs and views of the city they had been primed with before the announcement.)

A Deep Dive into Project DataWorks

CMSWire asked Constellation Research analyst Doug Henschen, who had been given a closer look at Project DataWorks earlier in the day, to help unpack the technology. He explained that it is, 

    a cloud-based platform with options for data ingestion, persistence, analysis and deployment. Data sources can be on-premises or in the cloud, structured or unstructured, and batch oriented or streaming. Options to persist the data include relational database services, NoSQL database services and Hadoop. Options to analyze and put data to work include options for data engineers (DataWorks Connect), data scientists (Data Science Experience), business analysts (Watson Analytics) and app developers (BlueMix services). The platform supports open source technologies including Spark and Kafka and partners including Alation, Confluent, Continuum Analytics and H20.ai and more."

What makes this compelling, according to Henschen, is DataWorks' "support for data governance, data sharing and collaboration across all these user personas, with shared metadata, data modeling and schema mapping." 

Henschen noted that this is IBM's effort "to span data silos with collaboration, overcome data-quality woes with shared data governance and metadata management and to overcome the complexities of deploying and maintaining myriad technologies with a cloud-based platform."

The solution offers flexible packaging and pricing for the product, to meet different needs. They range from the "Digital Self Service" plan for individual users which start at $50 per user, per month for up to 20 GB, to the DataWorks Plan for enterprises starting at $25,000 per month, which includes unlimited users and up to 32 TB, including all user personas.

Businesses could cobble all of these capabilities together through best-of-breed, or best-fit, offerings from multiple vendors. But mega-vendors like Microsoft, Oracle and SAP are all expanding their suite- and cloud-based offerings in order to offer one-stop-shopping and comprehensive capabilities.

"Constellation Research typically finds that suites usually prevail over best-of-breed options over time," Henschen told CMSWire. "But, in this case, it's too early to tell," he added.

IBM DataFirst to Get You Started

IBM also unveiled its IBM DataFirst Method during the event, a methodology to help businesses assess the skills and roadmap needed to become insight-driven cognitive organizations. 

It's a good idea according to Mueller and Henschen.

"Most companies are working on improving data-management efficiency or, in the next step up in the evolution, are modernizing their reporting and data warehousing platforms in what IBM calls the 'data lake track,'" said Henschen.

The goal of DataFirst, he explained,"is to guide companies toward democratization and self-service in the data science track or toward the most mature state, data monetization and the forging new business models in the 'data in action track.'"

By pinning DataWorks and DataFirst together, mainstream enterprises might finally have a tangible way to use data to transform their companies and make money.

Is Project DataWorks a Turning Point?

IBM has been in the computing business longer than most — probably all — of us have been alive, since 1911. 

It has successfully reinvented itself over the last three computing eras, but now finds itself (and Wall Street's view of it) in a struggle. While few find its technology lacking (who wasn't impressed with IBM Watson beating Ken Jennings at Jeopardy or the idea of dipping their toes into the Weather Channel's data troves), either companies haven't been buying or it hasn't been sticky. 

IBM Project DataWorks might finally change that.