IBM exec details plans for vertical tools

Many sites have deployed IBM's middleware bundle -- which includes its WebSphere, Rational, Tivoli, Lotus and DB2 products, plus third-party offerings -- for vertical industries since its launch last year. The tools are designed to help users in industries such as retail, manufacturing, banking and health care comply with more than 40 mandates, including the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and Basel II.

Martin Wildberger, vice president of IBM's group industry solutions and director of the IBM Toronto Software Lab, recently spoke with Computerworld about the state of IBM's focus on vertical markets.

What was the impetus behind IBM's decision to offer middleware tailored to specific industries?

Customers are finding it harder and harder to just buy technology. The customers are looking for solutions to their problems. Every industry now is looking at process re-engineering. WebSphere business process modeling assists customers to model their business process to help them understand what processes are core competencies and which business processes they are better positioned to outsource.

What is an example of the vertical-specific middleware?

In automotive, there is a lot of focus around warranty management, service after sales. Warranty management starts all the way at the beginning, in the design phase. With integration and business process management, you can track warranty claims through the life cycle to understand if there was a fundamental design flaw.

What are the advantages of the vertical focus for developers?

There is a challenge to have the development discipline and methodologies for reusing common components. Our Rational portfolio provides common development tools, (and) it is easier to share common components. The collaboration software allows people to work on common things and for those people to be remotely distributed. One of the things that causes people not to reuse is lack of awareness -- not realizing they are working on the same thing as someone else.

WebSphere is often at the heart of these solutions. Is this an attempt to broaden the market for the application server as it becomes more of a commodity?

WebSphere is much more than just an application server. I look at WebSphere as being an application development platform. You need to continually differentiate your application server in terms of performance and total cost of ownership. If you look at (independent software vendor) partners five years ago, they were doing application user interface front-end stuff, a bunch of business process stuff in the middle and application-foundation work. They have started to realize that application-foundation stuff is getting more complex. Our partners can now focus on their key value-add -- their business processes.

What are IBM's plans for vertical bundles?

(We will announce) solutions for banking and telecommunications that bring not only our outsourcing capabilities and our business process reengineering but also our software capabilities. (Our new) health care collaborative network will support a private and secure interoperable network for your various health care providers to communicate. We extend our WebSphere business integration technology to support the HL7 (the Health Level 7 messaging standard. Health Level 7 is an American National Standards Institute accredited Standards Developing Organization, namely in clinical and administrative data) to more seamlessly send messages back and forth.

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