IBM's bid to acquire MRO driven by SOA desire

Big Blue says its SOA buys are all about responding to customers' needs

A day after making its third SOA (service-oriented architecture) acquisition, IBM was at it again Thursday. IBM announced plans to buy industrial asset management software vendor MRO Software for about $740 million in large part to help it develop repeatable services based on SOAs.

IBM confirmed Wednesday that it had bought Webify Solutions, a small privately held provider of SOA development and deployment software and services specifically targeting the health-care and insurance industries.

The proposed purchase of public company MRO is a much bigger deal that IBM expects to close in the fourth quarter of this year subject to regulatory and shareholder approval.

Both deals are indicative of the way SOA, an approach to developing and managing IT systems through reusable technologies, is changing the way vendors and their customers think about software and services, according to Al Zollar, general manager of IBM's Tivoli systems management software business.

Acquiring MRO was more about responding to customer need than IBM trying to compete with its systems management software rivals like Hewlett-Packard, Zollar said.

HP acquired IT asset and service management software vendor Peregrine, a company that had enjoyed a closer relationship with IBM, for $425 million in December and has begun to incorporate the technology into its OpenView products.

"Customers are increasingly telling us that they want a consistent way to manage their industrial assets together with their IT assets," Zollar said.

The lines between the two kinds of asset management -- technology in terms of software and servers and industrial such as vehicles and buildings -- are converging as more companies outfit industrial assets with IT intelligence such as remote sensors or RFID (radio frequency identification) tags. Customers need to carry out incident management on their IT-enabled industrial assets just as they already do with their IT systems.

While IBM's Tivoli software helps companies manage their IT systems, MRO's Maximo asset management software enables users to manage and track their physical, financial, operational and IT assets. "It's a very nice marriage of capabilities," said Chip Drapeau, president and chief executive officer of MRO.

MRO has more than 300,000 end-users of its software in organizations including Exxon Mobil, DaimlerChrysler, Ford Motor, and the U.S. Department of Defense.

IBM plans to use MRO's software in combination with its SOA technologies to build services offerings so that customers can manage all their assets using a single automated interface.

Publicly held MRO has around 900 staff. Its headquarters are in Bedford, Massachusetts, and has sales office in North America, Europe, Asia-Pacific, and Latin America. The company has been a leading IBM business partner since 1996.

Once the acquisition closes, IBM expects to retain most of MRO's staff and its management team and run MRO as an integrated unit within its Tivoli business, Zollar said. IBM will incorporate MRO's software into its Tivoli product family, a relatively easy task given that Maximo is built around SOA concepts, Zollar said. IBM is also interested in the work MRO has already done around IT service management, he added.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.