James Governor's Monkchips

On the IBM Bowstreet acquisition

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You would think I might have something to say about the acquisition but it seems other analysts got their first.
Jonathan Eunice of Illuminata nails the acquisition with a little humour, and follows Borgwin’s law, a variant of Godwin’s law–how many comments about an acquisition strategy are made before someone refers to the Borg…
This time the buy is Bowstreet. You may remember it as one of the many business-to-business (B2B) enablers that had to find other work when the “exploding!” B2B market imploded instead. Or you may remember it as “the next big thing” for Frank Moss, the ex-IBMer who built Tivoli Systems and sold it to his old bosses for quite a tidy sum. While still swaddled in best-in-class buzzwords—SOA not least among them—Bowstreet today is a much more constrained and practical company, led by anothermanagement group entirely.
Meanwhile MWD also weigh in. M says:
IBM positions the combination of WebSphere Portal and Portlet Factory as a solution for composite application development. Note the use of “a” and not “the”. Here lies the single biggest challenge for IBM going forward. It offers multiple solutions for composite applications, including the Portlet Factory, Workplace Designer, WebSphere Integration Developer for development and WebSphere Portal, WebSphere Process Server, WebSphere ESB, Workplace for deployment. Customers are likely to confused by the array of alternatives and IBM is going to have to work hard to explain which approach makes sense when.

The deal is even getting attention from Microsoft bloggers (the new ex-Lotus generation). Cliff Reeves says:

My take is that this is a necessary step to help IBM simplify portal development. IBM announced a partnership with Bowstreet almost exactly three years ago, based on this premise. However, since that time, Microsft Sharepoint has been growing fast and simplicity has been one of its major advantages over Websphere Portal Server.

In addition, Bowstreet has also helped IBM integrate between Domino and its replacement technology, Workplace (which is based on Websphere)

My take? IBM is preparing itself for a full frontal assault on Microsoft, in the Vista timeframe, and wants to quickly fill out its portfolio of productivity tools and connectors to allow a broad play around integrating information services. Mendocino, Microsoft and SAP’s joint front-end for business apps, is an obvious target. IBM can’t afford to see Microsoft own the application front-end as XML enables richer information flows between application boundaries. Another target – BEA and Plumtree. Oracle is a Bowstreet partner as well, which is a nice bonus for IBM: the Bowstreet Oracle relationship just became strictly contractual.

IBM is traditionally strong in integration behind the glass, but not so much on the pane. Bowstreet fills out IBM’s story with respect to portal-based integration of information services.

Welcome to the IBM WebSphere Portlet Factory for Composite Applications.


  1. James, you are correct. Xml and RIA holds the key to the front end application and presentaion layers. if ibm wants to fork the market on that edge then they must have the technology for the market space. As such, they don’t have any right now !! If ibm want to rein in the end2end suite of software and serices then bowstreet comes in handy.

    2008/Q1 will be an interesting period. The landscape (new) will begin to emerge!!

  2. Interesting. I was offered a job at Bowstreet in 1999 when Bowstreet was on Bowstreet in Portsmouth. And Frank Moss kept one of the few offices there. I reluctantly didn’t take the job, but looking back, I don’t think I would have had the patience to wait it out this long.

    The fact that this is a “portal” deal makes it seem like a time warp.

  3. Christopher’s closing quote is “The fact that this is a ‘portal’ deal makes it seem like a time warp.”

    Indeed, and that should be raising more comment than it is. Even with advances in browser technology like Ajax, a successful composite app strategy will need to take account of a range of user tools.

    IBM is probably preparing an assult on Microsoft in this area, but they have alternative approaches to their user model, as well as their toolset.

    The smart play for IBM here would be to get clearly behind Office as a first-class client application. That’s not (at least not deliberately) a self-serving Micrsoft perspective but a recognition of exactly what users work with today and what Microsoft plans for composite applications in 2006.

    This post http://cliffreeves.typepad.com/dyermaker/2005/10/it_20_we_are_ab.html
    describes my view of what composite apps will be in this timeframe and it is significantly improved by a variety of clients that are familiar and functional.

    Lotus did extremely well with Notes in the mid-90s by embracing Office applications even more closely than Microsoft did. They made OLE work and they ensured that Office remained a first class client even at the expense of SmartSuite. It was a difficulat internal devcision, but it was necessary and it was successful. If I could see one or two key thrusts from IBM, I’d be be more convinced. However, their portal and middleware stratgey is combined witha defense of the Notes franchise, and a brand new desktop attack with Linux, OpenOffice, Eclipse and Workplace. It seems to me they may be fighting on too many fronts to do well at any of them.

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