IBM continued its acquisition feast today by gobbling up Clarity Systems, a financial governance software company. It also completed its acquisition of risk and compliance management software company OpenPages. Last week IBM acquired governance software company PSS Systems, and last month it acquired big data company Netezza.

IBM says “These strategic moves further accelerate IBM’s business analytics efforts, one of the fastest growing segments in the overall IT industry and a key growth play for IBM.” And the company’s CFO Mark Loughridge projects business analytics will generate $16 billion in revenue for the company by 2015. But what is business analytics, and how does it differ from business intelligence?

Business analytics, as a term, has existed for quite some time. But IBM may be using it in a slightly different way. When IBM acquired Netezza, we wrote that BI was becoming commoditized. In an article for InfoWorld, Bill Synder describes IBM’s business analytics as its key differentiator in an increasingly comoditized market.

Snyder writes that IBM’s researchers are “developing analytics software that is smart enough to look at an incoming data stream, see patterns of interest, and alert the right people — all without being queried.”

By way of example, Synder cites a scenario familiar to shoppers: the display of recommendations based on your past purchases. Synder says that using BA, should be able to display recommendations based on the information you’re viewing now run against your past purchases. The information being entered – in this case the items being viewed right now – is analyzed in real-time as it enters the system, not later.

Synder covered IBM’s analytics research in more detail here. In this piece, Synder quotes Jeff Jonas, chief scientist of the company’s Entity Analytic Solutions, explaining his work thusly:

Next-generation ‘smart’ information management systems will not rely on users dreaming up smart questions to ask computers; rather, they will automatically determine if new observations reveal something of sufficient interest to warrant some reaction; for example, sending an automatic notification to a user or a system about an opportunity or risk.

Is this a strong enough differentiator in the increasingly crowded BI market? Is this even a real difference at all? Is “business analytics” just another buzzword? Let us know what you think in the comments.

Disclosure: IBM is a ReadWriteWeb sponsor