Wham Bam, Thank You LAN

Susan Andre Survival Strategy Column

While IT firms have largely mastered the art of data warehousing, they now face a growing backlog of requests for specialised data sets, which means real information integration is vital.

Data is scattered across applications, and is stored in different types of databases using different and often incompatible formats. As external data is increasingly available, it too is often difficult to integrate into reports and analyses. IT organisations have largely mastered the art of data warehousing, yet they are now facing a growing backlog of requests for specialised data sets and "once-off" data needs.

Enterprise information integration (EII) tackles these challenges by allowing companies to easily leverage information and doing analytics "on the fly". This is a major step in the right direction – to simplify the accessing of information from anywhere, at any time without introducing the usual delays and complexities of making it available through a traditional technique.

With access to real-time information on critical performance indicators, managers and staff can play a crucial role in improving the speed and effectiveness of an enterprise's business operations.

Speed and agility are the marks of a progressive enterprise that understands clearly and quickly how its business is performing, so it can react with appropriate decisions and strategies. It certainly helps to provide integrated data as part of establishing a process for objective decision-making.

Being BAMboozled

So now you are able to integrate on the fly, BUT you also need to do monitoring and be informed at the speed of light. Huge amounts of information are stored on paper or in databases – internal and external to an organisation. As most enterprises are awash with information, those that will have a competitive advantage and stand out as the winners will be using business activity monitoring (BAM) to integrate and make intelligent real-time use of this information. BAM can significantly accelerate an enterprise's reaction times through its ability to give employees much better insights into business processes.

Wireless devices provide novel modes for sharing intelligence in business settings. Access to needed measures, facts and policies are available in a wide variety of locations, just in time for decision-making, operations guidance and real-time collaborations.

Expertise sharing is expedited, further mobilising the intellectual capital of the enterprise. Given the advantages, financial decision-makers must gain familiarity in the costs and measurable benefits when investing in these technologies.

The business case for deploying one or more intelligent wireless technologies rests on the gains achieved when company agents are made smarter. The acquisition, training and maintenance outlays should be recovered by avoidance of mistakes, sounder decisions, and earlier recognition and capitalisation of opportunities. Of course, these needs occur in employees who are not always at their desks – who can use real-time digital intelligence in meetings, on a factory floor, or in a remote location.

Preparing for BAM

Business intelligence (BI) solutions aim to give businesses the key information and perspective that they need to make critical business decisions. Unfortunately, due to the architecture of some of the older software and limited machine capacity (among others), varying degrees of latency, or delays occur which results in decision-makers obtaining the information too late.

Business Activity Monitoring (BAM) is an emerging business strategy, formed through the bringing-together of traditional BI and real-time technologies (eg, application integration). BAM promises to eliminate this latency, giving the decision-makers "instant insight", thereby buying them additional time in which to respond to critical business events. BAM includes elements of technology from current disciplines, such as integration brokers, network systems management, business process management, BI and database management systems.

BAM's enterprise-wide job is to reduce or eliminate delays, bottlenecks and inefficient use of labour and materials, while providing real-time financial and performance data. BAM will be an analytical tool that enterprises must wield to gain a near "zero latency" position – ie, to reduce the time between capturing new data in one area and making it available and usable somewhere else. Information can be delivered through graphical displays or through views that can be customised for different parts of the enterprise.

Information overkill

Enterprises have been moving toward real-time decision support for 30 years, and in some places, they have achieved it, particularly in the financial trading markets. What is new is that it will be practical and desirable across the business spectrum to deploy BAM in a wide range of activities

Three enabling technologies are application integration and real-time access to relevant and useful data – the Internet and XML, high-speed networks and applications that sit between an enterprise's business applications and pull out or accept desired business data (sometimes referred to as translator software).

People need less information, not more, to avoid information overload. With real-time reporting, the BAM software agents search for trends or anomalies and then issue an alert, often with recommendations about what action to take in response. The software is doing the work by monitoring the business indicators automatically. When certain conditions and criteria are met, then the relevant person will be alerted. Thus the person receiving notification will now be presented with a lot less information.

Business impact

Enterprises need to understand how BAM will affect their operations and structure. Departments may disappear, but new ones will be developed. People who need the best information will be placed at the centre of the appropriate business process. Managers will no longer be able to hoard information, it will be a much more collaborative approach on deciding who will access the information, in what format and where.

Employees will not deal with raw data but with reports, written or graphical, or alerts of trends and exceptions, according to predefined criteria. For example, a trucking company manager might be paged when the fleet's carrying capacity drops below a predetermined level.

Furthermore, profitability will only be one of many measures enterprises will be able to view in real-time. Others include, but are not restricted to, customer satisfaction, cash on hand and on-time delivery. Business managers of a Web-based store application can now develop a business indicator by correlating buying behaviour with the response time that users experience.

As IT and business processes become more interdependent, the zero-latency enterprise will become a reality – and then a necessity. To make this work, there are challenges to meet, but the basic applications already exist.