How event processing can help boost your company's operational IQ

Editor's Note: In this three-part package of tips, Gartner Distinguished Analyst W. Roy Schulte discusses how the right approach to event processing can make business systems not only faster, but significantly smarter as well. Here, in the introduction, Schulte defines event data and discusses ways to capture it. Part II explores approaches to analyzing event data; Part III offers tips for using analyzed event data.



In Roy Schulte's view, today's businesses have an unprecedented opportunity to make their operations smarter, faster and more effective than ever before.

But the concepts underpinning that goal aren't exactly new: "The notion of using business intelligence has been around for 20 or 30 years," Schulte acknowledges. In addition, "good architects have long used event-driven architecture to make complex business systems run faster."

So what's changed?

Historically, "there has been a gap between the people who do business intelligence and the people who build the production systems, the systems that run the company," says Schulte, a Gartner distinguished analyst and vice president. That gap has now disappeared, he says: "We're now able to make production systems smarter than they were in the past by leveraging the analytics and some of the other concepts that have been traditionally only used off-line for business-intelligence activities."

And that ability represents a profound shift for the business side. "It's a change that's enabled by IT, but, fundamentally, it's a change that affects businesspeople," Schulte says. "It's a change that business people can see."

Evangelizing about event data

Schulte can sum up the key to making business operations smarter in two words: event data. He defines "event" this way: "It's a description of what's happening. It's a state change." And, he emphasizes, he's talking about current events: "It's not what occurred last week or last month; those are old events," he says. "It's what's occurring now."

Event data, then, is information about exactly whats changing—both inside and outside your company. Internally, event data comes from both people and machines. "You may get event data from the database management system," says Schulte, who recently delivered a keynote address on the topic at ebizQ's sixth annual BPM in Action virtual conference. "You may get it from sensors like RFID [radio-frequency identification] or GPS [global positioning satellite] devices. You may get data from the applications themselves."

Meanwhile, external data will also be streaming in. "You're getting it over the Web," Schulte says. You may be getting it from newsfeeds. You may be getting it from market data and networks. You may be getting it from your business partners. You may be tapping your social networks." External event data can also come from e-mail, electronic data interchange (EDI) and many other sources.

That dual internal-external view, and the vast quantity of up-to-the-moment data that it generates, represent the biggest difference between this approach and traditional operational intelligence.

Foundations for smarter systems

Most companies today default to using service-oriented architecture (SOA), Schulte says. Many also use events and event processing in a variety of places, such as graphical user interfaces, systems software, networks and operating systems, among others. In addition, "events are being used for straight-through business processes, where you drive from one step to the next quickly," he says.

As a result, systems may be faster—but they aren't necessarily smarter. That's because, in most cases, people aren't yet viewing those events in real time or near real-time. "That's what's changing here," he says. "We're starting with these basics—this service-oriented architecture and these event-driven business processes, and we're asking 'How can we make these systems run smarter?'"

The answer: "By implementing the operational intelligence cycle, the real-time intelligent-business-operations business cycle," he says.

The good news: Making your business operations smarter doesn't require "ripping and replacing" your existing applications or legacy SOA. "It's done as an overlay. It's not something that changes the underlying the system itself," Schulte says. "Most of the systems you have will stay in place."

That's not to say that you won't need to make any modification, he adds: "You may add some new application snippets. You may add some compensating processes. You may put in some new processes that help you react to things that you're discovering." Typically, though, you should be able to implement embedded, real-time or near-real time analytics without changing your existing applications.

But collecting the data is just the first step. "The next step is to figure out what's actually happening based on the data that comes in,"—in other words, analyze it, Schulte says.

Given the tidal wave of information that will be flooding in daily from both inside and outside your organization, that could be a textbook example of something that's easier said than done. Fortunately, several tried-and-true techniques can help streamline data analysis, allowing you to move ahead to the all-important final step: taking action based on what you’ve learned.

In Part II of this package, Schulte explores ways to analyze event data, including approaches involving visibility and situation awareness. In Part III, he talks about using analyzed event data..

About the Author

Anne Stuart, ebizQ's editor from mid-2010 to mid-2013, is now senior editor for SearchCloudApplications.com at ebizQ's parent company, TechTarget. She is a veteran journalist who has written for national magazines, daily newspapers, an international news service and many Web sites. She’s specialized in covering business and technology issues for 20 years. Based in Newton, Mass., she can be reached at astuart@techtarget.com. Follow Anne on Google+ and at annestuart_TT on Twitter. For general questions about ebizQ, please e-mail editor@ebizQ.net.

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