Better Move Fast for Real-Time Business Intelligence

A wealth of factors — management acceptance, new software tools, and massive sources of data — have had an impact on business intelligence and analysis. But perhaps the largest influence is the need for speed.

Today’s competitive market requires companies to move fast while executives make rapid decisions to enter or leave markets, explore new product types, reexamine global initiatives and partnerships, and reconsider organizational structures and workforce management.

But no one can afford to make big moves on a gut feeling. Management needs as much of the right information as possible distilled into a comprehensible form to make the right calls. That has become pressure on IT staff and analysts, who must deliver the goods about as quickly as the data is generated. According to InfoWorld, that translates into four distinct practices.

Real-time collection

Getting real-time intelligence means having real-time data, although that term can be a little deceptive. Not all data happens in real time. For example, governments may release economic information on a monthly, quarterly, or even periodic basis. Product sales may be tied to seasonal collections, meaning that while the units sold and average sales price might be constantly on the move, the SKU, product description, or vendor sourcing might not be. Whatever the case, you must identify each type by its time span and then optimize data collection to have all data in as soon as it’s available. In some cases, that could mean pulling in some data every few minutes, or even every few seconds, and collecting other types when they are scheduled to be available. The demands of the data will determine what technologies are adequate to obtain what you need.

Real-time processing

Processing can be even more challenging than collection. Data might need formatting or cleaning as it arrives. Given the different collection times and rates, keeping track of the most recent combinations could be a challenge. Even trickier is updating all the reports, graphics, displays, and other data derivatives used by the company. And then users want access to the underlying data. As the data changes, will the organization update the display or report?

Real-time availability

If the only distilled information that was passed to users was predetermined reports and graphs, the job would not be so difficult. But users — and that includes software and processes as well as humans — need more fluid and flexible access to specific information on demand. Technical mechanisms will have to provide ready access to the latest data without disrupting the processing and analytical work done on a regular schedule or in batch.

Real-time insight

Everyone will want everything right away, but it will be necessary to determine who needs the fastest delivery. Do you prioritize upper management, or do business analysts get first attention, because they typically are digesting what they see and then making lower-level decisions or processing the information into recommendations for higher levels of the organization? And then there are people like truck drivers, warehouse workers, factory managers, procurement personnel, and others whose job actions might need modification, depending on real-time information.

Handling real-time analytics and BI is difficult and requires a lot of planning and thought at each stage. However, if a company is to remain competitive, real-time information management and analysis will become a must.

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