I’m still catching up from the SAP BusinessObjects user conference a few weeks ago. One of the sessions I attended was David Huber’s overview of operational business intelligence and the soon-to-be-launched SAP BusinessObjects Event Insight product.
He started the session with the results of a recent CIO.com survey of Fortune 500 CIOs (CIO Technology Priorities July 2009), showing that “Business Process Management” and “Business Intelligence” are the #2 and #3 priorities for 2010.
Bring these two trends together and you get the need for “operational BI”: real-time, actionable BI directly within your operational systems. SAP has now combined event processing with business process management and dashboards to create new operational BI capabilities.
The key new element of this system is SAP Event Insight. The product originally started as a prototype from the SAP Imagineering Team called Live Enterprise, with links to dashboards from the SAP BusinessObjects Innovation Center, using complex event processing (CEP) technology from a small startup called Coral8. Coral8 was then acquired by Aleri, who was then acquired by Sybase, who was then acquired by SAP – all in less than 18 months! – and the product is now close to “ramp up”. For more information about BI 4.0, check out the SAP Analytics microsite.
The goal of Event Insight is to provide real-time monitoring of business events:
- Detect meaningful business events and new opportunities, such as customer buying behavior, through historical and current events
- Send alerts to business users, letting them detect and react to business changes before adverse events happen
- Easily set up the agents, on multiple data sources, monitoring both structured and unstructured data, without programming
Event Insight uses technology that was first developed for high-velocity, high-transaction trades on Wall Street, but has now been extended and adapted for use in BI. The biggest difference is in the nature of the processing: compared to previous “monolithic” CEP implementations, business intelligence typically requires more data sources, with processing shared among nodes on the network.
The new technology is tightly integrated with the SAP BusinessObjects semantic layer, letting you create universes and queries on top of event streams, linking them to the BI 4.0 alerting framework, and letting them be accessed from standard front end tools such as Web Intelligence, Crystal Reports and Dashboards (formerly known as Xcelsius).
So when might you need this technology? Here’s David’s comparison of traditional and operational BI approaches: unsurprisingly, operational BI is operational processes, where you need to take action on information in a short time.
Operational BI is a very horizontal technology that could be used in lots of different industries and applications. Examples given included:
- A supply chain example. The instant that the system detects a problem with an order, an alert is sent to customer care, who can proactively warn the customer, and mitigate any delay
- Oil and gas. Real-time pressure, temperature, and vibration readings are gathered and sent to a central dashboard, and any readings outside of defined limits are sent as alerts.
- Location-based processing. The event trigger could be somebody or something arriving at a particular location (leveraging the Sybase mobility technology)
- Monitoring customer sentiment. Look for keywords in a stream of social media using text analytics, and send alerts.
Here’s a description of how operational BI can used for improving the number of “perfect orders”:
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And here’s an associated demonstration of the perfect order dashboard:
And here’s the associated product defect demo, with social media monitoring and drill-down to SAP systems:
David mentioned that an industrial poultry operation was even interested in the technology – but declined to explain further!
It’s claimed that each individual agent install is quick and easy, with both SAP and non-SAP systems. As with traditional BI, the trickiest part is deciding the business process issues and trigger conditions that you want to measure. There are three types of user profile who would maintain and use the system:
- IT – somebody to install the system, and collect, process, and manage data
- BI power user – to set up the event semantics, types of event, thresholds, etc.
- Business user – consumes the data and alerts
Since some of the examples overlap with what you can do with traditional BI today, I asked David for his honest assessment of how applicable and practical this technology will be for “average BI-using organizations”, including the cost of buying, installing, and maintaining it in addition to existing systems. He replied that he believes that operational BI won’t be confined to just a few niches (finance, etc.), but will become a standard part of most large-organization BI deployments.