Gaining competitive advantage from IBO

Intelligent Business Operations (IBO) enable increased visibility of events across the business and real time analysis, to allow better insight and better responses, says Marco Gerazounis, senior VP, Software AG

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Gaining competitive advantage from IBO
By  Marco Gerzounis Published  March 21, 2013

Intelligent Business Operations (IBO) enable increased visibility of events across the business and real time analysis, to allow better insight and better responses, says Marco Gerazounis, senior VP, Software AG.

Rapid advances in technology have empowered IT managers to harness a game-changing resource that for decades had otherwise remained untapped by most companies. It is all about ‘big data’, the phenomenon that has caused an upheaval in corporate IT environments worldwide. The much talked-about big data phenomenon highlights the significant value businesses now realise can be derived from the huge volumes of structured and unstructured data held within their organisations. This potentially lucrative source of information could serve to provide essential insight, but IT managers must first find a way to pluck it out from remote parts of the organisation, which makes it difficult to access.

In the Middle East, many enterprises have witnessed a dramatic increase in the amount of data being used as they increasingly take advantage of information technology to support their business operations. We are now seeing Arab enterprises actively investing in advanced IT technologies, and this accordingly creates a growing need to adopt effective and efficient big data management tools.

This is where big data solutions come in. Among other business functions, big data offers particular opportunities for improving customer service, where it can provide the timely and personalised responses needed to improve competitiveness. A recent survey of UK corporates undertaken on behalf of Software AG highlighted that 59% acknowledged that customer service was their greatest challenge, while 93% said that data management is important to achieving service improvement.

Generating Intelligent Business Operations

Many organisations are integrating analytics, social and mobile technologies into their processes and applications to achieve this operational ‘intelligence’. Ultimately, they aim to achieve visibility of events across the business in real time and use analytics to gain meaningful insights into this information as the basis of timely, automated customer responses.

Gartner has termed this approach ‘Intelligent Business Operations’ (IBO), which it describes in its ‘Trend Towards Intelligent Business Operations’ report as “becoming increasingly practical, because of the growing amount of data generated by sources inside and outside the company and the wide availability of software tools to process that data immediately”. A scalable ‘big data’ framework enables a truly holistic view of each customer, allowing the business to deliver personalised responses in real time to problems or opportunities, resulting in a greatly enhanced customer experience; and it can also be used to improve internal efficiencies.

Big data opportunities

While businesses have a lot of experience in managing structured customer data, now they must also extract value from a much broader variety of information, including unstructured data such as emails, social media and mobile, which now account for up to 80% of information held within the business — often described as the ‘events cloud’.

The pace of business and the velocity of how fast data is being produced and must be processed have also increased dramatically, which is why speed of response has become equally critical for business enterprises. Forrester estimates that organisations today effectively use less than 5% of their available data. When businesses are able to utilise the other 95% of the data, the growth potential is limitless. In addition, enterprises need to be able to react to rapidly-changing regulations and new market players, as well as changing consumer demands.

Indeed, from continuously-improving business processes and initiatives to better customer information and identifying operational bottlenecks or roadblocks before they occur, there are numerous advantages that can be achieved by managing big data in real-time and integrating the resulting information in automated and flexible business processes.

Applying Complex Events Processing

One of the key elements of a best practice IBO approach is the adoption of Complex Events Processing (CEP). One of the greatest problems facing today’s enterprise is that of a diverse and constantly-changing stream of millions of events happening every day, every minute or even every second. These range from the precise location of an individual delivery vehicle to a stock price or a smart meter reading.

Essentially, CEP solutions work by continually monitoring events and event streams looking for complex correlations, patterns and sequences to identify related events — or the lack of expected events. By adopting a well-defined pattern-based event strategy and combining it with powerful real-time analytics, critical business trends not visible as individual events can be identified and timely action taken.

A pattern-based strategy is defined by Gartner as “offering a framework to proactively seek patterns from traditional and non-traditional sources, model their impact on business operations or strategy and adapt the organisation.” Moreover, business patterns are “sets of recurring and/or related business activities and events” and a pattern-based strategy brings together the disciplines necessary for business leaders to exploit opportunities or define threats and react in a timely way.

Pattern-based analysis is particularly relevant to today’s competitive and dynamic environment, as it allows businesses to be more proactive in meeting the needs of customers and prospects. In particular, it addresses new questions around ‘what is happening right now?’ and ‘what is likely to happen?’

For an IT investment to be approved, a business case is usually developed based on the need to make money, save money or control risk. A best-practice pattern-based strategy will address all three criteria, by directly meeting the challenge of correlating and interpreting data held in separate, isolated silos.

By taking advantage of CEP solutions, business enterprises can analyse all live data streams coming into the business. However, to deliver a fully effective pattern-based strategy, it is important to correlate with historical data, which is simply the information held in the business for more than 24 hours, contained in a scalable in-memory data storage solution linked to the CEP engine via an enterprise messaging platform. This allows all data from disparate sources and formats to be cheaply, rapidly and efficiently processed and analysed in-memory.

As competitiveness increasingly relies on the ability to extract what is important or unusual and react to a huge volume of data coming from all types of systems and sources, business enterprises now have to find ways to maximise the value of a much broader range of data more than just storing and analysing larger volumes. Just as data is of little value without analytics to turn it into business intelligence, big data insights are only truly successful if the related processes are in place to enable the appropriate business response.

Data empowered

To achieve the necessary internal real-time collaboration and agility to resolve any issues and respond fast and effectively, it is becoming increasingly important to integrate with advanced complementary BPM software. Process automation further improves the speed and quality of response, resulting in better operational efficiencies and ultimately driving customer satisfaction. A clear audit trail between the initial event and the process response provides evidence as to why the particular action was taken. This is especially important in cases handled fully automatically, with no human intervention.

Big data and corresponding CEP solutions are among the top-trending topics within the Middle East IT landscape, not just because of their positive impact on business growth, but also because of the accompanying challenges, including risk, complexity and cost. Nonetheless, while not all businesses will need the sophistication of a CEP solution, for those organisations with the right level of business process maturity, it could prove extremely effective in achieving strategic business objectives. The key to success is to create an integrated IBO environment, rather than operate with disparate, silo-ed components. Businesses can establish a complete infrastructure that capitalizes on the benefits of ‘big data’, which will certainly create a tremendous boost to their business performance and competitive edge in today’s highly competitive, globalised and fast-paced business environment.

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