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Make the Leap to Real-Time Decision Making

Celequest 3.5's streaming technology gives bite to BAM

Business intelligence is important to strategic decision making. Over the past several years, though, BI vendors also have been focusing on the needs of operational managers, whose jobs involve making tactical decisions in real time. A key capability in this arena is business activity monitoring (BAM), which represents a shift from transaction-based to event-driven decision making. Instead of relying on historical data, managers using BAM can base their decisions on KPIs (key performance indicators) related to real-time business processes.

Celequest has positioned itself well in the BAM arena. Celequest Activity Suite 3.5 uses patent-pending streaming database technology to monitor business events, such as order cancellations, and compare thresholds with historical data from a data warehouse. Thus the product can alert users to exception conditions in real time.

The BAM Scene

A variety of companies are involved in BAM. Bristol Technology, Celequest, firstRain and KnowNow are the pure-play vendors. Some EAI (enterprise application integration) vendors, including Tibco, Vitria and webMethods, also provide BAM capabilities. BI vendors Business Objects, Cognos, Informatica, Information Builders and SAS have BAM strategies, too. Finally, Oracle and other ERP (enterprise resource planning) vendors are building BAM functionality into their products.

Celequest Activity Suite combines the analytics of the BI camp and the real-time event processing of EAI. It differentiates itself by providing a database that can take real-time events and correlate them with reference data from a static source, such as a data warehouse.

Streaming Data

At the heart of the suite is the Activity Server. Research at MIT and Stanford helped develop the concept of a streaming database that operates on streams of events rather than stored data. The Activity Server uses an SDS (streaming data store) to analyze events in memory without loading it to a physical database. It also can correlate real-time data with contextual data from other sources. A call-center manager, for instance, can look at the rate of incoming calls (real-time data) and compare that with the trend over the past week, month or season (from a data warehouse). Celequest caches reference data, such as historical trends, avoiding database calls unless necessary. Data is presented in a set of business views, and the views are updated automatically as new events occur.

The Agent Processor captures events from a variety of sources, including file data, XML documents, JMS events, messaging/EAI events, application events (such as those from SAP or PeopleSoft), Web services, database events and custom events (using an SDK). API agents support Web services, JMS, JDBC and so on. Message agents support messaging systems from vendors including IBM, Tibco and webMethods. Enterprise applications, such as those from SAP and Siebel, can be queried using app-specific agents, and these agents can be used individually or in combination. You can even persist data from the SDS to a relational database, which may be useful for audit purposes or historical event analysis.

The Activity Server can send alerts to dashboards, e-mail, portals or mobile devices, such as pagers or cell phones. Alerts also can be sent to other third-party applications, thus integrating them with other solutions and completing the feedback loop. For example, you can set up an alert to place an order automatically when supply levels fall below a specified threshold.

Dashboard Views

Celequest Operational Dashboards let business users view alerts, real-time metrics and KPIs and initiate actions or workflows based on the alerts. A spreadsheet-like interface is used to query the data, and users can customize the dashboard by modifying the KPIs, metrics and alerts. The dashboard (shown at right) is intuitive and easy to use.

Celequest's Adaptive Intelligence lets business users build and restructure models based on live data—without requiring IT assistance. When a user makes a change to a Celequest view, it's momentarily taken offline and then quickly restored to full online operation once the changes have been made. The business rules are stored in memory and matched against incoming events streams in real time. Celequest's rule processor is temporally aware, meaning it can associate time with events. Instead of simply monitoring for threshold crossings, for example, users can specify the length of time over which a threshold must be crossed.

Celequest provides security through role-based access control. The system can be configured, for instance, so that a regional manager can only view the data related to his or her region while a national executive can access the data for several regions.

Recommendations

PROS
• Correlates real-time events with historic data to uncover meaningful trends
• Business users can easily model scenarios
• The GUI is intuitive and easy to learn
• Rules processor is time-aware, tracking trends over a specified duration
CONS
• No native database connectivity
• Lacks built-in advanced data quality features such as probabilistic matching and householding
• No version-control mechanism

The Application Workbench and Administration Console provide a GUI for the IT developers who configure and maintain Celequest. They can specify the data sources and apps to monitor as well as the baseline business views to be modeled. The solution is SQL-99 compliant, so developers don't have to learn a new language. Optionally, system objects can be built outside the Celequest environment using XSD/XML. Developers also can use the Celequest Activity Server SDK of public Java APIs to build the objects.

The Celequest Activity Suite comprises high-performance, scalable services that run on an open architecture of industry-standard J2EE and Web services. These services run within a J2EE application server environment (BEA Systems WebLogic or IBM WebSphere) on a Solaris or Windows host platform. The various components of the software communicate using XML.

A complete installation of Celequest 3.5 requires several components, so I'd recommend installation help from the vendor. Celequest provides a thin client, Web-based user interface that communicates to the servers over an HTTP Web server. Thus there's little additional IT overhead in deploying the dashboard to new business users.

BAM lets organizations make quick decisions that can improve the bottom line. If your users are convinced of the benefits of BAM, the Celequest Activity Suite is worth considering.

Celequest 3.5 pricing starts at $150,000 for an entry-level system. Pricing is based on the number of CPUs and users. Contact Celequest Corp. at www.celequest.com.

Ganesh Variar is a team lead with Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Oregon. He has 12 years' experience managing and designing business intelligence solutions. Write to him at ganesh_ [email protected] yahoo.com.

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