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BAM by Any Other Name

Business Activity Monitoring (BAM) is hot but requires careful planning to achieve return on investment.

InformationWeek Staff

October 6, 2004

5 Min Read

Even before Gartner dubbed it business activity monitoring (BAM), the notion of BAM has been around, in one form or another, for some time. The idea is simple: Put a dashboardlike interface on somebody's desk and hook up that interface to many critical real-time data points, such as sales per hour, productivity, efficiency, and so on. The rationale is that decision makers need access to information as it happens — just as people use information from their car dashboards to make just-in-time adjustments.

The BAM acronym may sound cool, but implementing it requires careful thought if you want to see a significant ROI. I've found that a lack of understanding is at the core of the problem. In this column, let's learn more about BAM, including the different types of BAM technology and what you need to do before you apply the technology within your enterprise.

BAM Defined

Again, BAM isn't new. We've been putting real-time information displays on top of information systems for years. Indeed, I built one right out of college in the early 1980s. However, these older BAM systems typically sat on top of a single information system, usually a mainframe, and leveraged a single data source.

Two very important things have changed since the days of old BAM:

  • The use of graphical interfaces (changing charts, graphs, speedometers, and so on) to display information

  • The ability to link to many different information systems via new application integration technologies.

Integration is key here. Considering the numerous enterprise information systems that now come in all shapes, sizes, and purposes, the ability to bring all this disparate information together for real-time analytic purposes is only now possible through integration technology perfected in the last few years. Integration can exist without BAM, but BAM can't exist without integration.

Types of BAM

BAM is one of those terms that means different things to different people. In fact, I've heard both a network monitoring system vendor and a message queue manager vendor call their products "BAM." Probably a bit of a stretch, but BAM is any software system that can externalize real-time business information in a meaningful way. You can organize BAM into three basic types:

  • Process metrics are basically process integration technologies that display information in real time as part of the runtime process integration mechanism. So, not only are you able to create metaprocesses on top of existing enterprise processes, but you can externalize real-time information, even real-time calculated points, at runtime. These metrics don't, however, usually provide true decision-support capabilities, just rudimentary monitoring capabilities that are bound to a process.

  • Passive BAM is typically what you see being put into practice these days. This type of BAM lets you externalize information from any number of systems, typically leveraging existing integration technology such as integration servers, and display that information in some way that's meaningful to end users (changing pie and bar charts, dashboard type displays such as gauges, and so on). The users can observe the status of their businesses and make any necessary changes (although they can't implement any changes through their BAM interfaces).

  • Active BAM is much more complex, but also more helpful. By using this technology, you not only monitor points of information, either raw or calculated, but also take automatic actions using preprogrammed logic. For example, you could establish a rule that would automatically reorder inventory when a certain item was almost out of stock and send an alert through email. Or, you could create more complex rules such as contacting a chief investment officer when the risk value became too high in a system that monitored a billion-dollar portfolio.

Mixing BAM and BI

So, if BAM is the way to monitor an enterprise or value chain in real time, where does business intelligence (BI) fit in? BI and BAM have a lot in common; however, BI systems typically deal with the analysis of historical data and run complex analytic processes against that historical data to support decision makers — a strategic focus. BAM supports decision makers as well, but is typically more oriented toward operational and tactical issues.

As both technologies become better known and more widely used, I foresee a merger of sorts. Already, BI systems are providing more real-time visibility, and BAM systems are providing more historical data analysis capabilities.

These hybrid systems will provide a great advantage to end users, because they'll be able to view real-time information in the context of historical information, such as how sales today stack up against sales a year ago, average sales, and trends. Or, perhaps, how current real-time productivity numbers look against industry average productivity numbers from the last several years.

Stepping up to BAM

So, how do you become successful with BAM? You need to follow some basic rules. First, determine if you actually need BAM. Although almost all CEOs would love to have real-time dashboards for their businesses, many don't need it. BAM is still expensive to create and deploy, and you should have a business justification.

Second, create your integration infrastructure first. BAM needs good integration with existing enterprise systems. You can't have BAM without it. However, don't attempt to create an integration mechanism just for BAM, or you'll end up doing it twice.

Third, understand the data you're monitoring. If you're monitoring the wrong data points, you're taking the wrong actions on that information.

Finally, design BAM so it's customizable for each user experience, thus different people will have different views. This approach offers the best productivity results.

What's important to note is that BAM means different things to different people, and you must first understand its value before you can be successful with it. As with any tool, misapply BAM and it's money wasted. Moreover, you must also understand your own problem domain before selecting the technology that's right for your enterprise, as well as before implementation. In other words, you need to do your homework. I hope this column is a good starting point.

David S. Linthicum is the author of three books on application integration, including Next Generation Application Integration: From Simple Information to Web Services (Addison-Wesley, 2003). He was CTO both for Mercator Software and SAGA Software, two application integration technology vendors.

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