Innovating With Information
The flattening of the global playing field has crystallized opportunities for innovative organizations, but this new world presents new challenges. The speed at which information is gathered and disseminated has changed, but the speed at which the underlying business processes deal with this real-time information has not yet changed sufficiently. The speed of reaction must be equally immediate, and this has to change for organizations to maintain or improve their competitive advantage. CNN changed its market by reacting to the availability of real-time information to launch the first 24-hour all-news network. Before CNN's launch in 1980, the public expected news to be delivered on a daily basis, through newspapers and regularly scheduled television broadcasts. We now expect news coverage to be immediate, always available, and presented in context.
The need to innovate continues, driving new models for gathering of news. Media organizations are now getting ahead of the possibility of news with the use of embedded reporters who act like sensors at the farthest edges of news gathering. We have "mash-up reporting" where the public can submit video and pictures of news events. They are phoned for their real-time verbal accounts of the news scene, and this user-generated content is inter-mingled with professional reporting to provide dynamic coverage.
Mining Your Network's Business Value
The advent of network mining will replace today's predominant approach to addressing business dynamics, which is to reactively control a situation once it is determined that, say, inventory is low, a process needs fixing, credit-card fraud is taking place, or a call center is reaching capacity. Rather, network mining can deliver a level of immediacy and automation unavailable with traditional data mining and business intelligence.
Network mining uses the one resource that touches the entire extended enterprise and can immediately capture and communicate events: the network. A variety of network-connected sources such as sensors, cameras, location tags, readers, and other devices communicate events to applications, which, increasingly, correlate information with one another across the network to identify a condition, threshold, or event, then trigger the appropriate action. Sensors can continually report status and changes in temperature, motion, humidity, speed, location, and pressure, offering a full picture of physical conditions and events that, if outside their normal range, can affect business operations in a heartbeat.
Integrating Networks and Applications
To communicate events to stakeholders, there will be a new level of integration between business applications and the network. Only the application-aware network can detect, capture, and filter events in real time in order to forward them to applications for aggregation within a business context.
The applications can trigger notification, enforcement, and escalation processes according to corporate policies. With the network and applications continually gathering and sharing monitored events, organizations gain immediate access to "in-context" information on the cause and effect of such occurrences. This enables collaborative decision-making that empowers the business to circumvent undesirable conditions and, ultimately, to better compete in many dimensions.
Let's say a sensor detects that a piece of equipment in a remote plant has failed. This information is correlated to a customer contract that is subject to a service-level agreement. An alert matching the equipment failure and its ramifications on the customer contract is sent to the relevant stakeholders across the extended enterprise -- business analysts, plant operations, and production control personnel.
Concurrently, a meeting is automatically scheduled that includes these personnel, who can discuss the impact of the downtime, when the repair will be completed, and how to adjust business operations to cope with the situation.
Coping with the Information Deluge
The idea that we will be dealing with significant amounts of real-time sensory data could be troublesome, but this transition should actually be liberating rather than invasive. Correctly filtering and correlating that event-driven information is an important success factor. The network and the application are perfectly matched to filter the false-positives and to pass through the right information, at the right time to the right person -- in a chosen format that is understandable and actionable.
Second, a world of real-time decision-making and action can also free us from the current backlog of e-mail and catch-up. By creating an environment where the team can immediately collaborate, communicate, and take action, we can avoid the backlog of required decisions and supporting collateral. Look at PDAs: essentially they make historical information -- e-mails -- more real-time. But that only moves the problem -- it doesn't solve it. The event-driven world, with immediate collaboration and communication, changes this dynamic completely. Anyone returning from a vacation without staying current on e-mail will understand "information deluge." Our children are already exhibiting their preferences for real-time communication and collaboration based on events.
Moving to an Event-Driven World
We already live in an event-driven world that is creating closer integration between the network and application. The first step is to analyze which types of event information will add value to business operations and create differentiation in the marketplace. From there, it's a matter of pairing your network and applications to unlock the untapped potential of the information flowing throughout the borderless enterprise on a continual basis.
Gary Moore is a senior vice president at Cisco Systems.