SmartAdvice: Consider Business-Activity Monitoring, But Stick With Proven Technologies - InformationWeek
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SmartAdvice: Consider Business-Activity Monitoring, But Stick With Proven Technologies

Now's the time for a midsize company to implement business-activity monitoring, but don't be too innovative since the technology is rapidly changing, The Advisory Council says. Also, consider organizational and security issues before selecting log-analysis software; and evaluate your needs before deciding whether Solaris or Linux will suit better than Windows.

Editor's Note: Welcome to SmartAdvice, a weekly column by The Advisory Council (TAC), an advisory service firm. The feature answers three questions of core interest to you, ranging from leadership advice to enterprise strategies to how to deal with vendors. Submit questions directly to

Question A: How aggressively should a $2 billion company pursue business-activity monitoring?

Our advice: Now is definitely the time for medium-sized manufacturing, distribution, and service companies to start a deliberate, phased implementation of business-activity monitoring. Be careful to stay with the proven components of this technology--BAM is evolving rapidly, and there's a risky "bleeding edge."

With business-activity monitoring, users get real-time and historical visibility and analysis of strategic processes and data. The bird's-eye view lets managers monitor what they're responsible for, along with key processes, and react accordingly. Here's an example of a dashboard designed for one senior oil-refinery executive. It included the following elements:

  • A hot list of key performance indicators, refreshed every 15 minutes
  • A running line graph of "plan versus actual" refinery production for the past 24 hours
  • A table showing actual versus forecast product prices and inventories
  • An iconic display of refinery readings (replicated from the refinery control room)
  • A list of outstanding alerts and their resolution status
  • A graph of crude oil spot market prices (a live feed from the New York Mercantile Exchange)
  • A scroll of headlines from Petroleum Company News, an industry news service

Related Links
Cognos NoticeCast

Tibco Business Activity Monitoring

webMethods Business Activity Monitoring

Vitria Business Analysis & Monitoring

SSA Global Vigilance
Note that these elements came from different data sources, refreshed independently, and that all supported drilldown. Even with this many elements on screen, they were readable even on a laptop.

Practical Implementation

Business-activity monitoring displays go on executive desks. Most C-level executives don't want their desks used as advanced development labs. We recommend, therefore, that you leave the advanced development to Fortune 100 companies, and install the proven elements of business-activity monitoring technology. Specifically:

  • We would expect that you've already installed portal technology and message-based application-integration technology. If you haven't, you should move expeditiously (for business-activity monitoring and for a host of other enterprise solutions as well).
  • Build a portal "gadget" for displaying key performance indicators numerically. Usually, you won't need to refresh KPIs in real time--15-minute, even one-hour refresh cycles are more common, so a good report writer with some means of triggering the refresh process will work just fine.
  • Build one or more gadgets for displaying color graphs of the most critical key performance indicators. (Don't underestimate the value of "eye candy" to user acceptance of this technology.)
  • Build a gadget for the E-mail inbox.
  • Build a gadget for displaying an external news feed (your industry may have its own).
  • Build a gadget for displaying a publicly available stock quote facility. (Yes, this has nothing to do with your company's business; it's about user acceptance of the new toolset.)
  • Install an alerts manager that has some integrated rules capability, and train mid-level business managers to write the rules. Build a gadget to display the alerts and their resolution on the executive dashboard, and experiment with E-mail, cell phone, and pager dissemination.
  • Build more gadgets than there's space for on the screen, to provide a sense of individual customization.
  • Begin evaluating a standalone rules engine, to see if you will ever need features beyond what's in the alerts manager.
  • Begin evaluating a standalone workflow engine, to see if you will ever need features beyond what's in the alerts manager. (Workflow is often a critical component, since many transactional systems lack the ability to spot timing delays in a business process.)

These suggestions carry a price: We initially suggest a full-time expediter to follow up on the alerts called out by the system.

--Wes Melling

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