On Business Intelligence and Real-Time Intelligence

January 30, 2011
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JackBe‘s CTO, John Crupi, and VP of Marketing, Chris Warner, created a definitional firestorm among BI experts at the BBBT on Friday.  A long-time Ajax and Enterprise Mashup Platform provider, JackBe has more recently begun to describe itself as a Real-Time Intelligence provider.  That was always going to be a phrase that generated excited discussion.

JackBe‘s CTO, John Crupi, and VP of Marketing, Chris Warner, created a definitional firestorm among BI experts at the BBBT on Friday.  A long-time Ajax and Enterprise Mashup Platform provider, JackBe has more recently begun to describe itself as a Real-Time Intelligence provider.  That was always going to be a phrase that generated excited discussion.

First, what is Real-Time?  In the case of JackBe, it relates more to immediate access, both in definition and use, to existing sources of data than to the more conventional BI use of the term, which focuses more on how current that data is.  As a mashup, JackBe’s Presto product doesn’t actually care how current the data it accesses is.  The source could be an operational application, a data warehouse, a spreadsheet, a web resource or whatever–clearly a wide range of data latency (and reliability,too!).  So, the important idea that BI practitioners have to get their heads around is that Real-Time in this context is about giving business users fast and nimble access to existing data sources.

As a mashup, and coming from the Web 2.0 world, the second thing we need to recognize is that JackBe allows end users to combine information in innovative ways into dashboard-like constructs themselves.  In function, mashups are similar to more traditional portals, but use the more flexible tooling and constructs of Web 2.0, enabling users to do more for themselves without calling on IT.  JackBe thus enables self-service BI, provided that accessible information resources already exist.  Presto provides the means to find those sources, the ability to link them together and the robust security required to ensure users can access only what they are allowed to.

As with all approaches to self-service business intelligence, the most challenging aspect for BI practitioners is to understand and even regulate the validity of the results produced.  Does it make logical business sense to combine sources A and B?  Does source A contain data from the same timeframe as source C?  Does profit margin in source B have the exact same definition as that in source D?  And so on.  These are the types of questions that lead to the creation of a data warehouse; resolving them leads to the typical delays in delivering data warehouses.

The bottom line is that JackBe provides a powerful tool to drive rapid innovation by end users in business intelligence.  Given the speed of change in today’s business, that has to be a good thing.  But, as is the case when any powerful tool is put in the hands of a user, there is a danger of severely burnt fingers!  The BI department must therefore put processes in place to help users know if the information they want is really suitable for mashing up.  In practice, this will require either the creation of extensive metadata to describe the available information sources or the provision of a robust help desk facility to explain to users what’s possible and even what went wrong.