Are you sure you can make use of REAL TIME data?

Several BI vendors, insist that real time data will magically change the enterprise world. They may be right – I have often heard my customers echo that line too. But here is the question that doesn’t get asked often enough – what will you do with it, if information is delivered to you real time?

When world moved from handwritten letters to emails, there was a definite improvement in speed of business. But how long did it take, before people let emails sit unread in inboxes without acting on it? Same with twitter – how many people make use of real time information that gets bombarded via twitter? They choose to bookmark it somehow for later consumption. You can only deal with a certain amount of information – the rest is not useful, and often counterproductive.

This is much bigger in enterprise scale issues. Lets say you find at real time that there is a surge of demand in west coast, and you can make a killing by moving inventory from your Midwest stores to the west coast ones. Excellent idea – except – do you have enough people to pick,pack and ship in real time? Do you have 200 trucks that can show up in next hour to transfer the goods? Can your store systems handle such a load? Do you have people watching real time data stream in – and empowered to act on it? If not, can you realistically automate responses to real time alerts.

Getting real time information is just one part of the solution – even a small one at that – your ability to react to it is what matters more.  The investment needed to react to real time information is pretty significant for most companies.  Which begs the question – how many companies will make significant investments on getting real time information?

The alternate paradigm is “right time”. Well – sounds like a better  idea to me, except there is no one “right time” for everything.  For some one who does day trading, getting up to the second data is important – but for a rank amatuer investor like me, it does not matter much at all. Stock market decisions can be abstracted to “buy and sell” at my level. And I can automate that by alerts and automatic orders. I lose some flexibility, but feel comfortable at the risk level that I don’t mind. Evidently the definition of right time is different for me and a day trader. In the enterprise scene, it depends on multiple factors at various points in time.  And as business evolves – you could get caught up chasing your tail on what is right time.

Real time information surely has its place – I have no doubts – but we need to seriously think about what part of a company’s information needs have a “real” need for such information. “Actionable BI” is probably a nice way to describe it – but actionable does not always mean you get to act on it. It just means if you had the ability to act on it – you could have acted on it. BI does not dictate if it is actionable or not – your operational abilities decide that. In our extreme excitement about cool technology, and Moore’s law and all that – I guess we can all be forgiven for not thinking about the surrounding issues 🙂