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 🙂


Published by Vijay Vijayasankar

Son/Husband/Dad/Dog Lover/Engineer. Follow me on twitter @vijayasankarv. These blogs are all my personal views - and not in way related to my employer or past employers

4 thoughts on “Are you sure you can make use of REAL TIME data?

  1. These are the right questions Vijay, and I have quite a few answers, but unfortunately can share very few as such information is among the most valuable in computing, and those who dominate the markets are in a position to employ them, and some have done so often with no compensation. Indeed, in some corp cultures the not invented here syndrome has combined with our highly litigious society to deny everything, including that which is obvious to everyone.

    That said, I think you hit one problem head on, and slightly miss on another– the problem of course, is that very few companies are in a position to benefit from emergent technologies, which creates a positive spiral for them and a negative spiral for everyone else, including unfortunately the broader global economy– when in sharp disequilibrium to the extremes that we see today. One reason Germany’s economy is doing so well is that it lacks such extremes with a much more diversified economy of the type I and others have long argued for in the U.S. (less consolidation, less financial engineering, more sustainable engineering, and more trade skill training in particular). Real-time computing does appear on the surface to be one of those issues– small companies have primarily one potential advantage, which is actually a combination of factors — closer relationships with customers when matched with creativity and agility to meet the customers’ needs. When massively scaled and many layers in-between one customer and the CEO of multi-national giants (with exception of a minority of B2B wholesale models that serve few customers), analytics is the primary method to overcome this advantage. So you nailed that point.

    Where I think you may have had a near miss is that the reverse is also true for SMEs — multinationals have many advantages, including much greater access to scale capital in the form of equity, but the primary advantage is not what many of our friends think– that it’s because they are so brilliant, it’s due of course to scale dynamics. The potential of real time for SME ecosystems, combined with other technology, is to better compete with scale. What’s potentially interesting for real time data is that it can dramatically impact the scale dynamic, particularly when employed in fragmented supply chains– even in small businesses which combine say in like franchises to approximate the scale of one large ecosystem. So for example in the old batch system with 24 hour events, if three dozen different batches needed to occur before a decision could be made, it would take at best 3 dozen 24 hour periods. In today’s economy, that would place the ecosystem — regardless of size, in a very poor position in today’s economy when compared to real-time competitors. So I think the question in particular for SMEs is no different than what we asked in 1996 with one of the first major online e-commerce network for small business– how best to use the potential power of technology to at the very least empower sustainable equilibrium in the global economy, without which ultimately it’s very bad for everyone, including governments and multi-nationals.

    The primary problem to date has been that the overhead of IT consultants typically cannot afford to serve the SME market well, and Wall Street similarly doesn’t know how to make money from SMEs well, and governments tend to respond to the largest special interest groups–with deepest pockets, so in a very real world sense there is a deep perception gap– an ignorance gap if you will, on misalignment of interest between those in power and the disenfranchised. There is only vague understanding and happy talk about how one needs the other, in business, government, and academia, but very little understanding of how it really needs to work, as is in evidence everywhere in our economy today.



  2. Vijay,

    The thoughts you expressed here came to my mind in “real time”. I mean real real time. A year or so ago, I was listening to Dr Sikka’s speech. The day he was speaking in Brussels was very hot he said. He said-on that day- he was talking to a CEO of CPG company. Dr Sikka mentioned CEO wished she(or he I don’t remember) had “real real time” sales and stock information on cold beverages and ice cream in different stores. Dr Sikka continued: that information would have helped that company to meet the demands in real time. I immediately asked myself in real time: Really, did she really need “real real time” information? I didn’t elaborate or write about it because everyone was having “heart based”(emotional) discussions. No heads involved at that time. (I mean people were not thinking logically). Even today there is a lot of hype around “Real Real time”.
    My questions at that time were exactly the same as you describe above:
    1) How real real time info would have been helpful in Brussels? Did they already plan and hire extra people and trucks to transport goods? That planning didn’t require real real time data but rather historic data for demand planning.
    2) If computer says store in “1 church street, Brussels” is out of stock for Coca-Cola, does everyone involved know what exactly it meant? It could mean either store located in 1 Church Street or 1st store opened in Church Street or something else depending on who is reading it.
    3) Should we transport only Coca-Cola to that store or some other products as well which are selling fast and which may run out of stock soon? Or should we ship Coca-Cola to all other stores in Church Street even though other stores still have stock? Which one is better?
    4) And what is ROI of implementing “Real real time” solution to cater to the needs of one or few days every year?

    Another potential issue on making information available “real,real time” is chaos it might create. For example, illustrates that point.

    Third Dr Sikka was discussing 460Billion POS records table. HANA helped analyze this information “real real time” he said. He didn’t elaborate how the company benefited with “Real real time” analysis. I don’t know why CEO or top management was interested in POS information real real time. Store managers or District managers in Argentina-I don’t believe- would be interested in “real real time” POS information in Japan.

    There is time and place for everything. I’m sure there is time and place for “Real real time” information as well.



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