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Business activity monitoring offers real-time insight into information

Business activity monitoring offers real-time insight into business information -- but success requires using the right tools and techniques.

Business activity monitoring (BAM) sounds simple enough. Its fundamental premise is that complete, balanced real-time information -- or near-real-time information -- should be highly useful to the management of any enterprise. Despite that virtuous premise, the approach isn't as well-known or widely employed as some other technologies are.

Mike Gualtieri, an analyst at Forrester Research, describes BAM as addressing problems similar to those faced by of a pilot without an airspeed indicator or a race-car driver without a speedometer real-time monitoring. "BAM is fundamentally real-time instrumentation for businesses that tells you when to step on the gas and when you are about to crash," he said.

The pace of change today is so rapid in comparison with the past's that businesses need new technologies such as BAM to "avoid the crash and jump on the opportunities," Gualtieri continued. "This means real-time monitoring is essential, and you must do it from multiple sources at once."

Large companies can't just buy an off-the-shelf BAM system and think they're done, he said. Instead, they need to reassess their entire data management environments to make sure they're receiving all the right signals from all the right systems. "BAM must connect to it all and then separate the signal from the noise and make it available immediately to the business decision makers who need it" -- and, increasingly, that means employees who rely on mobile devices as well, Gualtieri said.

Getting an initiative off the ground and sustaining the necessary momentum can be a daunting prospect, said Henry Peyret, a Forrester analyst based in France. In fact, that challenge is among the issues that has slowed widespread adoption.

Real-world applications

Partly because BAM adoption rates have stayed relatively low, Peyret sees both an opportunity and a necessity to look beyond BAM's original focus. Besides providing a much-needed real-time perspective for business intelligence, "BAM is the tooling that will be used to meet broader business challenges," Peyret said.

Large companies can't just buy an off-the-shelf BAM system and think they're done.

For example, he sees a role for BAM in high-speed trading because of the technology's ability to detect information with complex event processing and then to respond with an appropriate action. "It isn't just about building a dashboard for people, but about generating an activity," Peyret explained.

BAM could also be used for real-time risk analysis. "For a long time, fraud detection in financial transactions was more or less of a batch process. But now we are seeing a need for much faster intelligence," he noted. "You can't wait two days to find out when you have a problem."

A similar need for speed is motivating marketing organizations. Experts say the techniques and power of BAM could be extended to provide real-time consolidation of information from social media such as Facebook, mobile devices and merchant sources to actually suggest behavior to customers.

For example, if you're in a certain distance from a particular type of store and you ask Google for some information that relates to the shop or its products, a BAM-type system could generate a message reminding you how close you are to that business -- and even offer you a discount there.

At the same time, if you ignore that initial pitch and subsequent ones, the BAM system needs to be intelligent enough to understand that you aren't interested, so that it doesn't go from being helpful to being annoying.

Again, BAM's capabilities for bringing together information and assessments in real time can make such customer relationships fruitful, Peyret said: "BAM technology should include governance and guardrails for marketers so that they don't abuse their connections to the customer." Peyret called that new capability, which he sees as crucial to many BAM implementations, Agile governance. He said it must include a customer perspective if BAM is to avoid turning into a process that alienates large numbers of consumers.

A vertical view

As BAM evolves, it will increasingly become "verticalized," meaning that "it should understand the requirements of each vertical and function appropriately for each environment," Peyret said.

Alan Young, chief technology officer of Ancile Solutions in Elkridge, Md., also embraces that "new BAM" perspective. "What is interesting to me is the movement I have seen of BAM toward the non-IT and nontechnical areas," said Young, whose company develops learning and performance software to assist with BAM and other complex implementations.

For instance, he explained, BAM is now sometimes applied as an integrating element between business process management systems and employee performance management activities. "BAM can provide the metrics you need to better understand how employees are using technology -- how much and how skillfully -- and how that is translating into ROI and other metrics," Young said.

Traditionally, companies have viewed activity monitoring as being oriented toward IT issues, Young said, but added, "BAM has great potential to move directly into broader business challenges."

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