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The brainy business: BI-driven SOA

To fit into the modular, real-time world of SOA, business intelligence is moving away from batch processes and toward being a Web service.

As IT shops become more proficient with the technical aspects of service-oriented architecture, talk increasingly turns to the inclusion of value-added capabilities such as business intelligence (BI) functionality inside your SOA.

SOA is a very disruptive force in the marketplace in terms of the way we do BI.
Charles Nicholls
 CEOSeeWhy Software Ltd

After all, it's one thing to monitor the technical performance of a Web service and a far different proposition to understand its monetary performance or the business opportunities it may have created. That's where BI is attempting to stake its claim. Essentially it's positioning itself as the windows into your service-oriented architecture.

"Traditionally BI has been focused on delivering potentially interesting pieces of information to human requesters," said Dan Sturman, director of development for DB2 and BI products at IBM. "Service-oriented architecture is the next big leap. Different services will now need information. It's not just humans asking for it, it will also be computers."

And, Sturman added, everyone from developers to architects to IT managers to business analysts to senior executives is going to need some form of business performance data for the company's active Web services.

"More insight will be needed to fine tune services," he said. "You will need the ability to understand and glean insight as to what's going on in your service-oriented architecture."

Charles Nicholls, CEO of SeeWhy Software Ltd., argues that while BI could be a crucial value-add to an SOA, it will need to change in order to meet the immediate demands of SOA.

"You'll need to stream data rather than move big batches," he said. "There really is no advantage at all to having out-of-date data. SOA is a very disruptive force in the marketplace in terms of the way we do BI."

He echoed Sturman in calling for BI to deliver "automated analysis based on fine-grained detail." For that task, he believes the traditional bulk data analysis has been rendered obsolete.

"The aggregate hides a multitude of sins, that's always been the case," he said. "Now what you need is to imbed the smarts in the business process. Have the intelligence initiate the process, be the event."

John Senor, president of iWay Software Inc., also thinks that "BI should be a service I create that works with and inside of other services." He sees automated reports as one of the hot ticket internal services that SOA-enabled BI can generate.

"What it can deliver is more event-driven data synchronization," he said.

Of course that will require good architecting.

"Visibility has to be built into the entire transactional flow," Nicholls said.

Sturman keyed on treating XML as a core data type in order to achieve that visibility rather than on relational databases.

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"You've got to capture the data in flight," he said. "The storage headache people have always had with data will only get worse with XML if you handle it in batches. No one denies that. You've got to be able to make this data available and understandable in real or near-real time."

Obviously it's a level of detail that few, if any, users have managed to achieve, yet it's now being presented as potentially crucial for measuring the true ROI of SOA projects down the road, providing the data that non-technical executives will most need to see.

"Why are you doing IT?" Nicholls asked. "Are you just doing it to eliminate costs or are you trying to establish competitive advantage? Your more aggressive companies are surely looking at it in terms of competitive advantage."

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