Reducing human latency

Written By:
Content Copyright © 2007 Bloor. All Rights Reserved.

If there is a distinction, which is debatable, between real-time BI and operational BI it is that the former consists of conventional BI routines running in a real-time environment (for example, dynamically updating a dashboard) whereas the latter involves BI procedures running inside business processes that, again, operate in real-time. The whole point of both these approaches is to squeeze latency out of the equation so that you are updated, now, about what’s going in your company.

However, while real-time visibility about the status of your company and its operations may be valuable in its own right, it is only of limited value if it takes a long time to make decisions based on the information. If, for example, it will take you two days to take appropriate steps after being alerted to a particular issue then the fact that that information arrived at your desk within seconds of its occurring, as opposed to hours, will not have huge relevance. This decision-making latency, or human latency, is what needs to be squeezed out of the situation in order to improve efficiency.

There are basically two reasons behind human latency. One is the need for further information and the other is when there is a requirement to consult with colleagues. And, of course, both reasons may occur together.

Insofar as further information is concerned, this may simply be a matter of drilling down into further detail or it may require exploration of your content management system or other resources. There is little that technology can do to make this faster (except at the margins) as we cannot, presumably, predict the events that will require this search for additional knowledge, which means that we don’t know which data we will need to access.

However, the need for additional information may not be just, or at all, about searching corporate resources for additional information. For example, if you are a CFO and your stock price suddenly goes up or down by a significant amount then it is likely that the cause is external to your company: perhaps a broker has upgraded or downgraded your stock, perhaps there has been a coup d’état in a country where you do a lot of business, perhaps a hedge fund has been buying your shares, perhaps a lot of things. Now, this sort of information can be monitored in real-time so that this data can be immediately available to the CFO.

If the situation is very significant then the CFO may need to put out a press statement. However, he or she will no doubt have to consult with colleagues before doing so. Time, for obvious reasons, may be of the essence here. So, you need to absolutely minimise the time required for such consultations.

To give further examples: suppose that you are a food processor and you have a contamination alert or imagine that you are a manufacturer and you have a fault on the production line. In either case you may need to consult with colleagues about what to do. Worse, the longer it takes to arrange such a consultation then the more pressure you are going to be under to take a decision to get the line moving again, even leading to the point where you may feel that any decision is better than no decision, which in turn can lead to taking the wrong decision.

As an interim summary, therefore, we have two aspects to human latency: finding information and arranging collaboration.

Communications enabled business processing (CEBP) is all about removing the latency in collaboration. The idea, which is being promoted by Avaya, is that by having a unified communications infrastructure linked (typically using web services) into your business processes you can automate the process of setting up conference calls or other methods of communication so that you can get hold of the necessary people more easily and quickly, and thereby make decisions faster. As an instance of this, Whirlpool (the white goods manufacturer) has stated that its use of Avaya’s CEBP has enabled it to reduce what were previously 2 hour decision making processes down to 2 minutes. And when that’s production downtime you’re talking about, that’s significant.

Avaya doesn’t only reduce collaboration latency but also information search latency. Last year it acquired the assets of iSpheres, which was an event processing company and Avaya includes an event processing engine within its CEBP offering. This is primarily for the sort of case where you need to know about external happenings that are required to inform your decision making: looking for anomalous events or patterns of events. Avaya is not addressing the event processing market per se and, as its event processing capability is optional, the company would be quite happy to work with third party event processing products when appropriate.

CEBP is about improving the efficiency of business processes by reducing human latency, both in terms of collaboration and with respect to external information. The difficulty that Avaya has is that it has historically been a technology vendor in the telephony space and is now evolving into a solutions provider that also spans IT, where it is not well known. Moreover, CEBP is a new market (there is no other major player in the space yet) and the company has to sell the concept before it can sell its software. Nevertheless, to me CEBP seems of obvious value.