Monitoring : Making sense of the buzz word jungle

Nowadays we are constantly reminded of the virtues of being proactive or more colloquially put “Being one step ahead of the game” when it comes to handling our businesses whether it be a SME or a multi-national cooperation. Quickly detecting or in some cases even predicting, trends in activities originating within and outside the organization and streamlining business activities accordingly may decide between death or life, of the business it’s said. The often touted solution for this problem is implementing a proper monitoring solution which would give the decision makers relevant information at correct time. However most businesses are at a loss where to begin or how to properly implement means of obtaining such insights. This is not surprising given that even the buzzwords surrounding the monitoring concepts tend to be fuzzy.

Whoa.. That’s some pretty serious language (OK it is, at least to me . I consider my self linguistically challenged when it comes to English.). Well I wanted to start with a serious note since we are dealing with a serious subject here right??. . Anyway this says a part of the story when it comes to business monitoring domain. Sometimes the monitoring solutions forced on businesses are just like this. Some serious mumbo jumbo with hundreds of bells and whistles which most of us don’t care to understand. And of course some times not capturing what really needs to be monitored in the business as well. On top of that there is a buzz word soup surrounding the monitoring products which each vendor come up with different interpretations according to their implementations. Anyway let’s get some perspective on some business monitoring key words according to the way I see it.

Let’s monitor some activities

“Business Activity Monitoring” is a term coined by Gartner Inc. which is defined as the “The aggregation, analysis and presentation of real-time information about activities inside organizations and involving customers and partners”. However it can be seen the term is used in different contexts meaning different things to different people specially when it comes vendor solutions. The confusion tends be mostly around the fact on what can be considered a business activity. For example for a business executive a sale of a product will be a perfectly valid business activity which need to be monitored while for tech op guy would need monitoring on the load of the server hosting the sales application. I have heard some people say the latter does not really falls under the term “Business Activity” since that level of monitoring is of no importance to strategic decision-making of the business. But as far as I believe it is no less important and should be a part of a comprehensive

monitoring solution since any high level decisions made would depend on the smooth functioning of daily operations supported by a proper functioning infrastructure (If servers are out sales numbers are going to get hurt. So will the sales projections. Simple as that). It’s a matter of providing a suitable view to each intended user group according to the type of monitoring information they are interested in.

Anyway latter kind of monitoring may better fit under “Operational Intelligence” category of which I will be talking about in a bit. In that sense we can think of “Business Activity Monitoring” as a subset of “Business Monitoring” so that this fulfills a part of the holistic view on approaching the monitoring problem where all of what needs to be monitored in the business would come under a comprehensive monitoring solution. This is one major point where the vendors differ in their solutions. Some monitoring solutions focus on a mixture of monitoring aspects and so their definition of BAM varies accordingly.

BPM – A side kick??

Another difference between various BAM solutions is in the way they are implemented. Some assume the presence of an existence of a Business Process Management(BPM) solution, mostly from the same vendor and so the monitoring solution is tightly coupled to that. While these kinds of solutions may provide better integration in terms of the products in my opinion they lack the flexibility to monitor most business scenarios where no business process management solutions are in place. If the monitoring framework is generic enough it’s a matter of putting required data capturing agents at points of interest to capture and send data to the BAM solution which should be able to correlate events from incoming events. However if there is a BPM solution already present from the same vendor it should also be able to leverage that as well. This way it would provide most flexibility in terms of monitoring requirements.

Key to success – KPI

Another term mentioned side by side with BAM is key performance indicators(KPI). A BAM solution would monitor a set of predefined KPIs and make sure that necessary actions are taken (it may be firing some alerts to relevant parties or even automatically triggering some corrective action if possible) when KPIs are not met with respect to their desired values. A good definition that I found on what constitute a KPI is as follows.

Key Performance Indicators are quantifiable measurements that reflect the critical success factors of an organization. They will differ depending on the organization

So these are highly specific to the organization. Let me give a couple of simple examples on KPIs.

  1. For a retail store a valid KPI would be the percentage of days where daily sales revenue target was not met.
  2. For a delivery service a KPI would monitor the number of deliveries that went 10% overtime than their expected delivery times.
  3. A KPI for a call center would monitor the number of calls which took less than 2 minutes to resolve the problem.

Here we can identify the importance of the ability to customize the KPI definitions according to the nature of the business. While properly identifying the necessary KPIs should be done with involvement of the business management, the BAM solution should facilitate defining business specific KPI definitions.

Intelligence in Operations – OI

Next comes the “Operational Intelligence” aspect of the business monitoring. It is more or less similar to “Business Activity Monitoring” except that “Operational Intelligence” is more oriented towards monitoring day today business activities and geared to find issues in the system in real-time in order for taking corrective actions. I believe technical operations monitoring fits under this description since it involves the day-to-day aspect and the required response times for any found issue should be more real-time. But business matrices requiring close monitoring may well be included as part of “Operational Intelligence” aspects as well. So here comes another word (“Real time”) in to the mix which means different things to different people. There are several levels of real-timeness as per products we see in the market. Some position them as real-time monitoring solutions while others support near real time monitoring and the boundary between these are blurry at best. As with any thing else when it comes to monitoring, the required response time of the solution depends on the context. A solution monitoring a business critical application server may require response times within several seconds while a low volume internal application server may not need such real-time monitoring. A good rule of thumb should be that if it’s real-time expect a sub minute response time while if it’s near real-time a couple of minutes lag at times may be acceptable. Of course the vendors can stretch these either way according to their implementations. So always try to read between the lines of marketing terms to really see whether the solution a vendor is proposing really matches what is required.

CEP to the rescue

Often the response times required by “Operational Intelligence” monitoring necessitates the usage of a Complex Event Processing(CEP) solution underneath which would monitor incoming event streams upon entry and trigger certain actions when anomalies are detected. So the real-timeness of the product will directly depend upon the performance characteristics and scalability of the CEP solution used underneath.

Another type of Intelligence – BI

Next type of “Intelligence” a business want is “Business Intelligence”. Yeah I know there are so many types of “Intelligences” floating around and this is one of the important ones. This is geared towards finding trends in business operations and market environment and coming up with predictions on the business conditions. This is basically a historical data analysis which may pull out data from a data ware house do some ETL operations and run some data mining operations on data to gain new insights on business operations. So these jobs are not real-time rather batch jobs which are scheduled at suitable intervals.

Ok. I think that’s enough for a day. Hope I made some sense out of the monitoring buzz word fiesta. Hopefully this post would be good base for a next post I plan to write some time soon in which I would outline some practical experiences me and our team had while implementing a business monitoring solution ourselves.

Reference: Monitoring : Making sense of the buzz word jungle from our JCG partner Buddhika Chamith at the Source Open blog.

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