Business Activity Monitoring Software
Definition: Business Activity Monitoring Software collects data about a
company’s operations in real-time and relays it to employees within the company
who can use it to do their jobs more effectively. In addition to merely passing
along data, it is common for business activity monitoring solutions to include
an analytical intelligence layer which sifts and processes the data beforehand,
detecting problems as or before they occur, sending alerts to specific employees
in response to pre-defined conditions.
A number of distinct Business Activity Monitoring Solutions exist. Some are
offered by so-called “pureplay” vendors such as Systar, companies which are
focused exclusively on the Business Activity Monitoring sector. In fact, the
pureplay players seem to be the exception in the field. Most of the practical
Business Activity Monitoring applications out there come from the leading
enterprise software vendors such as Microsoft, IBM, and Oracle, who, having
sensed an emerging trend in the marketplace, were quick to tack on Business
Activity Monitoring capabilities to some of their existing software products.
Microsoft added Business Activity Monitoring features to its Biztalk Server
suite, for example; IBM added them to Websphere; and Oracle enhanced its
application server offering with Business Activity Monitoring features.
Business Activity Monitoring Solutions often present a
dashboard like interface, offering information in a easy-to-digest
graphical style through the aid of pie charts, graphs and the like. In
this respect, they could be considered closely related to Executive
Information Systems. Typically, end users in the Business Activity
Monitoring pipeline will identify the metrics – the essential nuggets of
information which track the performance of an important business process
- which they consider crucial to doing their jobs effectively. These are
known as Key Performance Indicators or KPIs and will be presented
prominently on the user interface. The visual aspect of the user interface
tends to vary greatly from one business activity monitoring software
product to another. Some use custom-written applications with their own
graphical widgets and windows, while others prefer to present their
information via web-pages which the users then access through a browser.
Many Business Activity Monitoring software suites aspire to go beyond
simply relaying information to executives, however, by incorporating
advanced event-processing features. At the most basic level, these event
processing features may permit alert-triggering when key metrics reach
specified values. For example, an executive may want to be informed when
more than 500 box units are stored in the warehouse awaiting transport.
The software may be able to send an alert by either popping up a window on
the executive’s computer, sounding an alarm, or sending a message to a
mobile phone. Beyond simple trigger events, however, some Business
Activity Monitoring software aims to be able to handle complex event
processing, detecting patterns from a variety of input sources that would
otherwise elude almost any human operator.
Because of these artificial intelligence like features, some Business
Activity Monitoring software may be empowered to authorise significant
business actions on its own, without the involvement of any human
operator, although, of course, the actions of the software can always be
overridden by human mandate. For example, if the software detects a
pattern of fraud in the use of a credit card, it may immediately shut down
authorisation to use the credit card, without prior approval from an
employee of the company.
Another important difference between Business Activity Monitoring software
and the more familiar executive information systems is that business
activity monitoring is not aimed exclusively at top tier executives.
Indeed, because it primarily concerns operational intelligence, business
activity monitoring is often more suitable for managers who are out there
in the trenches dealing with the nitty-gritty, rather than those who are
safely ensconced in the executive suite. Even non-managerial staff can
benefit substantially from a well-designed business activity monitoring
system. To take a hypothetical example, a Business Activity Monitoring
system operating in a chain of burger restaurants could detect, by
analysing transactions entered by counter staff and comparing it to a
record of inventory levels, that the number of burger boxes remaining in a
branch had fallen below one hundred. A visual notification could be sent
to a PC running in the branch, alerting staff there to the potential
problem. With a mouse click, Joe or Jill Burger-maker could order up a new
load of burger boxes from the supplier.
Business Activity Monitoring software is considered to be part of the
general Business Intelligence software landscape. But while some
business intelligence products concern themselves primarily with
analysing historical information to aid in strategic decision making, in
Business Activity Monitoring the emphasis is very much on the use of data
in real time to give operational intelligence. Business Activity
Monitoring also tends to be event driven, meaning that the software reacts
dynamically to events as they occur rather than merely polling information
from the relevant data sources periodically. The goal here is to give
staff the ability to respond to business challenges as they emerge,
nipping potential problems in the bud or mitigating the effects of them as
they are felt, rather than being relegated to doing damage control and
cleanup operations afterwards.
To be truly effective, Business Activity Monitoring usually requires
extensive customisation to meet the requirements of each business. This is
because businesses are highly distinct from one another and what may be an
important metric for one may be irrelevant to another. Since customisation
often involves bespoke IT development, even if one based on a standard
Business Activity Monitoring software solution, it can also be expensive.
For this reason, it tends only to be in larger enterprises that Business
Activity Monitoring software has yet made much headway. To help address
the problem, software vendors are attempting to include easier
customisation options within their standard packages, so perhaps business
activity monitoring will go mainstream in future.