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TDWI Checklist Report // Using Streaming Analytics for Continuous Operational Intelligence

May 30, 2014

According to TDWI's 2013 survey on managing big data, roughly half of user organizations surveyed are already managing and leveraging streaming data that’s generated frequently or continuously by sensors, machines, geospatial devices, and Web servers.1 However, most of these users are today merely capturing and storing streaming data for offline study, whereas they need to mature by using real-time practices and technologies. This would enable them to analyze streaming data as it arrives, then take immediate action for the highest business value.

For example, consider some of the use cases that the real-time, continuous analysis of streaming data is making a reality today:

  • Monitor and maintain the availability, performance, and capacity of interconnected infrastructures such as utility grids, computer networks, and manufacturing facilities
  • Understand customer behavior as seen across multiple channels so you can improve the customer experience as it’s happening
  • Identify compliance and security breaches, then halt and correct them immediately
  • Spot and stop fraudulent activity even as fraud is being perpetrated
  • Evaluate sales performance in real time and meet quotas through instant incentives such as discounts, bundles, free shipping, and easy payment terms

Compelling use cases such as these typically result from a "perfect storm" of desirable data types, software functions, and fast-paced business processes:

Streaming data. The swelling swarm of sensors worldwide (plus the extended “Internet of things”) produces large volumes of streaming data that can be leveraged for business advantage. For example, robots have been in use for years in manufacturing; now they have additional sensors that can perform quality assurance, not just assembly. For decades, mechanical gauges have been common in many industries (chemicals, utilities); now the gauges are replaced by digital sensors and “smart meters” to provide real-time monitoring and analysis. GPS and RFID signals now emanate from mobile devices and assets ranging from smart phones to trucks to shipping pallets so all can be tracked in real time and controlled precisely.

Streaming analytics. The growing consensus is that analytics is the most direct path to business value drawn from new forms of big data, which includes streaming data. Existing analytic techniques— based on mining, statistics, predictive algorithms, queries, scoring, clustering, and so on—apply well to machine data once it’s captured and stored. Luckily, newer vendor tools are reengineering these and creating new analytic methods so they can operate on data that streams continuously as well as stored data.

Continuous analytics. Most analytic operations are scheduled to run on a 24-hour or longer cycle. Getting the most out of streaming data, however, requires analytics that execute or update every few seconds or milliseconds to process each event, message, record, transaction, or log entry as it arrives in case the new data signals a business event that requires immediate attention. In other words, continuous analytics go hand-in-hand with streaming data. Imagine the results of a query incrementally updated with each new event without needing to rerun the query against all pertinent data. Likewise, continuous analytics may rescore an analytic model, recalculate a statistic, remap a cluster, and so on but as efficient, incremental updates, not execution from scratch.

Complex event processing (CEP). Event processing technology has been applied to streaming data for decades, and a recent TDWI Best Practices Survey shows that more than 20 percent of organizations surveyed are doing event processing today in their DW/ BI solutions.2 However, traditional event processing tends to be very simple, monitoring one stream of data at a time. The newer practice of CEP can monitor multiple streams at once while correlating across multiple streams, correlating streaming data with data of other vintages, and continuously analyzing the results.

Operational intelligence. OI is a new form of business analytics that delivers visibility and insight into business operations and similar processes, as they are happening. This new class of enterprise software includes all the capabilities discussed above, but in a unified tool that empowers users to explore data streams, understand business processes (as seen via data), model processes, write rules for event-driven alerts and responses, and create fullblown business monitoring and surveillance applications. When these applications run and respond continuously in real time, you have continuous operational intelligence.

This TDWI Checklist Report examines the user best practices and vendor tool functions for analyzing streaming data, with a focus on those that enable new applications in continuous operational intelligence.

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