Saturday Dec 10, 2011

Harnessing Business Events for Predictive Decision Making - part 3 / 3

The previous posts on this topic discussed the need for brain-like decision systems, key attributes of such systems and the enabling technology components. This post drills down into some of the common use-cases where opportunity cost of split-second "sense-and-respond" is overwhelming and intelligent BPM systems, or iBPMS (a term coined by Gartner in a recent research report) are gathering momentum. 

  • Financial Services - Payments processing is the bloodstream of financial services institutions. Banks and network providers (e.g. card issuers, clearing houses etc.) are experiencing phenomenal growth in volume of payments driven by emergence of newer payment channels (e.g. NFC contact-less mobile), greater payment types and aggressive drive to reach out to the un-banked population. Hence there is ever greater regulatory and commercial pressure to prevent fraudulent activities such as identity theft, terrorist financing and money laundering. It is no longer sufficient to rely on existing risk and governance systems to do retrospective analysis to detect and identify source of breaches. After all millions of dollars can be siphoned off in a split second and the perpetrators impossible to trace if the crime was committed with a mobile phone. What's needed is the ability to look at all of the payments transactions as they flow across payments processes, identify a rogue transaction (based on business rules or as an exception) and trigger an alert process to intervene a likely act of fraudulence. Clearly there will be a few false triggers but over time, just like our brains, such systems will be able to predict with greater confidence.

  • Healthcare - Patient Monitoring Systems (PMS), especially life-support systems that are meant to keep patients alive in medical situations where one or more critical organs have failed or are likely ot fail. Clearly, speed of emergency response is highly mission critical, if not life critical, in these systems. The premise of such systems is to monitor vital life statistics continuously and trigger alerts when critical thresholds are reached. However in some instances it is too late for any remedial action even when doctors respond without delay to an alert. In such instances precious lives could be saved if the PMS was able to predict likely organ failure or a threshold breach just a little bit beforehand and not after the fact. Intelligent dashboards that integrate such real-time data feeds from multiple PMSs would allow centralized monitoring and pro-active response thereby increasing critical-care success rates. 
  • Public Sector - Governments are expressing increased concern around cyber-security to safe-guard national interests. As more and more, government workloads and data shift to the internet and inter-linked systems, the vulnerability to and cost of breaches increases manifold. "Terabytes of data are flying out the door, and billions of dollars are lost in remediation costs and reputational harm, government and private security experts said in interviews", (Source: Reuters, June 16, 2011). The cyber-security problem has been tackled largely in a reactive manner till date, where security vendors rush to offer fixes after breaches have occurred or vulnerabilities are disclosed by software vendors. For governments such an approach is simply unacceptable. For instance, by the time a security fix is offered the damage could already be done if US nuclear documents fell in the wrong hands. Next generation cyber-security systems monitor both external i.e. web and internal i.e. business processes in real-time and correlate seemingly isolated data points to detect suspicious activity.

In addition to the above industries, we are seeing application of such iBPM systems, in telecommunications, retail and transportation. My colleague, Dan Tortorici, has written an interesting whitepaper on how Oracle BPM and Oracle Complex Event Processing (CEP) technologies are collectively enabling intelligent process automation, continuous process improvement and business transformation.

Friday Dec 02, 2011

Harnessing Business Events for Predictive Decision Making - part 2 / 3

In my earlier post i discussed the workings of the human brain to illustrate capabilities desired of the next generation decision systems in order to harness business events for real-time predictive decision making.

Below is a graphical depiction of the attributes of a "brain-like" decision system, its benefits and the underlying technology enablers.

Achieving near real-time predictive intelligence creates special demands of the technology components, hardware in particular, in terms of scalability, fault-tolerance and capacity (both compute and storage). After all performance is of the essence in building decision systems that operate at brain-like speeds. A remarkable capability of the human brain is that data and instructions are physically part of the same component, called neurons. This is what allows the brain to store exabytes (1 exabyte = 1 Million terabytes) of data and process equally vast number of real-time events in a flash. In fact more than 99% of the data storage, retrieval and processing in the brain happens without even conscious thought. In contrast, memory and processing is handled by separate components in computers. This is why it takes supercomputers that consume Megawatts of energy (for comparison sake, the human brain consumes around 12 Watts of energy at its peak performance) to simulate human brain activity. Now building a supercomputer for predictive decision making is certainly an over-ambitious, if not audacious endeavor, for most businesses.

Given enough time, skills and financial resources it is certainly possible to build such hardware systems. However, this is neither a forte nor a desirable capability which businesses should strive for. After all, businesses have more pressing concerns around realizing returns on IT investments in ever shrinking time-scales than experimenting with their technology infrastructures. A possible solution lies in integrated systems that are engineered from the ground up and not merely assembled from multi-vendor components. The rationale here is that optimizing individual parts is unlikely to optimize the whole. Hence simply assembling a hardware system by self-integrating server, storage, inter-connects and operating systems from multiple vendors is likely to create bottlenecks at the the slowest links in the chain thereby negating any benefits arising from performance claims of individual component vendors.

Oracle has a unique capability in delivering engineered systems comprising of middleware components and hardware substrata to allow you to get up and running with such decision systems while rationalizing costs and mitigating execution risk. If you are contemplating such event-driven decision systems feel free to drop me a note.


A business centric perspective on Private Cloud, Data-center Modernization and EAI.

Sanjeev Sharma
Twitter: @sanjeevio


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