Gain continuous insight to thrive in a social/mobile/cloud world
Mary Forlenza 270001BN8C MARYF@US.IBM.COM | | Tags:  edge_gateway social cloud-computing soa integration mobile esb engaging_enterprise business_integration business_insight continuous_insight big_data
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Guest post by Claus T. Jensen, IBM STSM and SOA Foundation Chief Architect.
These days people invariably mention mobile, social, cloud or big data as “the next cool thing.” But when talking about “the next cool thing,” we should really ask ourselves, why is that important? New business initiatives do not come out of thin air; they are important to the business for a reason. Mobile, social, cloud and big data are all related to the challenge of becoming an engaging enterprise, a concern that has risen to the top of the priority list for most businesses in today’s connected and collaborative business environment.
An engaging enterprise is one that has transformed itself from being transaction-centric to being interaction-centric. A business interaction is relevant to the business and happens (as it occurs) between two or more participants in an enterprise network through systems of engagement that often are not fully under the control of the enterprise. Participants in the interaction range across IT systems, devices and people and can be mobile, on premises or in the cloud; often simultaneously interacting over many channels. Many interactions are not transactional in nature, and they do not represent any kind of contract of commitment. Finally the enterprise itself need not necessarily be a part in all business interactions of interest. For instance, it is important for many enterprises to know and understand what is being said about them in social media, yet that need does not make the enterprise a part in such interactions, but merely an interested observer.
Bottom line, becoming an engaging enterprise is not just about innovating internally with developers on staff. You must find ways to profit from the innovation that exists within external communities—communities that you do not directly control and can only influence. You need to mediate loosely coupled participants, provide location and time transparency and transform unplanned interactions into structured conversation and business insight, thereby supporting the dynamic evolution of smart transactions.
And, therein lies the challenge of this new business agenda. How do we gather and maintain the continuous insight that allows us to always take the right actions at the right time and for the right reasons?
Controlling the Edge as a source of insight
In this new world, we cannot control the development environment as apps will be developed in many ways and by many parties (e.g., agencies and API consumers). Nor can we any longer control the end-to-end execution environment as significant parts of it lie outside the enterprise (e.g, cloud and social). So what can we control? We can control the Edge, the boundary between the systems of engagement outside the enterprise and the systems of record inside the enterprise. And by controlling the Edge, we give ourselves an invaluable source of insight if we know how to leverage it.
From an engaging enterprise perspective what you most likely want to engineer and control are the interactions that are deemed important to the business. One very effective way of doing that is to apply the design principles of service oriented architecture (SOA).
Service orientation is all about is providing well-defined interfaces (services) with clear business semantics and runtime enforced security and workload policies. Whether we call these well defined interfaces services or business API’s mainly depends on context and audience – both are derived from the principles of service orientation, and both need to be integrated with the systems of record of the enterprise.
The Edge becomes the control point for integration
It is tempting to simply say “of course you need to integrate with back-end systems, what else are services about?” But what exactly is the extent of what needs to be integrated, and how do you control that integration when you are not in control of the way the service consumer is being developed? In the world of the engaging enterprise, the control point is not a user interface framework, rather it is the edge of the enterprise – the point where the uncontrolled meets the somewhat controlled.
The notion of an edge gateway to control the perimeter of the enterprise is of course not new from a security and access control point, but edge gateways in an engaging enterprise need to do much more.
Big data for continuous insight
Continuous insight is the notion that, based on all available information, an engaging enterprise can maintain a sufficiently rich state of the world so that true business insight can be gained and relevant action taken.
Those are just three of the questions that highlight the close relationship between big data and continuous insight.
Let us begin by considering the third of the questions, how do you tap into the data already flowing through the business? How do you instrument applications to provide a “stream of consciousness” in a non-intrusive fashion as, after all, many of those applications are developed outside your control? One obvious answer is that you tap into data already flowing through the business simply by instrumenting the enterprise service bus (ESB) middleware that carries all interactions between systems of engagement and systems of record, siphoning off information from any interaction that includes an end point inside the enterprise.
While this does not cover all relevant information (e.g., everything happening in a social community) it does address the major part of the visibility challenge. It results in a big data challenge. There will be a lot of data coming off the instrumentation of the ESB, and you will likely want to use it in many different ways, such as to:
A common thread through all of these is the desire to become progressively more predictive, which in turn requires giving up the notion of certain truth.
An engaging enterprise will have to deal in probability and risk as part of doing business. Furthermore, an engaging enterprise will have to deal with the four V’s of big data (which is more than just big):
Handling the 4 V’s of big data
So how do you access and control those disparate information sources? And how do you compose different kinds of insight for strategic advantage? Once again you apply the good design principles of SOA.
Big data must partner with SOA
By exposing both information streams and analytical capabilities as well defined services, you create desirable loose couplings between the information source, the analytical engine and the business application needing the business insight. So look for technology capabilities that mix big data and SOA, rather than always relying on traditional data warehouse approaches.
As an engaging enterprise moves from connecting and mediating in an IT transaction context to connecting and mediating people and devices, so does that same enterprise in an information context move from focusing on transactional payload to focusing on deriving and leveraging business insight.
SOA does not create insight, but SOA does help apply insight in the right way, at the right time and in the right place. SOA also helps collect evidence on what is going on in the operational environment and can help capture business outcomes. In addition to what can be supplied by SOA, most business analytics use cases need the ability to collate and reconcile information, an ability provided by Master Data Management solutions. Beyond Master Data Management, the most advanced business insight solutions may even need specialist information providers; an analysis is only as good as the information that it is based upon. SOA is not a substitute for information management capabilities, rather it is the blend of SOA and information management that unlocks the full potential of insight at the Edge.
For more information, attend the InformationWeek and Dr. Dobbs webcast, "Beyond Agile – 5 Secrets to Building Engaging Customer Apps", with IBM Fellow Jerry Cuomo. In addition, read the white paper, "The new business of technology: Extend, transact and optimize".
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