Enabling Real-Time Data for Business Intelligence & Analytics: The Key to Meeting Market Challenges Head-On

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Winning in today's business world is tougher than ever. Unless companies make better decisions faster than competitors, they are sure to lose market share. The problems facing organizations are challenging and without access to timely, relevant, and up-to-date information, businesses are at a disadvantage. Companies in almost every sector need a complete and accurate view of customers in order to optimize sales revenue opportunities and to optimize customer satisfaction. The economic downturn also means that fraud has been on the rise, especially in information intensive industries like insurance, manufacturing, and retail.

In addition, new regulations require companies worldwide to access relevant business information which can be analyzed and reported upon in a timely manner for compliance purposes. The U.S. Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 - commonly referred to as healthcare reform - has introduced new reporting requirements for service providers. Financial services and insurance firms also must address new and existing regulations. The Federal Insurance Office, which was created by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, monitors all aspects of the insurance industry. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX) has affected every publicly traded company in the United States, as well. SOX introduced enhanced financial disclosures and internal controls for ensuring the accuracy of financial reports and disclosures, as well as timely reporting of material changes in financial condition. Internationally, retail investment advisers in the United Kingdom must comply with the Retail Distribution Review which will be implemented in 2012. This regulation will affect commissions, qualifications, and how advisers define themselves.

Real-time data is the key to success, but accessing it to support business intelligence and analytics can be difficult. When business intelligence (BI) and analytics are combined with real-time information, a wide variety of high priority business challenges can be solved - ranging from revenue optimization to regulatory compliance. Unfortunately, access to real-time information is often difficult.

The new era of "big data" is dramatically changing the way organizations manage information. Big data is generated from diverse sources such as business transactions, Internet traffic, mobile phones, and other devices. In Big data: The next frontier for innovation, competition, and productivity, McKinsey Global Institute reported that the U.S. Library of Congress has collected 235 terabytes of data and 15 industry sectors in the United States have even more data stored per company than the Library of Congress! The enormous volumes of data that businesses must manage have revealed several limitations in traditional approaches to information management:

Many data sources are disparate and include legacy systems. In the banking and financial services industry, for example, consolidation has been rampant in recent years. Yet even after mergers are completed, companies often maintain numerous different legacy systems and information repositories. Unifying these for BI and analytics can be a challenge.

Information often resides outside the organization. As companies use big data for projects like predictive analytics, they often want to incorporate third party information sources to enhance their insights. Some organizations, for example, are using social media data to evaluate customer churn.

Data may be unstructured. Although organizational content like emails, images, and video may be unstructured, it still contains valuable insights that can be unleashed through BI and analytics. Health care organizations, for instance, tend to store large volumes of images generated from X-rays, MRIs, ultrasounds, and other patient procedures.

Information must be integrated across multiple silos. Within a single company, different lines of business may maintain different information systems. To gain a single, accurate view of the organization, it is necessary to unify that data.

Although traditional data warehouses have worked well in the past to support BI and analytics initiatives, they are no longer adequate. The technical infrastructures in place at many organizations cannot keep pace with user reporting and analysis needs. All too often, decisions are delayed because data cannot be integrated and analyzed quickly enough. IBM's most recent Global Chief Information Officer Study found that 95% of CIOs would lead or support efforts to drive better real-time decisions and take advantage of analytics.

In addition, production database infrastructures are not well suited for analytics. Gathering and storing data, while providing real-time access to information for business intelligence can put a huge strain on performance. As a result, users experience excessive waits for reports and analysis may need to be postponed to times when the system is less taxed. In some cases, long periods of time are needed to complete batch updates to data. Consequently, the IT team may only refresh the information used for BI and analytics once per day, leading to stale data.

Real-time integration technology supports timely access to information to support your business needs

As data consumers need to make critical business decisions more rapidly, the acceptable amount of time to refresh information for BI and analytics purposes decreases. Batch updates simply cannot satisfy these requirements. Real-time integration between production databases and a dedicated BI and analytics database is a better solution.

Organizations that implement a dedicated BI database and data replication software enjoy three primary benefits:

1. Access to real-time information for business users. Data replication tools capture just the changes made to the production database. As a result, that information alone is delivered almost instantly to the dedicated analytics database. Since only new or modified data is transferred between the production and BI databases, information refreshes can keep up with end-user demand.

2. Faster reporting and decision making. With a dedicated BI database, users can produce up-to-date reports quickly and engage in real-time information analysis. All of this enables organizations to make better and faster decisions. This is increasingly important in a world where more and more competitors are acting and reacting with lightning speed. In "Creating Business Value with Analytics," the MIT Sloan Management Review observed that 58% of companies they surveyed in 2011 were using analytics to achieve a competitive advantage, up from 37% in 2010.

3.      A cost-effective solution for the IT team. Typically, the implementation of a dedicated BI database and data replication software is less expensive and complex than adding new production databases, resulting in both cost and labor savings for the IT team. This is essential in today's environment where doing more with less is the norm. As McKinsey Global Institute noted in its big data report, the amount of global data generated per year is projected to grow 40%, while growth in global IT spending is estimated to grow just 5%.

As big data and the need for fast business decisions converge, BI and analytics have the potential to create significant competitive advantages. However, progressive companies recognize that traditional approaches to BI and analytics are not enough. Access to real-time information is the missing link. The key to meeting market challenges head-on is combining dedicated BI databases with data replication software.

About the author:

Matt Benati is vice president of global marketing at Attunity, Inc., an independent leader in change data capture (CDC) and data replication technologies.