We have spoken in the past about how the promise of real-time Business Intelligence represents a kind of “four-minute mile” for many companies: a goal long considered unachievable, but at the same time a somewhat arbitrary goal representing an organisation’s Business Intelligence capability.

There are certainly organisations on both sides of the “arbitrary” distinction: those for whom real-time analytical processing capability has yet to demonstrate an opportunity with a quantifiable value proposition. In short, itís a solution in search of a problem. But just so, there are also organizations for whom the capacity to provide analytical processing traditionally associated with analyst-driven BI activity would allow them to make quantum steps forward in their field, to solve intractable or labor-intensive problems, or to gain strategic advantage in their markets. The mature BI organisation knows which camp it falls into before attempting the BI “four-minute mile”.

For those companies who can find a value driver tied to effective real-time or near-real-time BI analytical capability, they quickly determine that it takes more that fast processors and the latest vendor offerings to overcome the hurdle. The achievement (when it comes together) is always the coordination of an entire enterprise to overcome each of many separate-but-linked problems. It requires the choice and support of data streams to provide reliable and consistent real-time input. It needs carefully-planned data structures to enable effective collection and then reorganisation of the incoming data, as well as thoughtful and efficient queries to gather the precise data required to make each decision. And of course it demands savvy, insightful analysts to anticipate and interpret the real-time results to guide decision-making. Because for most circumstances, even if systems are advising based on real-time analytics, whether it be act versus withhold an action, go versus stop, change course versus stay the course, surely no such organisation would turn over critical decision making to the systems without an exhaustive evaluation of its effectiveness and safety.

All of this points to an ultimate truth we’ve discussed before regarding BI and how it changes us and the statement of our value to our organisations. That is, advances in BI (such as real-time analytics) never eliminate the need for intelligent, well-trained and knowledgeable BI technicians and practitioners. While advances and changes in strategy might indicate a shift in the kinds of individuals essential to that companyís successful and mature BI portfolio, no innovation so far has eliminated the human component of BI. And dare I say, none ever will.

History bears this lesson out for us, because once Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile, that certainly didnít end the human pursuit of other speed and endurance goals. It simply shifted the goals into new directions. And perhaps this is the most subtle reason why we pursue real-time BI: some part of us longs to achieve it not just for itself and the problems it enables us to solve, but also for the nascent vistas it opens up for us in the form of new challenges.

Mr. Briggs has been active in the fields of Data Warehousing and Business Intelligence for the entirety of his 17-year career. He was responsible for the early adoption and promulgation of BI at one of the world’s largest consumer product companies and developed their initial BI competency centre. He has consulted with numerous other companies about effective BI practices. He holds a Master of Science degree in Computer Science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Williams College (Mass).
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