Robin's message was twofold. From a business viewpoint, decision making is moving from reactive to predictive, driven by competition in business to best understand upcoming market opportunities right to the edge of what can be foreseen. In technology, the exponential growth in speed of processors and, indeed, the majority of the hardware infrastructure is driving or enabling application architectures from batch orientation, through transaction processing and into real-time event handling. David provided some interesting examples of how CEP is being used by his customers in manufacturing, logistics and airlines to monitor business events in real time, to react earlier to changing circumstances and to drive process improvement. Their bottom line: CEP is a major architectural transition that is rapidly becoming mainstream; if you're not on board, you risk severe competitive disadvantage.
From one point of view, the message makes sense. It's yet another twist of the screw towards speedier decision making. Operational BI promotes the use of near real-time data either copied into the warehouse or accessed in transaction-processing systems via federated query. CEP goes one step further and says let's access and analyze the data as it flows through the network; we need to make decisions before we land the data on a disk, if we even land it at all. In the financial markets, with the data volumes and reaction speeds involved, once the technology became available the approach seemed like a no-brainer. In financial systems, CEP enables high-value applications such as fraud detection in credit card transactions.
However, looking at some of the applications presented in the webinar, operational BI has also been used effectively to solve similar business issues. The boundary between the more traditional operational BI approach and CEP depends on the required speed of decision making and the volumes of events involved. CEP certainly extends the high-end of pattern recognition and trend detection to higher speeds and volumes. And in the middle range, it provides another set of implementation options beside operational BI.
So, what were my philosophical musings? Robin presented a very interesting scale of human decision-making timescales, from months and years at one extreme to one tenth of a second at the other. That latter number is the fastest human reaction time and, by the way, slower than a cobra's strike! CEP and, to some extent operational BI, operate in the range of decisions speeds faster than one tenth of a second: that is, entirely beneath human radar. While it is clear that some decisions--collision avoidance on the highway, for example--naturally fall in this timescale, my concern is the implications that arise from pushing more and more decisions into this realm and, by definition, beyond human oversight. We've already seen the consequences of this approach in the financial markets, where computer-based trading has driven wild, unpredictable and potentially dangerous swings in the markets. Decision-making algorithms are only as good as the assumptions that have been encoded in them, which depend, in turn, on the knowledge available and the business requirements--both explicit and implicit--when they were created. It is really sensible to design systems that unnecessarily exclude human wisdom?
The current business mindset that competitiveness is next to godliness is, in many cases, driving decision making into tighter and tighter circles, removing wisdom, insight, intuition and basic humanity from the loop. Are we prepared to learn any lessons from the recent financial market fluctuations? And, it is wise to arbitrarily remove more and more important decision making from human oversight just because the technology is available? Just asking...
Posted August 27, 2010 7:05 AM
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