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Aligning Operations with Real-Time BI & Dashboards: A Spotlight Q&A with John Crupi of JackBe

Originally published March 19, 2012

BeyeNETWORK Spotlights focus on news, events and products in the business intelligence ecosystem that are poised to have a significant impact on the industry as a whole; on the enterprises that rely on business intelligence, analytics, performance management, data warehousing and/or data governance products to understand and act on the vital information that can be gleaned from their data; or on the providers of these mission-critical products.

Presented as Q&A-style articles, these interviews conducted by the BeyeNETWORK present the behind-the-scene view that you won’t read in press releases.

This BeyeNETWORK spotlight features Ron Powell's interview with John Crupi, CTO of JackBe. They discuss why there is a growing need for real-time information, and John explains how JackBe's approach differs from traditional business intelligence reporting and dashboards.

John it's always interesting for our readers to understand a company's focus and direction. Can you tell us why JackBe was chosen as the company name and then give us a brief description of the company and its product direction?

John Crupi: JackBe is taken from the nursery rhyme, “Jack Be Nimble, Jack Be Quick.” JackBe was founded by Luis Derechin and his brother Jacob about eight years ago. They wanted to come up with a short name that people could remember, but that also exemplified how we would produce products and what those products would be. They liked the fact that nimble and quick was catchy and also something businesses were asking for.

About six years ago, a group of us from Sun Microsystems in the SOA practice were looking for technology to basically put a face on SOA. Back in the ‘90s, we worked with Java and applets in the browser. It was very interesting in terms of the interactiveness you would get in the browser and applications, but they weren't really rock solid back then. They looked like desktop applications, and a lot of them didn't fare well.
We saw a huge demand because people wanted to be able to connect into enterprise data systems using the browser, but the types of things they wanted to do weren’t content centric. They were data centric. They wanted that application feel. Well unfortunately, the market crashed in 2000, and people said let's just go straight HTML and wait for standards to come out. Fast forward to about 2006 when Ajax technology started to become popular. It's a way to use HTML and browsers and standard-based technologies to really have a next generation of application style. We were at Sun, and we thought this would be a great addition to the portfolio if we could connect Web-based apps into SOA-based services, security and governance. It would be a great platform. A few months later, we decided to come over to JackBe, and with venture funding decided to move heavy into the direction of being able to connect into live data sources, big enterprise systems, internal/external, and use the browser and HTML 5 as the application front end. I think we made a good decision, and we released our Presto product about five years ago.

The demand for real-time business intelligence is very high right now, especially in the area of analytics. Could you tell us how JackBe defines real-time intelligence?

John Crupi: That's a great question. We actually didn’t choose real-time intelligence ourselves. We have quite a number of large companies and government agency customers because we connect into so many different types of disparate systems. We don't have a data warehouse. We don't have an operational store. We connect into the live systems, which can include data warehouses and historical information as well as big systems like SAP, PeopleSoft, Salesforce.com, and even social media. We can connect into these systems directly and pull the data and even push back if we need to as data is happening.

Our customers were asking for real-time dashboards. They wanted to see information in real time, and they had many complex systems. There are so many silos in organizations now that it's almost impossible to get the information connected together and see things as they’re changing. When they were asking for real-time business intelligence or real-time operational dashboards, they weren't talking about what you traditionally would think as real-time in terms of financial stock quotes coming in the milliseconds or microseconds. They were talking about business real-time, meaning they can see the information when it changes. Maybe it is just an overcompensation for the fact that they've had to deal with static information or Excel spreadsheets in the past. Real-time intelligence caught on, and we like to use the term because we think it makes sense from a business real-time operational perspective. We can connect into all these systems, pull data as we need it, and connect very disparate information on the fly – information that, quite frankly, a lot of individuals and organizations need in front of them. They may need it in five minutes, ten minutes, or every hour. When you have many systems that are changing, all of a sudden you have a very big changing set of information. Real-time operational intelligence focuses on the operational side of information. If you need to watch it every day, then that's the target. If it's okay to get the information once a day, or once a week, or once a month, we're not a solution for them. There are many great solutions for that.

How would you compare real-time intelligence to traditional business intelligence reporting?

John Crupi: Well, traditional reporting looks in the rearview mirror, at historical information, trending, etc. The real-time side is really connecting into data as it’s happening. I'll give you an example. In the data center, data center operations is a big area where there are so many operational systems that are monitoring storage, networks, and performance. The hard part there is being able to tie it to other systems and information to see the impact on the business. There are a lot of really great operational systems out there, but they don't do, and they weren't designed to do, what we call this operations middle: the group that sits above them that's always trying to aggregate all the silos of operational information, put it together, and attach it to business impact in the form of KPIs and metrics.

There have been many attempts to aggregate all this moving information that's disparate and put it into a data warehouse, but that's not really the purpose of a data warehouse. The data warehouse is the traditional BI in the sense that it still has huge value. But if you want moving data that's disparate, especially if you start bringing things in like SaaS and social media, there's a lot of value being able to connect that into traditional BI and data warehouses to have these new style operational dashboards that not only show you KPIs and metrics associated with your real-time information, but also how it’s tied to historical trending from your data warehouse information.

Let’s talk about real value. Can you give us some specific customer benefits from utilizing your product?

John Crupi: Our customers tend to talk about things such as risk, threat and awareness. Cybersecurity is a big area. If you’re monitoring all your data centers, you have systems and operators who are monitoring patch levels, configurations and operating systems. When suddenly there's a vulnerability, there's risk. The goal for organizations is risk mitigation by being able to react faster to the risks that they have – for example, a flash player threat. If it takes three days for a CIO to see how and where the threat is impacting the organization globally, you can see how that could be very dangerous. But if you're able to see the impact across the organization almost as it’s happening, then the risk has been reduced dramatically. It's really about threat, risk, cost and the metrics that you're tying to operational information and also tying into your business as key indicators.

Excellent. I understand that JackBe's dashboards are unique in a couple of ways – first, from the perspective of data latency, which we've covered quite a bit, and then also from a collaboration and sharing perspective. Would you give us some insight into your dashboard capabilities?

John Crupi: About three or four years ago, we wanted to demonstrate how power users/analysts could provide a self-service dashboard capability. They wanted the ability to be able to drag apps out onto a canvas, connect them together and have full working dashboards. Looking at visualizations of the information from completely disparate informational sources has great value. Not only can you see them, but also you can connect them together. For example, if I click on one element, one app triggers off the other three, and that gives me drill across or drill down. What was unique about that is that we had the technology from a user interface perspective, and we tried to demonstrate it in portals about four years ago, but we couldn't get the portals to behave. They were pretty far behind the times. Liferay was definitely the most advanced, but a lot of our customers had WebSphere, Oracle, and BEA portals.

So we built our own dashboard portal environment without a portal. It's all in the browser; there's no server component. It lives in your browser and you drag and drop. We started showing it as more demoware, and pretty much everybody who saw it wanted it. Back then, it was pretty unique, and we called it Mashboard. Then because of customer demand, we turned it into part of the product and continue to enhance it.

We enhance it because we know that this self-service model is definitely going to be the common way to build dashboards in the future. Here’s how it works. If I'm creating a dashboard, I may be creating it for myself but I may be creating it for somebody else or I may be collaborating with people as I'm creating it. And now what starts happening is you start blurring the lines between runtime and design time, whereas in the past you had design time, you built a dashboard, and then you sent it out to people. Now, I may be working on a dashboard that somebody has built, and then I enhance it and continue to build others right in the same application, right in the same environment. Our approach is truly unique.

That is unique. Could you give us some specific examples of how your customers are utilizing JackBe?

John Crupi: We have customers in the intelligence space, and they actually call it situational awareness where, for example, they’re monitoring the surrounding areas for an election in DC for a period of time to see all the incident reports, social media activity and other things that are happening. They're building these dashboards quickly, taking different types of information to give it context. Also in intelligence community, situational awareness and battlefield visualization are very common. They've been doing things like that for years, but traditionally, they had to go to the development team to get their dashboard built and they had to use whatever they got. Now it's about using platforms to be able to do that from a power user/analyst perspective.

Another area is in remote monitoring of large equipment. This is a space that we didn’t really understand until customers told us that they were having a difficult time monitoring big systems, generators, turbines, and things like that all over the world via sensors. They wanted to be able to get that information aggregated, presented in a dashboard and connected with their other business data, metrics and their SLAs, but they were facing challenges because there were so many different systems underneath. All these systems are specific for what they do, but nothing ties it all together. Now they can use JackBe's Presto as their operational dashboard technology, and it's not just the user interface from traditional dashboards. We actually built it completely from end-to-end – from the dashboard all the way into the data, doing all the mashing of information as well as security and governance. And, our dashboards actually run without change in SharePoint, Java portals, and now in all mobile devices with HTML 5.

That’s great. Is there anything else you would like our audience to know about JackBe?

John Crupi: Well, I think that it's really part of the new portfolio of business intelligence. BI is continually growing area, and enterprises are not going to get everything they need from one vendor. Companies need to be able to take traditional data warehouse technology and leverage that as an informational source; and if they have more real-time and operational needs, they should be able to plug into the existing environments. Gone are the days when a vendor would tell a customer they had to change all their APIs in order to use the product. At JackBe, we play nice with everybody and everything.

So that, we think, is how industries are going start moving into these technologies quickly. Our technology can run internal in your data center or in the cloud. You can literally get it up and running in 15 minutes. We don't care if it's on a physical box or VM, and that really opens up a lot of doors because organizations are looking more and more to starting and running these new efforts in the cloud or running them in a very agile way so that they can start showing value faster.

I couldn't agree with you more. John, it's been a pleasure talking with you today to learn more about real-time intelligence and JackBe.

  • Ron PowellRon Powell
    Ron is an independent analyst, consultant and editorial expert with extensive knowledge and experience in business intelligence, big data, analytics and data warehousing. Currently president of Powell Interactive Media, which specializes in consulting and podcast services, he is also Executive Producer of The World Transformed Fast Forward series. In 2004, Ron founded the BeyeNETWORK, which was acquired by Tech Target in 2010.  Prior to the founding of the BeyeNETWORK, Ron was cofounder, publisher and editorial director of DM Review (now Information Management). He maintains an expert channel and blog on the BeyeNETWORK and may be contacted by email at rpowell@powellinteractivemedia.com. 

    More articles and Ron's blog can be found in his BeyeNETWORK expert channel.

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