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Real-Time Continuous Insight with Big Data Analytics: A Spotlight Q&A with Dale Skeen of Vitria

Originally published September 5, 2012

This BeyeNETWORK spotlight features Ron Powell's interview with Dale Skeen, CTO of Vitria. Ron and Dale talk about how Operational Intelligence differs from business intelligence, and Dale explains how Vitria provides real-time analytics over operational and social data.
Dale, can you provide an overview of Vitria for our audience, especially, for those who are not familiar with your company?

Dale Skeen: Vitria is a well-established, privately held enterprise software company. We have a global reach, and we proudly serve many Fortune 2000 customers. Our DNA, what we're known for, is as a technology innovator. We're known first in Business Process Management (BPM), and now we're known for pioneering an emerging market called Operational Intelligence.

For those who are unfamiliar with the term "Operational Intelligence," could you tell us why it's such a key focus for Vitria?

Dale Skeen: Operational Intelligence, basically, is real-time analytics over operational and social data. Operational intelligence, or OI as we like to call it, provides three important capabilities. First is real-time visibility over a wide variety of data. Second is real-time insight using real-time continuous analytics, and third is what we call right-time action, which means being able to take action in time to make a measurable difference in the business. We decided to focus on Operational Intelligence because it addresses some very important business problems that we felt were not well served by traditional software products today. These problems include service assurance in telco, social analytics for dynamic selling and brand management, real-time supply chain management, smart grid management in electrical utilities, and dynamic pricing in retail. These are just some of the examples.

Dale, a lot of people have a definition for real time. What is your definition of real time?

Dale Skeen: Well, we refer to this as business real time. This is not the hard-core real time that’s in your control systems requiring 30-millisecond response times. Instead, business real time is really about being able to react in time to benefit your business. Typically, we're focusing on problems that are measured in seconds and minutes – where a difference in acting within seconds or minutes can make a significant business impact. That’s a soft definition of business real time. I think one of the best definitions I've seen is by Roy Schulte, a Gartner analyst, who said when 15 minutes can make a difference, you should consider techniques like Operational Intelligence, and this is business real time.

Would you say that operational analytics and operational BI are part of Operational Intelligence?

Dale Skeen: Operational analytics is absolutely a core capability of Operational Intelligence. It's one of the three pillars I talked about, and it provides the insight necessary to take the right action at the right time. However, operational business intelligence refers to something a little different and is not part of OI. Operational BI grew up from business intelligence. It’s more focused on historical analysis of operational data. In other words, operational BI is historical analysis of operational data, while Operational Intelligence is real-time analysis of operational data.

You mentioned earlier that your product provides insights based on data and allows someone to take action immediately. How does your product scale to accommodate "big data"?

Dale Skeen: When we started building our OI platform in 2007, we adopted the same architectural principles and design principles that are used in cloud computing and big data frameworks so we looked at their best practices. Specifically, we support dynamic elasticity over a pool of compute servers so you can easily scale the number, for example, of events or the amount of data that you're looking at in real time. We also support a real-time version of the MapReduce paradigm, which is a core capability in the famous Hadoop big data framework.

Could you give us some examples of how your customers are benefiting from real-time continuous insight?

Dale Skeen: Yes, I'd love to. TXU is the largest electrical retailer in Texas. They use Operational Intelligence to monitor their customer-facing processes and thereby improve customer satisfaction and reduce customer churn. They use OI to detect and correct problems early on in order to mitigate any adverse effects and even detect problems before customers notice. That's always a very good thing.

Our partner, MID Business, is using OI to monitor social media for better brand management and for target selling. Also, we have a large telco customer using OI to improve their service to mobile customers, and who wouldn't like better service on their mobile devices?

Could you share with us any ROI metrics. What is the typical savings or revenue gain from Operational Intelligence?

Dale Skeen: We’ve seen customers like TXU have a positive ROI within the first year of implementing it. With TXU, it has really reduced customer churn. As a benefit, they’re also seeing improved customer satisfaction, but it is hard to measure ROI on that. MID Business also saw a very positive ROI within the first year of their implementation. They were able to reduce the amount of workforce required to manage what they call virtual contact centers. They did that by using OI to automate many of the responses that usually required human operators. That was a big win for them.

Personnel costs really drive up the cost of doing business within a large organization.

Dale Skeen: It does, but I'm more excited about some of the revenue gains that our customers are getting.

With big data being top of mind for many companies, does Operational Intelligence help companies with their big data problems?

Dale Skeen: Yes, it does. Operational Intelligence by itself can be used to monitor and analyze big data in real time. As I mentioned before, we have customers using OI to monitor social activity data, which is big data. In fact, it's one of the biggest sources of big data in businesses today, and they do this so they can react to adverse tweets or social activities in real time to mitigate their effects. That's an example of using OI standalone over big data and using it in real time.

Now, OI can also be used in conjunction with existing big data frameworks and tools in a complementary and synergistic fashion. For example, one of our customers is using a big data framework to discover customer buying patterns. They use a Hadoop-like framework to discover customer-buying patterns, and then they use our Operational Intelligence platform to detect these buying patterns in real time. They discover the buying patterns from historical data, and then our OI platform is actually monitoring customer activity to see that in progress.

Obviously, large enterprises already have architectures in place. Does your platform replace existing infrastructure?

Dale Skeen: For most enterprises, Operational Intelligence is a capability that they lack today. So as a new capability, it's not a replacement for existing systems. Furthermore, in our OI platform, we've designed it to extract data from existing applications and systems on non-intrusive manner so that the OI solution does not require disruptive change to existing systems. So the answer is we don't replace; we augment and enhance.

And what is a typical installation time to implement Vitria?

Dale Skeen: Well, of course, every enterprise is a little bit different. However, in the TXU example, we were up and running in about two months. That's very typical for a well-focused, well-defined project.

What do you see for the future of OI? Do you see it continuing to expand across other verticals?

Dale Skeen: Yes, I do. I think we are just beginning the journey into OI. As I said, it's an emerging technology. Up until this year, there was very little market awareness. It was really evangelizing the concept. But I think it's going to become extremely important in the future because it solves some very significant problems. Business is accelerating, and reaction times are shortening to either take advantage of an opportunity or to avoid some negative occurrence. And with these shortened cycle times, more and more enterprises will need an Operational Intelligence platform to be able to react and manage their business accordingly.

Well Dale, I'm very impressed with Operational Intelligence and look forward to hearing more about it and Vitria in the future.

  • 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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