Monitoring the business gets easier

If you've never heard of business activity monitoring, don't worry, you will. Coined last year by analyst firm Gartner, BAM could be the IT tonic you never knew your business needed.

BAM, uniquely, monitors ODBC-compliant data across applications, formats and systems, and can sometimes analyse email. This promises close-to-real-time insight into systems and business processes via a dashboard-type user interface.

The big problem, as ever, says Gartner Asia-Pacific research director Greta James, is the quality of data. The task of cleaning up company data is "always underestimated", she says.

Vendors offering BAM tend to fall into two categories, says James, "pure plays" and larger firms, often ones specialising in EAI - enterprise application integration software. Whether the EAI giants roll over the specialists in this immature market remains to be seen, but James, who has a background in managing system architectures, predicts "a wave of mergers and acquisitions". Broader-range vendors like IBM, Microsoft and Oracle are not blind to the market, and neither are Sybase, EAI vendors Tibco and webMethods or business intelligence specialist Cognos. WebMethods and analytics firm Informatica recently signed a deal to co-operate on sales and products around BAM.

One smaller pure play BAM software vendor, Massachusetts-based Vineyardsoft, sells KnowledgeSync through local customer management software specialist The Integrators. Vineyardsoft is not on Gartner's radar screen but James notes that the nimbleness and innovation of pure plays means they can often act and react faster than the competition.

The Integrators claims several customers for KnowledgeSync, who weren't keen to be named, and says it uses it extensively internally to answer queries, schedule events, commission reports and identify sales opportunities, utilising multiple fields and exceptions. "We use it to alert us to projects going over time, support tickets arriving or getting too old, staff whose timesheets are not complete and so on," says Wellington-based Paul Roussell, a director of the firm.

The Windows-based KnowledgeSync, which plugs into the company's SalesLogix customer management system but could be used with any financial or enterprise software, has scripting ability. That means it could be set to actually remedy irregular situations, though at the moment it is mostly used to send HTML message alerts to a variety of devices. Roussell says BAM could save IT managers building customised systems to alert or report on issues they think might be relevant to a business head.

BAM products can, for example, set in place chains of response by analysing the content of web queries, monitor helpdesks for stale tickets or ping company websites to make sure they are not down.

Roussell says his company's product costs between NZ$4800 and NZ$12,000 plus support costs depending on the number of connections - data sources. Half a day's training will bring users to a fast enough speed that they can build a query via a wizard-driven interface, he says.

Gartner's James says the cheapness of getting into the game is seductive, but getting quality data is harder. And refrain from trying to do too much too fast, she says. "Don't try to boil the ocean."

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