Monday, March 07, 2011

TIBCO platform for organizational intelligence

By adding tibbr to its established software portfolio, TIBCO has now extended its range of organizational intelligence technologies. Last week I spoke with Stefan Farestam of TIBCO to discuss the present and future prospects for TIBCO customers linking these technologies together in interesting ways.

We talked about three main technology areas: Complex Event Processing (CEP), Business Process Management (BPM) and Enterprise 2.0. For TIBCO at least, these technologies are at different stages of adoption and maturity. TIBCO's CEP and BPM tools have been around for a while, and there is a fairly decent body of experience using these tools to solve business problems. Although the first wave of deployment typically uses each tool in a relatively isolated fashion, Stefan believes these technologies are slowly coming together, as customers start to combine CEP and BPM together to solve more complex business problems.

Much of the experience with CEP has been in tracking real-time operations. For example, telecommunications companies such as Vodafone can use complex event processing to monitor and control service disruptions. This is a critical business concern for these companies, as service disruptions have a strong influence on customer satisfaction and churn. CEP is also used for autodetecting various kinds of process anomalies, from manufacturing defects to fraud.

One of the interesting things about Business Process Management is that it operates at several different tempi, with different feedback loops.
  • A modelling and discovery tempo, in which the essential and variable elements of the process are worked out. Oftentimes, full discovery of a complex process involves a degree of trial and error.
  • An optimization and fine-tuning tempo, using business intelligence and analytics and simulation tools to refine decisions and actions, and improve business outcomes.
  • An execution tempo, which applies (and possibly customizes) the process to specific cases.

The events detected by CEP can then be passed into the BPM arena, where they are used to trigger various workflows and manual processes. This is one of the ways in which CEP and BPM can be integrated.

Social software and Enterprise 2.0 can also operate at different tempi - from a rapid and goal-directed navigation of the social network within the organization to a free-ranging and unplanned exploration of business opportunities and threats. TIBCO's new product tibbr is organized around topics, allowing and encouraging people to develop and share clusters of ideas and knowledge and experience.

Curiously, the first people inside TIBCO to start using tibbr were the finance people, who used it among other things to help coordinate the flurry of activity at quarter end. (Perhaps it helped that the finance people already shared a common language and a predefined set of topics and concerns.) However, the internal use of tibbr within TIBCO has now spread to most other parts of the organization.

The organization of Enterprise 2.0 around topics appears to provide one possible way of linking with CEP and BPM. A particularly difficult or puzzling event (for example, a recurrent manufacturing problem) can become a topic for open discussion (involving many different kinds of knowledge), leading to a coordinated response. The discussion is then distilled into a resource for solving similar problems in future.

TIBCO talks a great deal about "contextually relevant information", and this provides a common theme across all of these technologies. It helps to think about the different tempi here. In the short term, what counts as "contextually relevant" is preset, enabling critical business processes and automatic controls to be operated efficiently and effectively. In the longer term, we expect a range of feedback loops capable of extending and refining what counts as "contextually relevant".

  • On the one hand, weak signals can be detected and incorporated into routine business processes. Wide-ranging discussion via Enterprise 2.0 can help identify such weak signals.
  • On the other hand, statistical analysis of decisions can determine how much of the available information is actually being used. Where a particular item of information appears to have no influence on business decisions, its contextual relevance might need to be reassessed.
 The adoption of Enterprise 2.0 within the enterprise raises different challenges to the adoption of CEP and BPM. One reason for this is the tricky question of critical mass. Whereas it is possible to conduct a meaningful pilot for CEP or BPM in a small part of the business, it is much harder to get a sense of how Enterprise 2.0 tools will work across the enterprise from a small pilot, and much harder to see concrete return on investment. However, many of TIBCO's customers already have an objective to implement some form of Enterprise 2.0, and the demand is simply to satisfy this objective in the most effective way.

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