How real is real-time?

The word ‘real-time’ is used often to describe the ability to get information in the moment: A manager pulls up a sales report that shows what happened over the business day or in the past hour. Maybe the manager looks periodically at the cashier price overrides to make sure nothing is outside the norm.

Real-time in these cases means the ability to see what’s happening up to the present. No manager would stand over the cashier’s shoulder to see each override or watch each sale, so instead they look at reports and dashboards and call it real-time. This isn’t very real-time and isn’t very actionable.

Getting real

But thanks to the internet, mobile and an explosion of devices and sensors that throw out data, the volume, velocity and variety of data is making this ‘over the shoulder’ view of information obsolete.

A major retailer is able to make an offer to a customer during the short span of a checkout. Behind the scenes, the system checks inventories, buying preferences and a pick list of offers in seconds. A major bank can cross sell or up sell its products offer products based transaction history at the teller window or, soon, at the ATM. Beyond customer offers, shipping choices, inventory distribution and automatic reorders are all moving to a new definition of real-time.

Why now?

Because several things happened in recent years that changed everything. For one, RAM memory, the kind computers use for running an application (and not for storage), became much cheaper. At the same time, network speeds increased and Cloud became a way to distribute data and processing rather than using super-powerful (and super-expensive) computers. The net effect was that enormous amounts of data can now be held in RAM, the temporary memory where patterns can be matched and calculations performed ‘on the fly’ across multiple instances of commodity software. It represents a whole new way to sell and compete.

Gartner’s expert on in-memory computing, Massimo Pezzini put it this way in March 2012, “In-memory will have an industry impact comparable to web and cloud.”

For some, this is ‘Big Data’, but that term is inadequate when explaining the in-the-moment computing, pattern matching and instant responses that make up real ‘real-time’. If your organization has an over-the-shoulder view of business, time to get real…time.


Tags: , ,

Categories: Data Analytics / Big Data, Real-time

Author:Chris Taylor

Reimagining the way work is done through big data, analytics, and event processing. There's no end to what we can change and improve. I wear myself out...

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7 Comments on “How real is real-time?”

  1. July 3, 2012 at 12:49 pm #

    Chris, nice post. I would agree that the move to in memory computing will have a tremendous disruptive impact. Smart companies are just starting to get their arms around it. My sense is that we are at the beginning of this thing and that new apps (as well as new processes around how companies work in real time) will start to spring up.

  2. Tom Bellinson
    July 3, 2012 at 1:39 pm #

    Chris, on top of in-memory computing, you have drive arrays that keep getting faster and solid state drives that keep getting bigger. Coupled with ever increasing bus speeds that move the data between these devices and working memory, none of your data is ever more than a second away.

    From a management perspective, this is going to up the ante on the need to manage by exception. CXO may change from the generic term for a “C” level executive to “Chief Exception Officer.” Whether it’s a customer offer or a process breakdown, big data is all about creating signals that can trigger our attention at the right time.

  3. July 5, 2012 at 4:38 am #

    To me, all that computing power is awesome. I love to see it used in a predictive way. I track metrics at several of my companies on a chart in what we call our “war room”. I would LOVE it if our “predictive metrics” could be tied into an ap so I could check on how the month or quarter were shaping up by glancing at an ap on my smartphone. Anyone heard of such an ap?

    • July 5, 2012 at 4:42 am #

      Bob, the challenge is that any app built to do something like that is quickly made obsolete by the latest and greatest innovations. What I recommend is paying close attention to a powerful infrastructure that can quickly be configured to serve purpose-built apps that come and go. We’re entering the age of the disposable app and the powerful infrastructure.


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