I got another free magazine subscription, this time to Application Development Trends. I finally got onto the “send this guy free magazines” list somewhere.
The current issue’s cover story is on Business Intelligence, or, “real time data analysis”. Though all us jokesters could make the old oxymoron joke about “business intelligence,” there’s some good quotes in the article and it’s accompanying sidebars. I’m, of course, interested in data analysis of a slightly different type: that of system and application monitoring.
Too Much Data
First, there’s the ever applicable point that too much data is almost useless, indeed, can be harmful:
More important is the question of what the bank would do with all that data. Conceivably, if the analyses changed from minute to minute, managers could find themselves overreacting to momentary spikes in traffic. “It’s not enough to know where we are right now,” said Aaron Leaman, project manager. “We need to know where we’ve been for the last two or three hours, or how we compare to the same time yesterday.”
Back in the monitoring and managing world, I found a related paper from our usability guy that provides a few rules of usability-thumb in this situation: only show the minimal amount of functionality and data needed, include advice that helps people interpret the data and figure out how to react to it, and try to related data to actual systems and business processes instead of just the systems components. The last, of course, is what the burger is all about.
Data, Views, HTTP Heresy
Back to the magazine, there’s an interesting description of a tiny, light-weight event listening system by KnowNow:
KnowNow’s approach aims to let organizations monitor frequently changing information wherever it resides, deliver updates and synchronize with Web browsers, desktop applications, enterprise systems and mobile devices. KnowNow’s publish-and-subscribe approach is supposed to let customers easily and cost-effectively connect their internal systems, employees, partners and customers, removing the traditional boundaries of operations and, in particular, ensuring the availability of up-to-date information.
In an example cited repeatedly by Dash, end users with Excel spreadsheets can have a specific cell continuously updated with new data without having to take any specific action themselves. The key to this ability, he explained, is lightweight, client-side code embedded into browsers and applications that enables client/server-like communication, holding open persistent HTTP/HTTPS connections between the KnowNow Event Router and the application.
There’s two lighting the sea on fire thoughts: (1.) using something as simplistic and non-hard-core as Excel spreadsheets for Enterprise software, and, (2.) those pesky “open persistent HTTP connections.”
Integrating your application with everyday business applications — largely, Microsoft products, esp., MS-Office — seems like a very customer pleasing feature. I’m not suggesting piggy-backing exclusively on such apps, rather, just providing a view into your data (or dynamically exporting it, vs. just downloading a static CSV).
I’ve heard that several large companies run their finances and other business metrics through big ass Excel spreadsheets: and, really, who can blame them, a spread sheet is a pretty good interface for pure data, and they usually have a good GUIs for doing macro-scripting. Really, the heart of the matter is to think of your application as providing data to (and, implicitly, collecting that data) to whatever view the customer wants. All too often, the ability to get to the pure, plain text data is made impossible and the customer is locked into the OEM GUI..
That persisted HTTP connection stuff though, that’s pure heresy. But that’s a story for another time.