“Real-time” technology excites people, and has for decades. Yet the actual, useful technology to meet “real-time” requirements remains immature, especially in cases which call for rapid human decision-making. Here are some notes on that conundrum.
1. I recently posted that “real-time” is getting real. But there are multiple technology challenges involved, including:
- General streaming. Some of my posts on that subject are linked at the bottom of my August post on Flink.
- Low-latency ingest of data into structures from which it can be immediately analyzed. That helps drive the (re)integration of operational data stores, analytic data stores, and other analytic support — e.g. via Spark.
- Business intelligence that can be used quickly enough. This is a major ongoing challenge. My clients at Zoomdata may be thinking about this area more clearly than most, but even they are still in the early stages of providing what users need.
- Advanced analytics that can be done quickly enough. Answers there may come through developments in anomaly management, but that area is still in its super-early days.
- Alerting, which has been under-addressed for decades. Perhaps the anomaly management vendors will finally solve it.
2. In early 2011, I coined the phrase investigative analytics, about which I said three main things:
- It is meant to contrast with “operational analytics”.
- It is meant to conflate “several disciplines, namely”:
- Statistics, data mining, machine learning, and/or predictive analytics.
- The more research-oriented aspects of business intelligence tools.
- Analogous technologies as applied to non-tabular data types such as text or graph.
- A simple definition would be “Seeking (previously unknown) patterns in data.”
Generally, that has held up pretty well, although “exploratory” is the more widely used term. But the investigative/operational dichotomy obscures one key fact, which is the central point of this post: There’s a widespread need for very rapid data investigation.
- Network operations. This is my paradigmatic example.
- Data is zooming all over the place, in many formats and structures, among many kinds of devices. That’s log data, header data and payload data alike. Many kinds of problems can arise …
- … which operators want to diagnose and correct, in as few minutes as possible.
- Interfaces commonly include real-time business intelligence, some drilldown, and a lot of command-line options.
- I’ve written about various specifics, especially in connection with the vendors Splunk and Rocana.
- Security and anti-fraud. Infosec and cyberfraud, to a considerable extent, are just common problems in network operations. Much of the response is necessarily automated — but the bad guys are always trying to outwit your automation. If you think they may have succeeded, you want to figure that out very, very fast.
- Consumer promotion and engagement. Consumer marketers feel a great need for speed. Some of it is even genuine.
- If an online promotion is going badly (or particularly well), they can in theory react almost instantly. So they’d like to know almost instantly, perhaps via BI tools with great drilldown.
- The same is even truer in the case of social media eruptions and the like. Obviously, the tools here are heavily text-oriented.
- Call centers and even physical stores have some of the same aspects as internet consumer operations.
- Consumer internet backends, for e-commerce, publishing, gaming or whatever. These cases combine and in some cases integrate the previous three points. For example, if you get a really absurd-looking business result, that could be your first indication of network malfunctions or automated fraud.
- Industrial technology, such as factory operations, power/gas/water networks, vehicle fleets or oil rigs. Much as in IT networks, these contain a diversity of equipment — each now spewing its own logs — and have multiple possible modes of failure. More often than is the case in IT networks, you can recognize danger signs, then head off failure altogether via preventive maintenance. But when you can’t, it is crucial to identify the causes of failure fast.
- General IoT (Internet of Things) operation. This covers several of the examples above, as well as cases in which you sell a lot of devices, have them “phone home”, and labor to keep that whole multi-owner network working.
- National security. If I told you what I meant by this one, I’d have to … [redacted].
4. And then there’s the investment industry, which obviously needs very rapid analysis. When I was a stock analyst, I could be awakened by a phone call and told news that I would need to explain to 1000s of conference call listeners 20 minutes later. This was >30 years ago. The business moves yet faster today.
The investment industry has invested greatly in high-speed supporting technology for decades. That’s how Mike Bloomberg got so rich founding a vertical market tech business. But investment-oriented technology indeed remains a very vertical sector; little of it get more broadly applied.
I think the reason may be that investing is about guesswork, while other use cases call for more definitive answers. In particular:
- If you’re wrong 49.9% of the time in investing, you might still be a big winner.
- In high-frequency trading, speed is paramount; you have to be faster than your competitors. In speed/accuracy trade-offs, speed wins.
5. Of course, it’s possible to overstate these requirements. As in all real-time discussions, one needs to think hard about:
- How much speed is important in meeting users’ needs.
- How much additional speed, if any, is important in satisfying users’ desires.
But overall, I have little doubt that rapid analytics is a legitimate area for technology advancement and growth.