The Perils and Promise of Real-Time Data

As the demand for real-time data increases, as more and more information flows into the enterprise and its systems, the challenge of understanding and managing it grows proportionately. And sometimes, more is just too much.

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Though this wasn't what one could call true real-time data, it was as close to real-time as Heineken had ever seen. But not everyone liked what they saw. "People didn't have a lot of faith in it," Schillat recalls, because they were still receiving their good old monthly feeds, and the two sets of numbers didn't always jibe with each other.

Since then, Schillat and the business users have been working to design new processes to accommodate faster data streams. But there's much more work to be done to deal with the users' training and development, and with figuring out just what data is most appropriate and actionable and how business users should respond.

Game-Planning for Real-Time

That, of course, is a key part of the CIO's job, no matter the system or project: facilitating a conversation about what the business truly needs, and where and when real-time, near-real-time or right-time data feeds are appropriate.

"This is not something the business can have a couple of meetings about, define and outsource to the IT department," says Accenture's Bell. "It's a conversation about the source of data and how you use it, and what may be absolutely ideal will be completely different in 12 to 18 months' time. It's a continuous conversation."

AMR's Hagerty advises CIOs to ask these questions: How do people manage information flow in their part of the business? Do people really need real-time everything or just frequent refreshes? How should IT respond to support the business's data needs?

"You need to rationalize this up front," Hagerty says. "When someone says, 'I need real-time data,' IT should ask: 'What are you going to do with it?' Sometimes business users don't like that, but IT needs to know."

In the end, real-time data is only as good as the uses it's put to and the processes that support its use.

"I don't think there's danger in trying to achieve [a real-time environment]," says Delta Apparel's Smith. "But you could easily spend a lot of money trying to get to that candy in the sky, and then realize that the information overload is too great.

"Not all people understand the impact of real-time information."

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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