Real-time analytics: Next season's technology blockbuster?

According to Forrester, data insight is on track to becoming a 'key competitive weapon' in 2016. But there's a disconnect — while 75 per cent of enterprise architects want data to drive business strategy, just 29 per cent say their firms are any good at connecting data and actionable outcomes. While data-driven investments should continue on pace over the next twelve months, the real story here is the rise of data science and real-time analytics 'collapsing' to reduce the time from query to answer and insight to action.

There's pushback, however, from naysayers who see a finite limit to the speed of static relay; what happens when data points are so close in time they become indistinguishable images of IT trouble spots or emerging relationships? If you're watching closely enough, the birth of something special: Moving pictures.

Now you see it...

For many companies, it's hard to see the direct link between truly real-time data analysis and the occasional sampling techniques used by typical BI solutions. After all, if you're getting a report on data location and integrity every five minutes, isn't that enough? Why spend on the other 299 seconds?

Consider the example of a carjacking. For criminals to pop the door, start the engine and drive off into the night takes far less than five minutes — two or three at best. If you're in charge of making sure no cars leave the car park but only get a surveillance camera feed every five minutes for just a few seconds, you've got a problem. The first time your camera comes up, you'll see the car safe and sound. The next, it's gone and you have no idea why, how, or who was behind the wheel.

By combining data into a continuous, real-time stream you get the benefit of a movie over sets of static images, which may be missing critical information or misleading your analytics pros. And since solid business strategy demands that you go with what you know, missing scenes in your data may produce less-than-optimal investments or ineffective end-user policies.

Perceptual shift

As noted by Washington University, early moving pictures bore little resemblance to the blockbusters now shown every weekend. In the 1890s, for example, movie 'shorts' — which lasted just 15-30 seconds — focused almost exclusively on showing movement in real-time. Things like trains pulling into stations or people gardening drew huge crowds, with some movie-goers worried that cinematic cabooses were going to leap off-screen and into the front row.

The current landscape of real-time analytics is like these first days of movie-making: companies and providers alike are fascinated by the ability to make data move, as it were, even in short bursts and in isolation from larger business context. Just as the motion picture industry evolved, however, so too the IT Operations Analytics (ITOA) market. The quality of data more than the quantity will soon become a driving factor in effective data-based decision making. In other words, it won't be enough to provide a motion picture of real-time data from various, potentially disparate data sources; tools will need to intelligently select best-fit end-user information to produce the most compelling and accurate data films possible.

For companies, the ability to access information in real-time is essential in order to improve employee productivity and strengthen corporate security policies. Solutions exist today that deliver real-time visualisations in the form of custom dashboards, providing IT departments with never-before-seen levels of visibility and insight into their entire IT estate, including users, applications and network connections. Real-time data helps to reduce risk while ensuring business continuity.

With today’s rise of ransomware and malicious targeted attacks, companies need to be able to identify risks in their environments that – if left unnoticed – could lead to service interruptions, or the unauthorised disclosure or misuse of confidential information. Once having determined the risks, companies must implement and maintain security policies and controls that are aligned with industry and regulatory standards. Effectively auditing and evaluating these controls is paramount and real-time analytics can be used outside of an audit to help companies manage and secure their environments.

This can be a lengthy and laborious process involving the examination of multiple factors such as the procedures, technologies, feedback from users and compiling information from disparate technologies utilised to manage security risks. Real-time analytics solutions provide all this in one accessible centralised dashboard, delivering accurate information at-a-glance and enabling more-informed decision making.

Security at a glance

We are all familiar with police and security professionals using video surveillance systems to capture footage of a thief or wanted individual in action. Images of the suspect are then run through a criminal database to find a match and try to identify the person. Similarly, in the corporate world, real-time analytics can provide companies with a movie of what’s happening in their environment frame by frame, as well as a timeline of historical information.

Real-time data when fed into a real-time analytics platform that uses artificial intelligence and behavioural learning technologies, can determine what normal behaviour is and sound the alert when abnormal behaviour is identified. In other words, the wider data set provides more visibility of potential attacks, data theft or security breaches. Having the evidence at hand, IT professionals can then either drill down on a specific element for more detail, or rewind and go back to when the incident started for further investigation.

Traditional methods of managing corporate IT security are both time consuming and do not provide accurate data in real-time, leaving much room for error. If we consider IT inventory as a snapshot in time, then real-time IT analytics provides live monitoring. IT analytics solutions allow companies to truly understand their entire IT infrastructure by looking at all applications and activity of all users all of the time, and in real-time.

Previews are rolling out for the newest tech blockbuster: data in real-time, driving continuous insight. There's star power here but don't get too comfortable; as the market catches up, look for companies ready to capitalise on a data-driven sequel to first-gen movie magic.

Poul Nielsen, Director of Strategy, Nexthink

Image Credit: Sergey Nivens / Shutterstock