In last week’s New Yorker feature Malcolm Gladwell is retelling the story from David and Goliath finding ways to raise Davids winning percentage to remarkable 63,6%. The subtext is a portrait of Vivek Ranadivé, CEO and founder of TIBCO, and the move from batch to real time as a sort of holy mission.
“We’ve been working with some airlines,” he said. “You know, when you get on a plane and your bag doesn’t, they actually know right away that it’s not there. But no one tells you, and a big part of that is that they don’t have all their information in one place. There are passenger systems that know where the passenger is. There are aircraft and maintenance systems that track where the plane is and what kind of shape it’s in. Then, there are baggage systems and ticketing systems—and they’re all separate. So you land, you wait at the baggage terminal, and it doesn’t show up.”
Everything bad that happens in that scenario, Ranadivé maintains, happens because of the lag between the event (the luggage doesn’t make it onto the plane) and the response (the airline tells you that your luggage didn’t make the plane). The lag is why you’re angry. The lag is why you had to wait, fruitlessly, at baggage claim. The lag is why you vow never to fly that airline again.
Indeed, this example is a good one. But on taking a closer look, you will find out that it doesn’t necessarily illustrate the advantages of real-time-processing. What we are looking at, is a situation in which people who require a certain information don’t have to wait for it. But not having to wait doesn’t mean necessarily “real-time”. It only suggests that the information arrives “in-time” – in the moment the person needs it.
The fact that “just-in-time” can be real-time in certain cases, but doesn’t have to be real-time in many others is important. Especially for all the Davids outside who cannot afford to over provision their IT infrastructure? They have to examine each process inside their organization to identify “the point in time” where they can determine that the business needs a particular piece of information.
And doing this, they will find out that the business requirements are quite different, even in between one vertical. A high end clothing retailer does not require point of sale information to be uploaded and processed until after the stores have closed, so they don’t need constant refreshing of information during the day. A food retailer, on the other hand, may need to take a look at his point of sale information at every hour, because they have to do merchandising and the delivery of goods on an hourly, or half day basis.
Examing means validating. And validating is the precondition to automate processes at the most effective cost point. There is a related cost inherent to the process response time. And there is a related value inherent to every piece of information which is at the right time where people need it.