First it was personal digital assistants (PDAs) and then it was cell phones… now the world is starting to embrace tablets. We live in a world where we are more “connected” than ever before. Our devices cater to immediate gratification by offering access to our email, the spontaneous purchase from Amazon and even faster communication with texts and tweets. Personally, I am excited that soon I will be able to start my washing machine from my iPhone! Since we’re tethered to our devices, it was inevitable that the business world would recognize the opportunity to improve the efficiency of managing our day-to-day operations.
But how can we leverage this wonderfully connected, always online technology to manage our digital landscape better? To understand the opportunities, let’s think about our daily experiences in our “personal life” with our connected technologies and then draw some parallels to our “working life”. In our “personal life”, we receive emails, texts and monitor Twitter feeds of our favorite sports teams, celebrities or passing interests. When things happen in the world, as long as we are “subscribed”, we can be notified about them.
Doesn’t the notion of “notify me when something interesting happens” carry forth nicely into our “working life”? Imagine being notified that a transaction failed or a network connection was down. The information infrastructure outside your company exists to deliver that message to you in near real-time. We simply need to determine how to do it. Email was the vehicle of choice for years. It was reliable, could accommodate attaching data and logs, and was reliable. Today, texting is the new email, with its lightweight implementation and near real-time delivery. Along the same notion is publishing systems such as Twitter that can take “texting” to the masses by allowing a message to be delivered to more than one subscriber. It is important to realize the delineation between these technologies: email was a “pull” technology requiring the user to “initiate” the process, whereas texting and Tweeting leverage “push” technologies. The advantage is that push is much more suited to real-time and does not require effort on the part of the client. When things “happen”, we are notified. This approach aligns with the age-old business concept of Management by Exception. In other words, “Bother me only when you need my attention.”
So, we have this cool technology; how can we take advantage of it? In an operational system, there are standard “metrics” that can be monitored, levels established so the metrics can be assessed and then finally, notifications to alert us to conditions.
A system that “processes” has a limitation on how much it can process and whether those processes were successful or not. The system also consumes resources so that it can process. If we adapt this model to e-Commerce, we can think of the resources as our inbound and outbound transactional data and the system processing limits as the volume of data that can be processed over a period of time. Now, let’s keep this simple and not digress into the variability of number of transactions versus size of each transaction. We can simply refer to each unit of work as a “transaction.” By knowing the boundaries of the system (the most it can process), we can set thresholds to alert us when certain “levels” of activity are reached. It may be prudent to say “notify me when the overall system activity reaches 80%”. We could also set notifications for “underages”, meaning that a busy system running 50% all of the time would notify us if activity dropped to 20% or lower. That could indicate an upstream data-flow problem such as a network interruption or even a Denial of Service (DoS) attack. Monitoring “Resources” such as adapters, interfaces and external systems is just as critical as monitoring local processing.