TUCON: BPM with Spotfire Analytics

Lars Bauerle and Brendan Gibson of TIBCO showed us how Spotfire analytics are being integrated with data from iProcess to identify process improvement. I hadn’t seen Spotfire in any detail before the demo that I saw on Tuesday, and it’s a very impressive visualization and analysis tool; today, they showed iProcess process runtime data copied and pasted from Excel into Spotfire, but it’s not clear that they’ve done a real integration between the iProcess process statistics and Spotfire. Regardless, once you get the data in there, it’s very easy to do aggregations on the fly then drill into the results, comparisons of portions of the data set, and filtering by any attributes. You can also define KPIs and create dashboard-style interfaces. Authoring and heavy-duty analysis are done using an installed desktop application with (I believe) a local in-memory engine, but light-weight analysis can be done using a zero-install web client and all analysis done on the server.

In addition to local data, it’s possible to link directly from enterprise databases into the Spotfire client, which effectively gives the Spotfire user the ability to do queries to bring data into the in-memory engine for visualization and analysis — in other words, there doesn’t appear to be any technical barriers to establishing a link to the statistics in an iProcess engine. They showed a model of data flowing from the iProcess server to a data mart, which would then be connected to Spotfire; realistically, you’re not going to let your analytics hit your production process engine directly, so this makes sense, although there can be latency issues with this model. It’s not clear if they provide any templates for doing this and for some standard process analytics.

They did a demo of some preconfigured analytics pages with process data, such as cases in progress and missed SLAs, showing what this could look like for a business manager or knowledge worker. Gibson did refer to "when you refresh the data from the database" which indicates that this is not real-time data, although it could be reasonably low latency depending on the link between iProcess and the data mart, and client refresh frequency.

Then, the demo gods reared their heads and Spotfire froze, and hosed IE with it. Obviously, someone forgot to do the animal sacrifice this morning…

They went to questions while rebooting, and we found out that it’s not possible to stream data in real-time to Spotfire (as I suspected from the earlier comments); it needs to load data from a data source into its own in-memory engine on a periodic basis. In other words, you’re not going to use this as a real-time monitoring dashboard, but as an advanced visualization and analytics tool.

Since this uses an in-memory engine for analytics, there are limitations based on the physical memory of the machine doing the processing, but Spotfire does some smart things in terms of caching to disk, and swapping levels of aggregation in and out as required. However, at some point you’re going to have to consider loading a subset of your process history data via a database view.

There was a question about data security, for example, if a person should only be able to drill down on their own region’s data; this is done in Spotfire by setting permissions on the queries underlying the analysis, including row-level security.

iProcess Analytics is being positioned as being for preconfigured reporting on your process data, whereas Spotfire is positioned for ad hoc analysis and integration with other data sets.

Spotfire could add huge value to iProcess data, but it appears that they don’t quite have the whole story put together yet; I’m looking forward to seeing how this progresses, some real world case studies when customers start to use it, and the reality of what you need to do to preprocess the ocean of process data before loading it into Spotfire for analysis.

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