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December 19, 2011

Making action a strategic part of your organisation’s DNA

Actian (formerly Ingres Corp) has launched a cloud development platform for building Action Apps, which the firm says are lightweight consumer-style applications that automate business actions triggered by real-time changes in data. Here, CEO, Steve Shine explains the company's belief in making action a strategic part of an organisation's DNA

By Cbr Rolling Blog

Imagine a business where you act on all the data events that are important at the right time to have an impact. Good customers become ecstatic customers.

You buy stuff at the best price. You catch the risky transaction before it gets out of hand. You stay three steps ahead of your competition and close more deals because you seize the opportunity before anyone else.

Imagine a business where the tools to achieve this are in the hands of business users without the need for training or queuing at the IT project bottleneck that exists in most organisations today.

I know of few organisations that do this today. Streams of data flow by un-actioned. Yet the rewards are huge and available today. And they get bigger as we move into the era of ‘big data’. Big data is made up of small data. Lots of it. And hidden in that small data are the gems that can be turned into business results. If only we could take action, in time, all the time.

I recently boarded a plane from London to San Francisco. As I took my seat the lead stewardess came up to me, welcomed me by name and congratulated me on my new promotion.

Two days earlier I had been promoted to the position of CEO at Actian. I fly all the time and I am familiar with them welcoming me when I board. But I was surprised (and have to admit impressed) that they somehow made the link to my promotion and forwarded that information to the stewardess in time for my flight.

I can only assume they have set up some sort of correlation between their own frequent flyer data and external data, perhaps my LinkedIn account or a press release.

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It was a small, and some might say irrelevant, incident, but to me it is a harbinger of what we should all be doing to boost productivity, improve customer loyalty and mitigate risk.

Every competent employee I have ever met knows what pieces of information are relevant and important to their day-to-day business. They also have a good idea about what additional information would enhance visibility into events. Through their years of experience they just ‘know’ what an important event is and also what they should do about it.

And this learning develops every day. As their business changes, they adapt their thresholds on what is important and what actions to take.

Yet here is the strange thing: as the march of process automation has swept through the world, and the pace of information has increased exponentially, all of these employees feel less connected than ever to the events that happen around them. It all happens ‘somewhere in the systems’ or even ‘in the cloud’.

More often than not, if an important customer engages with their business or has an issue with their products or services, the reaction is often too late or not at all. The opportunity to treat a special customer with individual attention is missed or their cries for help are heeded too late.

I believe the vast majority of the opportunities to have both small and sometimes very big impacts on our business just pass us by because we are too late or we miss it altogether.

Today, the IT industry has trained its guns on big data. If you can harness all that data, somewhere out there is the insight that will help you reinvent yourself and leapfrog your competitors. A laudable and potentially game-changing set of goals.

But are we looking too far into the horizon and ignoring the even larger opportunity that is right under our nose today? Let me introduce the concept of the Action-Enabled Enterprise.

Many of us lived through the waves of innovation and productivity enhancements through generational programmes such as Business Process Reengineering (BPR) and e-Business. These were board-level initiatives.

Just as BPR redefined the way we looked at the processes that ran through our organisations and up and down the supply chain, and e-Business strategies focused on how to integrate, and in some instances reinvent how we leveraged the Internet, I believe the Action-Enabled Enterprise is the next ‘must do’ programme in this tough, competitive world. The Action-Enabled Enterprise will be tomorrow’s leader.

Even today, most organisations are building systems to react to data events. The demand for these systems is huge and growing as more data comes into play. Unfortunately, this demand is queued up at the IT project sausage machine and each one is built from scratch and takes months to deliver, by which time the user’s needs have moved on.

To make action a core capability of your organisation, you need a platform to enable your business users to build their own action-focused applications that need no training and can be set up from anywhere including their smartphone.

The basis of an Action-Enabled Enterprise is three simple but powerful capabilities put in the hands of your team.

1. Give them easy access to data
Make it as easy as finding a song on the new streaming music services such as Spotify and Pandora. If it needs training, it’s not designed right. Make sure the platform allows you to expand the list of data sources to include external as well as internal data (remember my profile data in LinkedIn?).

2. Let them decide and experiment about what is an important event
Who knows what the right data combinations are that create a powerful event? Actually, your teams do, and they will soon find others if you give them the tools to explore. Start with the low-hanging fruit such as top 20 customers, Priority 1 support issues, deals this quarter, etc. Over time you can develop a library of ‘event triggers’ that get more and more sophisticated to include powerful predictive algorithms, facial recognition and statistical analytics.

3. Let them decide what actions to take
It can be simple alerts, such as an email or SMS message with the relevant detail, to more complicated automatic transactions initiating business actions, such as a purchase, a sale, a workflow kick-off, etc. Once again, over time, this list of actions can grow as your action-enabled business becomes more sophisticated.

Obviously, the platform needs to be fast and scalable. It needs to handle big data, and people want to know the data is being actioned at the right time – always on, always looking for those important events.

Just like BPR and e-commerce IT investments, it all starts with a board commitment to make process, e-commerce and, in this case, action, a strategic part of your business DNA.

I can’t help but think that, if we all get this right, we are going to see productivity uplift and new customer experiences that will redefine leading businesses. And this prize is here today for the taking. We just need to incite action!

At Actian we are building out this platform in the cloud (on premise and public) to help organisations on the path towards becoming Action-Enabled Enterprises. Action Apps are the tools in the hands of the business users.

Steve Shine is CEO of Actian. He moved to Actian from Sybase where he was senior vice president and general manager for EMEA, overseeing all operational, sales, financial and human resources in the region. While at Sybase, he managed 500 employees, charting more than 50% growth in the Business Intelligence market. Prior to Sybase, he was at Canadian-based Geac Computer Corporation for 10 successful years, helping to turn around two major global divisions for the ERP firm.

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