Is BAM a scam or a score?

You have to give credit to Gartner Inc. It continually coins phrases that capture the attention and often the imagination of big thinkers in the business world.

Memorable examples from the past range from ZLE (zero-latency enterprise), which morphed into today’s real-world enterprise, to the famous hype cycle and Gartner’s magic quadrant. Now Gartner brings you BAM (business activity monitoring).

The question is, Is BAM just a catchy acronym, or does it have substance?

BAM was conceived almost two years ago by a number of Gartner principal analysts, including Bill Gassman and Bill Hostmann, but only in the past six months or so has it started to appear on the radar screen of IT and senior managers.

I spoke with Gassman the other day, and we discussed BAM’s business potential. Unlike BI (business intelligence), which is generally about batching data into a data warehouse and running reports over it, BAM passes off the collection tasks to a data warehouse and sucks out events in real time, according to Gassman.

Here’s how BAM works: In EAI, applications talk to one another through a message bus, called a publish-and-subscribe model. BAM acts as a wild card to a lot of different events coming across that bus. The message bus duplicates the event and sends it to the monitor. “Sort of like a sniffer,” Gassman tells me.

That’s the high-level view. For a ground-level view, I spoke with Jim Cates, CIO and vice-president of IT at Brocade Communications Systems Inc. in San Jose, Calif. Brocade, with US$550 million in sales last year, manufactures switches for SANs.

Brocade is testing a BAM application suite from Celequest. The Celequest solution allows a business user to build a business model to analyze data in a form they are familiar with – an Excel-like spreadsheet. Data-gathering formulas can then be plugged in for gathering data, just as in Excel.

“The Celequest system lets me look at data coming through the manufacturing process. I want to know when it is falling outside our ranges without involving people,” Cates explains.

Celequest gives Cates the data he needs to monitor everything from constantly changing prices to the quality of the components manufactured for Brocade by suppliers. This allows Cates to hook up with static data in the warehouse, compare it against it historical trends, and automatically get results. “Using Celequest, I ought to be able to test less, which can save a great deal of money,” Cates says.

What Cates refers to as testing — reviewing the quality and pricing reports of these outsourced components — involves a lot people; sometimes they track the data religiously, and sometimes they don’t. The more humans taken out of the process, the more accurate and the more timely will be the information, Cates believes. BAM helps streamline that information flow.

But BAM’s big benefit comes when you consider its potential impact on service levels. More and more IT shops are running themselves as a business, with SLAs as the backbone. BAM for IT people provides business service views by correlating the infrastructure with the delivery of a business process. For example, it’s no longer enough to know after the fact that the credit card validation process took 10 seconds; rather, the system needs to monitor the operational time itself, not just downtime. BAM can make this happen: If IT service guarantees say transactions will be complete in 5 seconds, BAM notes when the time goes beyond 5 seconds and triggers a warning. Perhaps the warning also executes a command to another system, giving the process a boost to get the validation completed before the buyer disconnects. Look for companies such as Hewlett-Packard Co. to put this type of BAM right into applications – such as OpenView, in HP’s case – so that the business side can make sure the IT side of the company is living up to its SLAs.