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Continuous intelligence promises to improve the pace of business -- and the bottom line

Sometimes changing the name of a product isn't just marketing sleight of hand, rather it actually succeeds in giving potential customers insight into the true purpose of the product at hand.

And so we find Coral8 CEO Terry Cunningham, whose company sells what is traditionally called CEP (complex event processing) technology, telling me that he would like to see that technology called "continuous intelligence," or CI, instead.

What CI attempts to do is to remove the divide between the transaction and query systems.

When you eliminate lag time between OLTP (online transaction processing), event analysis, and the automated execution of a subsequent event, you end up with a very powerful tool.

Complex event processing: Ticks, blips and clicks

Whether you call it CI or CEP, this tool isn't new. It has found a home for many years in the financial services industry, where CEP enables trading houses to track and store in real time the universe of equities, including derivatives at the rate of 50,000 events per second during peak trading hours. With opportunities lasting only seconds, the systems are used for programmatic trading, which allows portfolio managers to set up complex rules for determining when to buy or sell and then executes those orders automatically based on real-time data analysis of the prices flying by.

Cunningham calls this CEP for "ticks."

There are other industries where CI would be critical to improving services, such as energy grid management. Or, think logistics. Knowing where all your trucks, how fast they are traveling, and whether they are likely to maintain their delivery schedule would both improve customer service and decrease overhead.

This growing industry, in which sensors are being placed to monitor devices in the field on a continuous basis, is what Cunningham calls monitoring the "blips."

Contrast this with the way business intelligence usually works. Data is put into the bucket, and a tool then asks questions about that data.

Numerous BI companies say they offer real-time reporting. For the most part, this amounts to pushing the refresh button more often, Cunningham says.

"It is physically impossible to do real-time data processing in a traditional data warehouse. By the time you collect the millions of bits of data, minutes or even hours have gone by, while your business may require answers in milliseconds," says Cunningham.

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