Imagine a scenario where a car is involved in an accident. Instead of a witness alerting the relevant authorities, the incident is detected by subscribing software at the city’s emergency service center and other ecosystem partners. First responders are dispatched while nearby hospital emergency rooms, car service stations, relevant insurance providers, traffic regulators and other affected parties are informed and gear into action as well.
This scenario illustrates the transformational potential of event-driven IT. Today most of this activity happens slowly through serial human communication. But with event-driven IT acting as the digital business “nervous system” – organizations in its ecosystem achieve a strategic advantage of faster and more intelligent situation-awareness and responsiveness. A city in this example is capable of fast sensing and intelligent in-time responding to a variety of business moments – from traffic accidents to infrastructure malfunctions, weather events or human emergencies – and as a result the urban environment is safer and more helpful for its citizens.
In the context of digital business, “business events” could be anything that is noted digitally, reflecting the discovery of notable states or state changes. Some business events, or convergence of events, form “business moments,” a detected situation that calls for business action.
Business moments can be triggered by a stock market event, a detected hospital admission pattern, a news item about a customer, partner or competitor, by a popularity spike of a new movie or by a myriad of other events. Recognizing significant business moments early can be highly consequential to a business in its ability to serve its customers, gain market share and compete. It can also serve as the unifying force for a vibrant win-win business ecosystem.
Sense and Respond to Business Events
The more significant business moments are those that have implications for multiple parties – separate applications, lines of business or partners, for example. The more parties that are affected by a business moment, the greater its impact. The more context data and different types of events that are considered, the more nuanced the detection, the more advanced IT’s support for the business, the further the organization’s progress toward digital transformation, and, ultimately, the greater the competitive advantage.
A digital business senses and responds to business events by monitoring social and other event streams, business applications and Internet of Things (IoT) devices. To make decisions and operate in context, a digital business collects and analyzes past transactions and other historical data for relevant entities, such as customers, employees, partners, brands and locations. The most impactful contextual data however, often indicates real-time conditions, and in order to include the real-time context in its decision making, a digital business must monitor current event streams.
The Copernican Shift
Event-driven IT is an essential enabler of digital business. But pervasive, competent use of event-driven architecture (EDA) is not achieved by simply implementing certain technologies or even by adhering to architectural-design guidance alone. It requires a cultural change in the IT organizations and a new way of thinking about information for the entire organization. The traditional model of information management, centered on collecting and guarding business data (data at rest) must be augmented with a new vision, centered on sensing business events (data in flight) and standing always ready to respond to them in business real time.
This priority change amounts to a Copernican Shift in information processing practices: from the traditional data-centric enterprise as a data repository, to the event-centric enterprise as a digital business nervous system; from command thinking to event thinking.
Build a Dynamic Digital Business
Event thinking envisions a dynamic business that is continuously aware, adapting and innovating, where the IT network performs a role similar to a human nervous system, always sensing, always thinking, always ready. This is in stark contrast to traditional IT culture which struggles to marry the long-standing model of the data-hoarding application “stovepipes” to the agility and scale required for digital business.
A business will know instinctively that it’s shifting to event thinking when its strategic reasoning no longer concerns just individual data-centric applications, but increasingly also the live dynamics of business events and business moments propagating across the whole business and its ecosystem of partners, competitors and customers.
This is not to say that event-driven IT eliminates the need for traditional request-driven interactions and data-centric application design. Both are foundational and complement and enhance the other. Event-driven IT also has its own challenges that can lead to higher tactical costs and greater complexity, especially during the early stages of adoption. But delaying adoption of event-driven model of application and business design – increases the future strategic risks and costs. The cost of delaying the risks of digital business innovation, including adoption of event-driven architecture, will inevitably exceed the costs of taking it on. The leaders prepare for that inflection point in advance.
Yefim Natis is a vice president, distinguished analyst and Gartner Fellow, focusing on key trends in application platform and architecture innovation, including digital business technology platforms, event-driven IT architecture, the emerging mega-PaaS suites and IoT.