Zero Latency. It seems that since Gartner coined the term in 1998, many industry pundits have latched onto it as a catch phrase to describe the ideal new information technology (IT) infrastructure. Zero latency is a concept whose time has come, but what does it mean and can it be implemented?

Simply put, zero latency means that, in theory, there is no time lapse between receipt of critical information and the ability to analyze and act on that information. Such real-time analysis will be critical to the survival of organizations in today's global networked economy.

Real-time analysis requires that business managers have a real-time view of and insight into the performance of business processes throughout the value chains of their organizations. All processes throughout an organization will play a part in that organization's ability to achieve zero-latency analysis capability; but there are certain key process flows that will become the core of true zero-latency IT infrastructures. These critical process flows include: supply chain management, product life cycle management, customer relationship management, workforce relationship management, and asset and financial management.

How do you integrate these diverse processes and information flows to form the symbiotic relationships needed to facilitate zero latency? The key is to build the extended intelligent enterprise (XIE).

Over the last decade, organizations have moved closer to building the XIE by building ERP and CRM systems. Many have made forays beyond organizational boundaries by connecting their employees to suppliers, customers and investors. The deployment of BI has mirrored this evolution; but it is still mired in stove-piped analysis of financial, sales and marketing, and customer analysis.

True market integration analytics require moving beyond the customer as the focus of relationship management and building an extended architecture that incorporates all trading partners – from vendors to customers. This architecture must enable a holistic view of all relationships. It must move beyond the micro-focus of fulfilling customers' needs; it must enable participation by all trading partners in the process of fulfilling each trading partner's needs.

By now, most companies recognize the need to coalesce their data for analysis; but enterprise data warehouses are expensive, take a long time to construct and require a large degree of high-level political support to succeed. However, because of the associated risks and the complexity of data warehousing projects, many organizations resort to a bottom-up approach to data warehousing, allowing department-level groups to build specific subject-matter data marts. These smaller projects – while easier to fund and complete – lead the organization (over the long term) to a series of disparate, nonintegrated systems, thus defeating the strategic purpose of a data warehouse.

The XIE can deliver true market integration by filling the gap between disparate legacy systems and mammoth enterprise data warehouses. XIE development should deliver a modularized set of measurements – starting with the simpler ones and progressing to the most complex – while maintaining enterprise architectural standards. Thus, the XIE offers the ability to develop an enterprise data warehouse in incremental modules while adhering to the structure of an enterprise architecture. This will result in a successful, well-integrated enterprise data warehouse.

How does the zero-latency concept fit into the XIE picture? Management of the key processes outlined in this column requires real-time access to critical business performance indicators to improve the speed and effectiveness of business operations. Gartner has defined this real-time access and analysis as business activity monitoring (BAM). As Gartner states, "At its broadest level, BAM is the convergence of operational BI and real-time application integration aimed at business goals but enabled through advances in IT."1

The XIE is an absolute requirement to support zero-latency analysis and action because it facilitates BAM by drawing information form multiple application systems and other internal and external sources Why? Because BAM is first and foremost a business solution that is supported by an advanced technical infrastructure. As a business solution, BAM enables rapid insight into: new business strategies so that parts of the value chain can be coupled or decoupled as necessary; reduction of operating cost by real time identification of issues – allowing an immediate call to action; and improved process performance.

What deliverables should you look for from a solutions provider? If it is implemented correctly, an XIE solution will deliver: high-impact measurements/dashboards from a limited number of predefined data sources; an architecture that includes an expandable client/server hardware platform, a relational database, measurement application software, implementation methodology and consulting services; and rapid implementation (three to four months) that includes a data warehouse "starter kit" in the form of a pilot that includes the most mission- critical systems with incremental expansion of the warehouse via predefined add- on modules and custom development, ultimately providing an enterprise data warehouse with clear incremental return on investment.


1. Frank Buytendijk, David McCoy, Nigel Rayner, Roy Schulte, Alan Tiedrich. Business Activity Monitoring: The Promise and the Reality. Research Note. Gartner, 11 July, 2001.

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