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Introduction to Business Process Intelligence (BPI) Thursday, September 29, 2011

Spurred on by the need to improve business process efficiency, to react quickly to changes and to meet regulatory compliance, Business Process Intelligence (BPI) is an emerging area that is quickly gaining interest and importance in all industries alike.

But what is Business Process Intelligence?

BPI refers to the application of various measurement and analysis techniques in the area of business process management. BPI increases the quality of process execution through features such as analysis, prediction, monitoring, control, and optimization.

http://is.tm.tue.nl/bpi09/

Some early research papers:

http://www.hpl.hp.com/techreports/2002/HPL-2002-119.pdf

http://www.prism.uvsq.fr/~grig/These/ci.pdf

A practical explanation:

http://www.ebizq.net/blogs/nari/2008/09/business_process_intelligence.php


What is Business Process Analytics?

http://www.wfmc.org/business-process-analytics-format.html

What is XPDL?

http://www.wfmc.org/xpdl.html

Who’s using it?

http://www.wfmc.org/xpdl-implementations.html

Free BPM tools

http://bpmfundamentals.wordpress.com/2009/07/10/free-bpm-modeling-tools/

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Posted by Srinivasan Balram | No Comments
What does ‘Jupiter’ Means for the Windows Developer Community? Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A new, unannounced platform called “Jupiter” may soon allow Microsoft developers to write applications for both Windows 8 and Windows Phone using their existing skills. Jupiter is basically a user interface library for Windows that will allow developers to build immersive applications using a XAML-based approach. Jupiter will allow users a choice of programming languages including C#, Visual Basic and C++.

http://techcrunch.com/2011/08/20/is-jupiter-the-future-of-windows-pc-phone-tablet-tv/

 So what does Jupiter mean to windows (ISV / developer) community?

There are 3 possibilities with Jupiter.  It can be  (A) be greatly successful (B) totally crash or (C) be so-so.

In terms of market success, Microsoft’s mobile/tablet market share in 2012 can potentially reach say (A) at least 20 percent (B) same as today – 5 percent (C) 10-20 percent.

Going forward Microsoft will NOT be developer centric, but “retail customer” centric — i.e. like soap,
toothpaste, automotive or any product that can be bought at a mall. Even if Microsoft were to gain say 20 percent of the mobile/tablet market, the remaining 80 percent of the market is Unix based. So the take away for any Microsoft ISV / Developer for 2012 — learn Unix/Linux ASAP!

What will happen to the .NET platform?

With Jupiter, Microsoft is bringing HTML5 and C++ folks on the same footing as .NET.  So it’s crucial to pickup both skills. C++ has become as simple as C# but C++ folks have the perk of being able to work in Unix simultaneously. Yes, Mono, but let’s be realistic. There is no benefit in sticking to .NET effective Jan 1st 2012 as even F# will have strong competition from other functional languages and Microsoft is not likely to fight functional competition too hard. And like .NET, Java will begin to fade as well.

My guess is given their history; Microsoft Jupiter will  be (C) a so-so in 2012. This is because iPhone 5, iPad 3, Samsung Galaxy and the likes will share Jupiter’s spotlight.

As an era has ended, a developer can’t count on Windows alone to be his/her meal ticket.  Unix/Linux has arrived.

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Posted by Srinivasan Balram | No Comments
Effective SharePoint Governance Thursday, September 22, 2011

Flexibility, one of SharePoint’s greatest strengths, can also work against it if the SharePoint environment is not carefully controlled. Uncoordinated SharePoint Sprawl can prevent organizations from realizing the full potential of the platform. That’s where governance kicks in by prescribing how the SharePoint environment will be managed. Governance describes the roles, responsibilities, and rules applied to both the back end (hardware, farm, application, database configuration, and maintenance) and the front end (information architecture, taxonomy, and user experience).

A typical governance plan establishes:

• Guidelines for site and content designers to provide a consistently high-quality user experience.
• Clear decision making authority and escalation procedures to resolve conflicts and handle policy violations in a timely manner.
• Periodic content and site review processes to avoid unmanaged sites and inaccurate or irrelevant content.
• Quality management policies to ensure that quality is maintained over the life of the solution.

Governance becomes all the more important with SharePoint 2010 and its rich functionality set:

1. “Social data” in the form of tags, bookmarks, ratings etc. that raise the level of user participation.
2. Increased emphasis on social computing leading to more types of content to govern.
3. New records management features such as “in place” records that call for the creation and enforcement of records management plans.
4. Capabilities to share metadata across multiple sites and even server farms needing added planning and control.

What goes into a Governance Plan?
The Governance Plan is a business document with its primary audience being those who produce and consume content in SharePoint sites.

An effective plan should provide a robust framework for design standards, SLAs, information architecture, infrastructure maintenance, and general measurement. In addition the governance plan should reference existing IT policies for topics such as appropriate use of technology, records retention, and confidentiality of content.

A more formal version of a governance plan will include:
• Vision Statement
• Guiding principles
• Roles and responsibilities
• Policies and standards

However it is a good idea to keep the governance plan to a manageable length so that it can be easily understood and acted upon. It is useful remember the quote from Mark Twain, “If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.” At the end of the day, it is clearly not enough to just create a good plan. It still has to be implemented and put in place for the results to show!

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Posted by Vijay Ravi | No Comments
Business Intelligence (BI) Implementation Challenges Monday, September 19, 2011

While Business intelligence (BI) systems can deliver significant benefits, they require considerable, painstaking effort to implement. From my experience these are probably the top three challenges faced in larger implementations (in no particular order):

Challenges Confronting Host Organizations

Resistance to Change
: Introduction of a BI system changes operational processes. Getting buy-in (especially for operational BI) is critical. Also, embracing a BI system often requires users to get trained on and acquire familiarity with a new set of tools. Low user adoption can kill a BI project.

Master Data Management (MDM): Integrating and/or reconciling existing, disparate master data is a key challenge for most large organizations. It may be overwhelming to drive consensus on this, but it is imperative to keep moving forward.

Justifying RoI: Business benefits of BI are often hard to quantify. How do you attribute increase in sales to the insight provided by your BI system?

Challenges Confronting Solution Providers

Estimating for a BI Implementation
: Estimating effort for a BI project is tough because scope is typically difficult to nail down and expected outputs are rarely finalized until the latter part of the project. Prototyping plays a critical role. There is no industry standard methodology, though the “agile” approach tends to work well and ETL is easier to estimate than reporting and analytics. I personally use a complex excel template that relies on several “weights” provided by gut feel and experience. But on the whole, making an effort or schedule estimate for implementing a BI system running out of an EDW can be hazardous! It takes immense courage to make a fixed price bid!

Data Quality: Well known, yet it continues to be a critical bottleneck. Garbage in, garbage out. Enough said.

Contain Scope, yet be Flexible; Deliver Quick Wins, but don’t Lose Sight of the Big Picture: It is necessary for the provider to wear multiple hats at the same time; ensuring that varying objectives are met is critical to this. The client CIO, COO and CFO may have divergent, even contradictory objectives – yet the solution provider has to meet them all! One needs to be prepared for lots of prototyping and throwing away developed and working components.

Related Post: BI/DWH Resources

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Posted by Rajesh Ramaswamy | No Comments
Using Treemaps to Visualize Complex Hierarchical Data Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Treemaps are a growing trend in data visualization and chances are that you have spotted one or two around the web. But what are they?

Treemaps are basically graphic-based information and exploration tools that are especially helpful when examining data in an interactive mode. They represent hierarchical and categorical data in a mosaic form containing embedded, rectangular shapes, where the size of each shape is germane.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treemapping

History of tree maps from the “founder”

http://www.cs.umd.edu/hcil/treemap-history/

The above link also has some downloadable tools for generating tree maps, along with some excellent algorithms.

How to create Treemaps?

Most leading commercial BI tools support creation of tree maps in their dashboards. But if you don’t have access to one and want to play with and understand it, you could do worse than go here:

http://manyeyes.alphaworks.ibm.com/manyeyes/page/Treemap.html

Here’s a good treemap that I stumbled upon recently:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10187248

The interesting stuff on supercomputers is a bonus!

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Posted by Rajesh Ramaswamy | No Comments
The Benefits of Mobile Applications explained by Marlabs, Part 2 Thursday, September 8, 2011

If you haven’t read Part 1 of The Benefits of Mobile Applications, please click here!


The  main benefit of mobile applications according to most people is that they are convenient— a person can use a mobile application anywhere at any time.  In many instances, a mobile application can even replace certain services devices. For instance, several companies rely on custom built mobile applications for inventory management, point of sale operations, or custom email. Mobile applications can benefits every area of a business, though businesses that operate heavily on the internet have found mobile apps to be extremely useful.

Bandwidth Consumption and Server Load


Mobile applications are of particular benefit to any business with a substantial online presence and can help reduce bandwidth consumption and server load. Bandwidth consumption refers to the amount of data (pictures, videos, audio, et cetera) that a website can transfer to its visitors over time, while server load is the amount of processes, or work, that a web server is performing or is scheduled to perform.
Some companies have nearly unlimited bandwidth, but for other companies available bandwidth is a serious concern. Websites that have large picture and video files and thousands of monthly or daily visitors are at the most risk for exceeding low bandwidth limits. Essentially, every time a person visits a website he or she downloads the information on that website to his or her computer like pictures and embedded video content. Large high-resolution pictures and videos can quickly surpass a site’s limits if there is a surge in visitor traffic.

Every business that has a online component including the major brands like Amazon and Apple are vulnerable to server load issues. Sever load is influence by the actions that visitors to a website take; for example, purchasing a product from a company’s online store. Every time a user adds a product to his or her online shopping cart on a website a set of instructions is sent out to a web server which then processes that information and makes it possible to complete a transaction for instance. However, web servers have limitations on how much information they can process at any one given time. If you have ever visited a website during a huge sale only to encounter an error when attempting to finalize a purchase it is in most cases caused by a high server load. In other words, at that particular time the web server is being overwhelmed with requests to process an unusually high number of unique orders.

How can Mobile Applications Help?

mlb_app

According to the specific design and requirements, a mobile application can help reduce sever load and bandwidth consumption. Businesses that rely on the internet such as blogging websites usually pay significant costs because of large amount of multimedia content that such sites host and the high data consumption rates that come with them – in other words visitors to these websites download large amounts of information including: user interfaces elements, audio, and pictures and videos all of which can increases costs. A mobile application working in tandem with a well designed website can reduce or eliminate many unnecessarily large data transfers. A website’s user interface – the design elements that help people navigate the site- are included in many mobile applications, which saves the user from having to download them again on each visit to the site. This in turn reduces the bandwidth and server load that is used by a site’s visitors. Furthermore, since most mobile application are running on devices with smaller screens, the multimedia content that is delivered to mobile devices can be a lower quality than what is available on the full featured website.

Access to Precise Location Data

Most mobile applications today can now pinpoint a user’s location (with permission, of course) by accessing the mobile device’s location data such as its GPS coordinates. Access to this location data can be useful for businesses that offer different levels of service depending on location. Groupon, for instance, offers daily discounts on local businesses for consumers. All of the current Groupon mobile applications now will request access to a user’s location in order to quickly provide users with deals in their area without needed to prompt the user for their precise location. Access to a mobile device’s location data is even more vital to businesses like FourSquare – a service that lets people “check-in” or report that he or she has arrived at a particular business or location-that rely on the exact location of a person. Location data can be used by companies in a variety of ways to improve their business from offering different services, to tracking requests, or simple statistical analysis.

Conclusion

In the end it all depends on the business to decide what benefits it will gain from using a mobile application. However, there really is no downside to using a mobile application.

Photo by Zach Chisholm

MLB logo copyright Major League Baseball.

Baseball team logos copyright the respective teams & MLB.

49VMXAQTZAVE

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Posted by Vivek Ramegowda | No Comments
A Brief Introduction to Encryption with Marlabs Friday, September 2, 2011

Every day millions of people trust their personal and confidential information to computer systems – everything from buying goods and services online to applying for a job requires some amount of sensitive data which could be disastrous in the wrong hands. So how do individuals and businesses ensure that sensitive information like credit card numbers remain confidential? The answer is simple: Encryption, which is the first step in cryptology involves encoding a set of  information or data and rendering it unintelligible, in most respects. Encrypting information begins with something called a cipher – a set of commands that instruct a person or a computer how to encode or “obscure” a set of information. While computers are a fairly new invention in human history, encryption is not; in fact, cytology and encryption was used as early as 1900 B.C. One of the earliest encryption methods is the Caesar cipher – named after Julius Caesar – which involves shifting or transposing each each in the alphabet with another letter according to a certain number. By using a Caesar cipher one can drastically alter any collection of plaintext.

Encrypting Information with a Caesar Cipher

There are 26 letters in the Classic Latin alphabet so using a Caesar Cipher with a shift of 3 means that every letter in the original alphabet is replaced with the letter that is two spaces down thus “A” becomes “D” and “Z” becomes  “C”; for instance, using the same Cesar Cipher with a shift of 3 the word “CAT” becomes “FDW”. Furthermore, with shift of 3 the sentence  “Encryption is useful in everyday life” is transposed to “Hqfubswlrq lv xvhixo lq hyhubgdb olih”.

The Second Step: Decrypting Information

The second step in cryptology involves decrypting or deciphering the information that was previously encrypted with a cipher. To decrypt information a person or computer needs to have what is referred to as a key. In cryptology a key is also a set of commands that will transform a encrypted data collection back into it’s original format; in the case of the Cesar cipher example from before the key would state that there was a shift of 3 and would would reveal that the encrypted string “FDW” was once the word “CAT”. If encrypted information is thought of as a map then an encryption key would  be a sort of or map legend – many maps are  unreadable without a legend – that allows an individual or system make sense of a complex set of information. Understanding cryptology, in regards to modern computing can be a little confusing for many people because of the interchangeability of cytology terms. For instance, in modern cytology the different algorithms used to encrypt and decrypt data respectively are both referred to as a key.

Modern Cryptology Keys

In regards to computer systems there are two types of encryption keys: public keys and private keys. A public key is an algorithm that is freely available or widespread whereas a private key is one that is one that is only available to the recipient of the encrypted information. The two key types are what make the two main digital data encryption methods known as symmetric-key cryptology and asymmetric-key cryptology.

Asymmetric and Symmetric-key Cryptology

Asymmetric or public-key cryptology is an encryption method that relies on using a public-key to encrypt a data set.  In asymmetric-key encryption a private key is generated for the recipient of the encrypted information that is paired with the public key. In order to decipher asymmetric-key encrypted information one must have both the access to both the public key and the private key, which is where the term asymmetric-key cryptology originates.  Some of the more widely known asymmetric-key encryption schemes are SSL and TLS encryption, which are used to encrypt information on the internet such as transaction data. Symmetric or private-key cryptology refers to an encryption method that relies on a single private key often called a shared secret because it is shared only among the sender and the recipient. AES encryption, which is one of the most popular encryption schemes is a symmetric algorithm.

How Encryption is Utilized Today

Encryption is used heavily among both the public and private sector and nearly every business and government uses some form of encryption. For instance, the popular children’s store Toys “R” Us uses TLS 1.0 among other encryption standards for securing their online transactions. Furthermore, many corporate and professional emails and documents utilize a form of asymmetric-key encryption in order to establish their authenticity which is known as digital signing. Nowadays, there are even several programs for personal encryption as well; in fact, both Microsoft and Apple have added encryption services to their respective operating systems.

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Posted by Vivek Ramegowda | No Comments
 
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