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In an emerging BAM world, FirstRain wants to last

There are certain limitations to the traditional data warehouse-oriented type of business intelligence. For instance, a call center manager can rely on traditional BI software to look at historical trends and find out when to expect high volumes. But if they wanted to be alerted the moment call volumes exceeded a certain threshold, and then drill down to see if it were common for this time of season, they would need something more sophisticated.

That sophistication is now available via an emerging category of software known as Business Activity Monitoring (BAM). BAM helps companies discover, extract, classify and route information to employees who need it, when they need it. It differs from classical BI in that it enables companies to compare real-time data to historical trends.

Last week, New York City-based FirstRain (http://www.firstrain.com) announced Version 2.0 of its BAM platform, which consists of tools that can find and bring new data and event sources into the BAM environment, and then link this intelligence to other corporate applications.

According to Gaurav Rewari, CEO at FirstRain, a lot of end users are like the aforementioned call center manager. ''They need the kind of BI that comes from constant monitoring of operational systems in real-time.'' Some of FirstRain's 15 customers (Rewari said he expects to have 60 customers by year's end) are people who never needed to access reporting tools before. These people now use BAM software to keep them up to date on key events, through channels such as e-mail, pagers, hand-held devices or personalized Web-based portals that the company refers to as portlets.

As Rewari sees it, BAM software overcomes some of the limitations of the Internet. ''Right now, the Internet is a one-way bus,'' he noted. ''With HTTP, I can go to CNN.com in the morning and log back in at the end of the day. But in between, if something of interest happens, CNN has no way to let me know that.''

BAM Platform 2.0 allows users to do this through its eventServer component, a piece of middleware that employs a publish-subscribe messaging system to route personalized content to users. The other three components are viewServer, which enables users to extract applications or content and reuse them as portlets, mobile apps or even Web Services; discoveryServer, a webcrawler that navigates the Web for a topic and then builds and monitors a database of links for it to pull events from; and PaCK, a kit that allows users to build personalized event panels that they can place on hand-held devices or browsers.

FirstRain isn't the only company trying to solve the problem of two-way messaging over the Internet; Rewari acknowledges that a number of companies are trying to do so with a technology similar to eventServer. The difference, he said, is that eventServer delivers actual event notification to users. ''Events are different from e-mail, in that they expire,'' he said. ''They need to be sorted by importance, not just chronology.''

The other key difference between FirstRain's products and those of its competitors, Rewari said, is ease of use: viewServer and discoveryServer permit the ushering in of events into the system through a point-and-click interface. ViewServer, he noted, allows you to 'componentize' any Web-based application.

In some ways, BAM is as much of an evolution of EAI as it is BI. EAI vendors are also targeting users who need real-time information. But according to Rewari, EAI is geared ''to the heavy iron aspects of a business, such as processing orders and transactions. EAI is zero-latency, but it's geared to application-to-application messaging. BAM is application-to-human messaging.'' EventServer, he noted, sits on top of an EAI system, finding events of interest to a particular user. ''In actuality, EAI is a great source of events for us.''

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