Nowadays, thanks to a computer program known as complex event processing systems (CEPs), financial market traders use machines to buy and sell stocks, banks can detect fraud instantly, shops know the second stock is running low and computers can make decisions almost instantaneously.
© Fotolia, 2012
Thanks to FP6 Marie Curie Reintegration Grant, in 2007 Pedro Bizarro returned to his native Portugal from the US, to investigate CEPs. The project eventually led to him founding a successful company.
At that time, little was known about the various systems on the market, so Bizarro led the BiCEP (Benchmarking Complex Event Processing Systems) project, which devised ways to compare the machines. After the project's completion in 2009, the small group of researchers led by Bizzaro created a spin-off company, which turned a profit after only two years of operation.
CEPs allow companies to analyse vast amounts of data in real time, spotting anomalies straight away. Bizarro explains: "It is an evolution of data processing."Instead of analysing stored data after an event has happened, the data is processed as events occur. You have to react quickly."
Demand for CEPs is growing as companies want more from their computer systems. While computer hardware still seems to obey Moore's law (which states that the processing power of computers doubles roughly every two years), companies are more than doubling their data processing requirements. They want to track hundreds of thousands of variables in real time, and receive alarms if anomalies appear. From tracking traffic flow to novel baggage handling systems, CEPs are vital for the modern world.
Manufacturers of CEPs in academia and industry made various claims about the speed of their products, but these claims could not be easily compared. Based at the University of Coimbra, BiCEP put about ten CEPs through their paces, to produce ways of rigorously comparing one to the others.
As well as training five Master students and two PhD students who are still working on the project - Bizarro published three papers from the project and produced a free framework to test CEPs. It was during this process that Bizarro realised he could do better.
"I realised that not only was there lots of room for improvement in terms of performance of the engines in the market, but most of the time the engines were also complicated to use," he says. "They were either too complex to set up or the query language was too complex for the normal business user."
So with two partners, Bizarro founded FeedZai, which now has clients in Europe, the US and Dubai. Initially it provided consulting systems, optimising businesses' existing CEPs, but in April 2011 the FeedZai team launched their own CEP software FeedZai Pulse.
Where others struggled to survive, FeedZai flourished. It began operations in the aftermath of the credit crunch, and Pulse hit the market at the same time as the Eurozone debt crisis.
In April 2011, FeedZai, which currently employs 22 people, was the only non-US company to receive Gartner's "Cool Vendor" award in Analytics and Business Intelligence. While other so-called "business appliances" require expensive hardware to run, FeedZai Pulse uses normal servers at a much lower cost, a benefit Bizarro credits to the results of BiCEP.