BPM voices: Wil Jamison: The possibilities of BAM everywhere

Advancements in business activity monitoring (BAM) leverage new technologies that influence current business practices. These advancements could become prevalent in many BAM products in the near future. Let’s talk about a set of capabilities called "BAM everywhere." This content is part of the IBM Business Process Management Journal.

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Wilfred Jamison, Ph.D., Senior Technical Manager, IBM

Dr. Wilfred C. JamisonDr. Wilfred C. Jamison has spent almost four years in the area of Business Process Management. He was a manager and a team lead for the WebSphere Business Monitor development team where he promoted the notion of BAM Everywhere. He was also active in the areas of BPM solutions for industry verticals. Dr. Jamison worked with the BPM BlueWorks development team as a performance architect and chief programmer. Most recently, he was involved in delivering the first release of Blueworks Live.



03 December 2008

Also available in Chinese

BAM is all around

Some people might have a different notion when they hear the term "BAM everywhere." Let me clarify that "BAM everywhere" is not about the presence of business activity monitoring in every business enterprise around you (although that would not be a bad proposition at all). Rather, this is about the ability of an enterprise to access and incorporate business monitoring information into its mainstream process, which means having the ability to retrieve business performance data when you need it, where you need it.

The primary purpose of business monitoring is to be able to provide a snapshot of how your business is performing at any given point in time. Thus, business monitoring involves the processing of events from a monitored entity in a real-time fashion. The idea of BAM everywhere is to take advantage of the "timeliness" of information as soon as the need arises without the constraint of a single access mechanism. The focus is therefore on the client side of the equation.

The goal of BAM everywhere is to broaden the accessibility of business performance data computed from business monitoring. This is achieved by providing various ways of connecting to the monitor server. In addition, we do this by leveraging cutting-edge technologies such as making use of mainstream devices, gadgets, and tools.


IBM WebSphere Business Monitor and BAM everywhere

BAM everywhere was one of the major themes in the development of IBM® WebSphere® Business Monitor V6.2. In this release, we provided different ways for you to access monitor data, in addition to the full-fledged dashboard that can be accessed via a desktop computer, such as the one shown in Figure 1. With BAM everywhere, we are extending the reach of BAM outside the realm of the full-fledged dashboard.

Figure 1. A full-fledged dashboard
Figure 1. A full-fledged dashboard

This extension is made possible because of the architectural changes in the underlying data access layer of the monitor server. REST services are made available so that public APIs can be used through HTTP protocol to access monitor data. This means that you can practically write any client that can consume these data and present them to the user in any way you want.

For release 6.2 of WebSphere Business Monitor, the concept of BAM everywhere has three major focus areas:

  • BAM mobile
  • BAM gadgets
  • BAM office

Each of these areas is inspired by its own philosophy, but all share a common goal, which is to make the monitor data more pervasive and accessible:

  • BAM mobile is inspired by the idea that you can be anywhere and still be informed on your business performance. The use of mobile devices and smart phones is so pervasive that it only makes sense that the future of computing is through these small gadgets. These devices are also affordable and therefore the value proposition cannot be ignored.
  • BAM gadgets is inspired by software gadgets that are gaining popularity among business and casual users alike. The simplicity, single-function nature, and ease of use of gadgets coupled with personalization is the new usage paradigm in the business and IT world.
  • BAM office is inspired by increasing user productivity. This is achieved by pushing information to users without requiring them to learn new things and, hence, enabling them to leverage skills in which they are already proficient. Many people are so comfortable with business software that they have been using for years, and so enabling them to gather business performance using the same software is another way of opening BAM to a larger audience.
Figure 2. Focus areas of BAM everywhere
Figure 2. Focus areas of BAM everywhere

Let’s look at more specifics on each of these areas.


Implementing BAM everywhere

We implemented the three focus areas of BAM everywhere in WebSphere Business Monitor V6.2. Let me walk you through each of these implementations.

Monitor your business wherever you are

IBM’s Institute for Business Value has predicted a phenomenal growth in the number of mobile Internet users, to reach a billion users in the next year or so (see Resources). Their report goes further by saying that there will be a 1 to 3 ratio between personal computers and mobile phones. This would mean major and significant investments in many businesses related to the mobile Web. The one significant advantage of smart phones is that you can carry it with you anywhere you go. This essentially connects you to the Web 24/7.

Providing a powerful browser on the smart phone, like the Safari browser that comes with Apple’s iPhone, was a revolution in itself, and you can expect significant improvements to come from competitors, which in the end will benefit everyone. This is why WebSphere Business Monitor V6.2 has implemented a "mobile dashboard" on the iPhone and the BlackBerry.

There are many issues and concerns involved in converting a full-fledged dashboard into a mobile equivalent. I won’t go through all the details here, but suffice it to say that we needed to pick and choose the type of information and functions that will be most useful to users. These include alerts, human tasks, and KPIs:

  • Undeniably, alerts is one of the reasons you would want to carry a mobile device: to get notified when something important happens.
  • With human tasks, many people now work outside the office or on the road. IBM’s Institute for Business Value made a statement saying that more and more people are using this mode of operation. Hence, to be able to claim, perform, and complete a task while on the road is a very useful capability.
  • Key performance indicators are also compelling reasons for wanting to monitor your business. Being able to know how your business is doing when you are away from it can be indispensable.

Figure 3 shows the supported mobile Web devices: BlackBerry 8300 and 8800 series, and the iPhone 2.x and earlier. In the figure, the BlackBerry device shows the Human Task view and the different actions you can perform for these tasks. The iPhone renders KPIs in a graphical view. Notice that the features provided in the mobile dashboard are consistent with the full-fledged dashboard. With the mobile dashboard, however, we needed to make sure that the user experience is consistent with that of the device. For example, shuffling and a touch screen interface is a part of the iPhone mobile dashboard, along with being able to rotate and see a panoramic view of the dashboard.

Figure 3. Accessing mobile dashboard using smart phones
Figure 3. Accessing mobile dashboard using smart phones

The mobile dashboard is implemented as a Web application running on the monitor server. Hence, all you need to know is the URL of the mobile dashboard, which is of the form http://hostname:port/mobile. If the monitor server is secure then you will also have to know your username and password.

There is a lot of potential in this area.

Use your productivity tools to access business activity monitoring data

With BAM gadgets, we focused on two pervasive tools.

  • Instant messaging

    The first tool is instant messaging, which is one of the most used tools these days by both business and non-business users alike. People from every walk of life have at one point used this tool to talk with friends, relatives, or co-workers. At IBM, the use of IBM Lotus® Sametime® has made life a lot easier for many employees. People get information a lot quicker and productivity has increased as a result. I would not be surprised to learn that most businesses today use instant messaging in their daily operations. Hence, we think that augmenting a monitor client into the tool itself can be very handy.

    We implemented a Lotus Sametime plug-in that enables you to view monitor performance data while communicating with other people. This lets you share information with other people using Sametime. It even uses the built-in Sametime notification when an alert from WebSphere Business Monitor has been received.

    Figure 4 shows Lotus SameTime with the WebSphere Business Monitor plug-in installed. There are three types of information you can view: alerts, KPIs, and instances. The figure shows the Alerts view, in which you can pretty much perform the same operations as in the full-fledged dashboard: read, mark unread, forward, and delete an alert.

    Figure 4. Receiving alerts through Lotus Sametime
    Figure 4. Receiving alerts through Lotus Sametime

    Figure 5 shows the KPIs view of the plug-in. You can select which KPIs you want to keep track of, and you can also check the current status of your chosen KPIs from this view, as shown in the figure.

    Figure 5. Viewing KPIs through Lotus Sametime
    Figure 5. Viewing KPIs through Lotus Sametime

    The only thing that you need to know to be able to use the plug-in is the connection information to the Monitor server. If security is enabled, then you will have to know also the username and password. Versions of Lotus Sametime that are supported include 7.5.1 and 8.0.

  • Google gadgets

    The second tool that we considered is the Google desktop gadget. A gadget is a simple graphical utility that performs one specific function which you can drop on your desktop. The simplest gadget I can think of is a clock gadget that tells you what time it is. It sits right on your desktop so that you can see it anytime you want to while working. You could extend that to a more sophisticated gadget that accesses data outside of your personal computer or from the Internet. For example, think of a stock tracker gadget that renders a line graph showing you the hour-by-hour stock value for a given company.

    For BAM everywhere, we implemented three gadgets that access information from the monitor repository. These are the KPI search, KPI subscriber, and Alert notifier.

    Figure 6 shows the KPI search gadget. This gadget is essentially equivalent to a desktop search tool that searches for the occurrences of any string you specify in all of your local documents. It then returns a list of all the files that contain that string. The KPI search gadget extends that capability by also searching the monitor repository for KPI names that contain the string that you entered. If any KPIs are found, they are included in the search results. The usefulness of this is that it also includes information about the current values of the KPIs. In Figure 6, the string "Credit Check" returned a KPI name "Average Credit Check Duration." If you clicked on that, you would see detailed information about that KPI, including its current value, the target, the owner, and so on. Furthermore, these values are always fresh and recent.

    Figure 6. KPI search gadget
    Figure 6. KPI search gadget

    The second gadget is the KPI subscriber. Just like the stock gadget mentioned earlier, you can have a gadget that shows the current and target values of a given KPI in a graphical format, such as the one shown in Figure 7. The gadget is refreshed periodically so you get the most updated data all the time. At any time, you can always subscribe to a different KPI. If you want to track several KPIs at the same time, then all you have to do is create many instances of the gadget and drop them all in your desktop. Hence, you can convert your desktop into a mini-dashboard.

    Figure 7. KPI subscriber gadget
    Figure 7. KPI subscriber gadget

    The third gadget is the alert notifier, shown in Figure 8. When you create an instance of this gadget, the list of alerts shown is periodically updated so that you get notified with new alerts. Again, you can perform the fundamental operations of reading, marking unread, forwarding, and deleting an alert. If you are working on your desktop most of the time, this gadget is indispensable for being notified by an alert in a timely fashion.

    Figure 8. Alerts gadget
    Figure 8. Alerts gadget

These gadgets work with WebSphere Business Monitor V6.2. They are delivered as samples so you can learn to write your own monitor gadgets. See Resources for more information.

Incorporate business activity monitoring data into your documents

Finally, BAM office is a result of user demand. Microsoft® Office has been around for many years; many users are very proficient and skillful with this product suite, and many businesses use it as an integral part of their business processes. Microsoft Excel® is even more compelling because it is used for storing data and for computation. With all of its graphing, sorting, and other data manipulation capabilities, it is little wonder that many would desire to put monitor data into an Excel worksheet, which is exactly what we did. We created a ribbon (Microsoft’s reference to a plug-in) for Excel that can communicate with a monitor server. There are three types of information that can be retrieved from the monitor server to the worksheet: instances, KPIs and alerts.

Spreadsheets are good for manipulating large amount of data, and so the idea of retrieving instances is a natural choice. Figure 9 shows an example of a worksheet that is connected to a monitor server. It contains instances data. To the upper right is a set of KPIs. Also included are their actual and target values, and icon indicators that show whether a KPI is on target, below target or above target.

Figure 9. Using Excel to capture monitor data
Figure 9. Using Excel to capture monitor data

The data in the worksheet is refreshed periodically and, therefore, you get the latest information as though you are looking at a dashboard. You can manipulate the worksheet by adding columns and rows, including data from other sources, creating formulas for computations, and so on. However, the monitor data are kept intact and will be refreshed correctly, even after all the manipulations you might have done. You can think of it as a worksheet with live data as input.

Another thing you can do is save the worksheet and send it to somebody else. The connection information is kept in the worksheet so that, when the receiver opens it up, it connects to the server automatically and the data is refreshed. Of course, you have the option to not connect to the server if you are interested in the snapshot. If the monitor server is secure, the receiver has to know the credentials to be able to connect.

BAM office falls under the BAM everywhere umbrella because it enables users to access monitoring data in another way and to process the data using the capabilities of Excel.


Summary

BAM everywhere is starting a new trend and I firmly believe that many will follow. Enabling users to access business performance data wherever they may be, or whatever tool they use, empowers them to increase productivity, respond in a timely manner to business situations, and make informed decisions anytime it is necessary to do so. BAM everywhere adds another dimension to the value of business monitoring; before the focus was how to take and process real-time events and make them more meaningful and useful to the user, but now the focus is on increasing the visibility and accessibility of data to further optimize the benefits that users get from this information. BAM everywhere provides users with more options.

Resources

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