BPM Voices: When BPM meets Sterling Commerce

Introducing new visibility dashboards for Sterling Commerce

Visibility of business transactions is an important area in Sterling Commerce® that needs to be addressed for our customers. This article describes how IBM® Business Monitor V7.5 is being leveraged to serve as the visibility framework for Sterling Commerce Managed File Transfer products. The goal is to use Business Monitor, possibly across the whole Sterling portfolio, for all visibility needs. As an initial effort, sample dashboards are being developed and will be made available to customers soon. This content is part of the IBM Business Process Management Journal.

Wilfred Jamison, Ph.D., Software Architect, IBM

Dr. Wilfred C. JamisonDr. Wilfred C. Jamison is currently a lead software architect on the Sterling Commerce Integration Development team, where he is focused on comprehensive visibility across Sterling Commerce products and the rest of the IBM Software Group portfolio. In the past, Wil has been a technical lead in business process management, a customer advocate, and an expert in WebSphere Application Server performance and security. He was also active in cloud-based development efforts, such as Blueworks Live.



29 June 2011

Overview

The 2010 acquisition of Sterling Commerce by IBM brought in a wide collection of new capabilities for IBM, especially in the areas of cross-channel commerce and integration of customer, trading partner, and supplier networks across a wide range of industries. This advances IBM’s leadership position in multi-enterprise business transaction processing offerings.

A great deal of synergetic collaboration can be leveraged between the IBM BPM suite and the IBM Sterling Commerce portfolio. Both BPM and Sterling Commerce are geared towards helping clients integrate and automate business processes. BPM offers Sterling Commerce improved management of business processes and continuous business process optimization.

One focus area is the comprehensive visibility of business transactions, which has generated great demand from Sterling Commerce customers. With the breadth and strength of capabilities available in IBM Business Monitor V7.5, this demand can be addressed effectively and quickly.


Coming soon: A new dashboard for Sterling Managed File Transfer

Among the many solution offerings from Sterling Commerce is Managed File Transfer (MFT). MFT is a collection of products that can run standalone or together, which provide facilities for secure and reliable data movement within an enterprise and especially across multiple enterprises. Documents and files are very critical in the commerce industry, so strict governance of their movements around the different parties involved in business transactions is very important. This includes compliance with regulations and protocols. An example of a common business process that involves many exchanges of files across the wire is order-to-cash, where purchase orders, invoices, payments, shipping and other information is circulated.

Sterling MFT products include:

  • IBM Sterling Connect:Direct
  • IBM Sterling Control Center
  • IBM Sterling File Accelerator
  • IBM Sterling File Gateway
  • IBM Sterling Secure Proxy
  • IBM WebSphere MQ FTE

IBM is currently working on developing a new visibility dashboard for these products that will provide near real-time information about files and documents using IBM Business Monitor V7.5. The initial set of products in this effort includes Sterling Connect:Direct and Sterling File Gateway. In the initial implementation, events are emitted to Business Monitor by Sterling Control Center from data gathered by monitoring Sterling Connect:Direct and Sterling File Gateway servers. IBM Sterling Control Center V5.3.00 is one of the products that natively supports IBM Business Monitor V7.5. The first stage of our effort is to illustrate how these visibility dashboards can be created for customers who have these products in their environments by providing sample dashboards and instructions. These samples will be composed of dashboard files that can be imported directly into the Business Space that comes with IBM Business Monitor V7.5, and will be available for download in mid- to late 2011.

An initial prototype of the sample Sterling MFT dashboard is shown in Figure 1. In a typical day-to-day business, MFT users will be interested in the number of files that are being sent to and received from trading business partners. The volume of file transfers may be an indicator of how well the business is doing. In the retail industry, for example, each file transfer may contain one or more purchase order documents that are essential to the business. In the course of its operations, a business enterprise would have a good idea of what would be the expected normal or acceptable transfer volume over a given time period. A Key Performance Indicator (KPI) is therefore a helpful tool to see the real-time business performance. The target ranges can be changed to different values easily and directly through the dashboard.

Figure 1. An example visibility dashboard for Sterling MFT
A example visibility dashboard for Sterling MFT

Equally important is the failure rate of these transfers. File transfers are of no use if they were not successful, as they will not contribute to potential revenues for the business. It is crucial that these failures are caught in a timely manner so that appropriate action can be taken, such as retransmitting the file. Hence, an alerting capability is an important requirement for this visibility dashboard. IBM Business Monitor's ability to send alerts via pagers and mobile devices is very helpful in this situation.

When a file transfer fails and a notification is sent through alerts, it is as important for the user to be able to troubleshoot what went wrong so it can be rectified. Thus, the visibility dashboard should provide more detailed information. The drill-down and Cognos Business Intelligence report capabilities of Business Monitor are features that can be leveraged very well by Sterling Commerce.

With its mash-up and Web 2.0 features, customers can customize the visibility dashboard to whatever information they would like to see and however they want to present it. They can also personalize the display to their desired look and feel.


Conclusion

Comprehensive visibility is a fundamental requirement that needs to be provided if customers are to succeed in their business operations. The flexibility and dynamicity offered by IBM Business Monitor V7.5 makes it a suitable framework for providing visibility for Sterling Commerce products, such as those that are part of the Managed File Transfer solutions. This integration requires minimal effort and is not very intrusive to the existing Sterling code base. The sample dashboard shown in this article is an initial design and may look different as it continues to improve. Stay tuned to developerWorks for more information, as the designs evolve. Future efforts may extend to cover other products in MFT, as well as other Sterling Commerce offerings such as IBM Sterling B2B Integrator.


Acknowledgments

I'd like to thank the following members of the Sterling MFT team for reviewing this article and providing comments: Steven Woodcock, Thurman Pylant, and Palanisamy Gounder.

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