Business activity monitoring with IBM Business Monitor V7.5, Part 1: What's new in IBM Business Monitor V7.5

In this article series, you'll learn about the key capabilities of IBM® Business Monitor V7.5. We'll explore what's new in this release, take a tour of the dashboards, learn how to monitor a BPMN process, and finally learn how to customize the dashboards to meet your specific needs. Part 1 gives you an overview of what's new in V7.5. This content is part of the IBM Business Process Management Journal.

Eric Wayne, Senior Technical Staff Member, IBM

Wayne photoEric Wayne is Lead Architect for Business Space and for IBM Business Monitor in IBM Business Process Management. He is also a core member of the IBM Software Group Architecture Board.



29 June 2011

Introduction to the series

In this series of articles, you will learn, via step-by-step instructions, how to use different aspects of the IBM Business Process Monitor V7.5. We will use a scenario of monitoring IBM Business Process Manager as our particular use case, though most of what is discussed (except for in Part 3) will be applicable regardless of what IBM product or third party application you wish to monitor.

  • In Part 1, you'll get an overview of what's new in Version 7.5. Each major new capability is summarized, with screen shots provided where appropriate.
  • In Part 2, you'll play the role of dashboard user, using the Business Space. Specifically, you'll take a quick tour of the capabilities offered by the Business Monitor dashboards, by running the Showcase demo that is provided with Business Monitor.
  • In Part 3, you'll play the role of the business author, using Process Designer. Specifically, you'll define what you want to track for the Hiring Sample Process Application from IBM Business Process Manager V7.5, and will execute a few process instances and their human tasks and coaches. Then you'll use automatically generated Business Monitor dashboard pages to track and monitor the execution of these process instances.
  • In Part 4, you'll continue to play the role of business author, using the Business Space. Specifically, you'll work with the generated dashboard for the Process App from Part 3 to confirm that you can monitor your process, and customize that dashboard. You'll also define a new report, a new KPI, and a new alert, and then configure the dashboard to display these for the dashboard user.

By the time you've completed this series, you'll have a fully customized business activity monitoring solution, giving you visibility and insight into the execution of your business processes.


Overview of IBM Business Monitor V7.5

IBM Business Monitor V7.5 (formerly IBM WebSphere Business Monitor) is a comprehensive business activity monitoring (BAM) software offering that is tightly integrated with the IBM middleware portfolio of BPM, BRMS, SOA and transactional solutions. Business Monitor provides event processing for the purpose of visibility. Users can see business activity in aggregate against targets, and drill down to the details of specific instances of processes and activities, such as a specific mortgage loan or production order. Users can consume the information Business Monitor correlates and calculates through visual dashboards, through "push" alerts and mobile devices, and through fully customized experiences developers can build via public REST APIs.

Figure 1. Business Monitor dashboard
Business Monitor dashboard

The value of visibility is only as strong as your ability to tap into the sources where you actually run your business. Business Monitor can consume XML events from virtually any source. Figure 2 lists seventeen IBM products that provide validated integration with Business Monitor. The six products highlighted with an asterisk (*) have been since WebSphere Business Monitor V7 was released.

Figure 2. Event sources
Event sources

In addition to these IBM products, you can send events from other IBM software, third party, or legacy applications via JMS, REST or Web service APIs. For more information about sending events to Business Monitor using a variety of means, please see the three part article series Monitoring your business applications with WebSphere Business Monitor.

The following sections highlight new Business Monitor capabilities in four categories:


End-to-end visibility for IBM Business Process Manager V7.5

Visibility is a leading motivation for organizations choosing to initiate a business process management project. IBM Business Process Manager V7.5 is a comprehensive and consumable business process management platform that includes tooling and runtime for process design, execution and optimization. IBM BPM is designed to help process owners and business users engage directly in the improvement of their business processes. IBM BPM incorporates key functionality from WebSphere Process Server, WebSphere Lombardi Edition, and WebSphere Integration Developer (now known as IBM Integration Developer) into a unified user environment.

Business Monitor is highly complementary to IBM BPM, providing the basis for end-to-end visibility across both BPMN and BPEL processes running exclusively within IBM BPM, as well as those extended processes that span beyond the boundary of the BPM system.

Figure 3 shows the functional components of IBM BPM. See the IBM Business Process Manager 7.5 Information Center for details about these components. The callouts in the figure signify five areas that have been architected to provide first class integration with Business Monitor.

Figure 3. IBM Business Process Manager points of integration with Business Monitor
IBM Business Process Manager points of integration with Business Monitor
  • Process Designer: The business author defining a process application using BPMN can specify Business Monitor tracking definitions for the process application without having to use a separate tool. Figure 4 shows the use of specific tracking events along the flow of the process, and the customization of business variables to be included in the events for tracking.
    Figure 4. Designing tracking information for Business Monitor using Process Designer
    Designing tracking information for Business Monitor using Process Designer
  • Process Center repository: IBM BPM features, such as deploy from repository and asset sharing, versioning and governance, also apply to monitor model artifacts. This provides consistent deployment to development, test and production servers.

    The "playback" feature of Process Designer and Process Center now includes the ability to visualize what is being monitored through a generated process application-specific Business Monitor dashboard. The power of iterative playback before release to test or staging applies equally well to both the design of the process itself and the monitoring of the process.

    Part 3 of this series covers the use of this generated dashboard in detail.

  • Process Server: At runtime, Process Server emits a new set of XML events to Business Monitor as BPMN processes and activities are executed. Note that all the events from WebSphere Process Server (such as BPEL and SCA events) continue to be available when using IBM Business Process Manager Advanced.
  • Business Space: IBM BPM includes widgets for working with BPM human tasks. These can be used alongside Business Monitor widgets in a consistent and shared Business Space environment. Figure 5 shows widgets for process participants and those responsible for supervising processes and tasks.
    Figure 5. Shared Business Space for tasks and monitoring
    Shared Business Space for tasks and monitoring
  • Integration Designer: The IT or integration developer can use the Monitor Model Editor and Business Monitoring perspective included with Integration Designer to (1) select a process application and generate a monitor model, (2) customize the contents, (3) associate that model with a process application and leverage the Process Center integration provided by Integration Designer.
    Figure 6. Creating a custom monitor model in Integration Designer
    Creating a custom monitor model in Integration Designer

So far we've talked about two approaches for monitoring IBM BPM using Business Monitor:

  • Using Process Designer to specify tracking and driving Business Monitor behavior for BPMN process monitoring.
  • Using Integration Designer to author custom monitor models.

A third approach is also possible. The global process monitor model, first introduced in WebSphere Business Monitor V7 for use with WebSphere Process Server has been updated to provide metrics, KPIs and reports for all process-related events in IBM BPM Standard and Advanced. This monitor model can work with any IBM BPM process application, including those that span both BPMN and BPEL processes. It may be appropriate for cases when you already have processes running and you want to see the kind of event information that Business Monitor can correlate. You can use this approach to learn and then proceed to define monitoring for your specific processes using either Process Designer or Integration Designer.

A final but critical integration point is a common approach for installation and configuration, which leads to consistency from the first install at the start of the project through to production deployments. For example, Business Monitor can augment IBM BPM profiles, and the Deployment Environments feature provides a wizard for creating a combined production topology that follows best practices patterns.

Part 3 of this series provides details about IBM BPM integration, stepping you through an example of using Process Designer and Process Center with Business Monitor.


Improvements for business users

Business Monitor provides those responsible for aspects of business performance with visibility in order to make decisions and take actions. Two of the most common usage patterns are (a) reporting on the current performance and trends along dimensions such as time, region, customer segments or areas of the business and (b) looking at details of specific instances of business processes and activities, and filtering based on the values of metrics. Business Monitor V7.5 includes significant updates for both of these usage patterns.

Dimensional reporting through embedding and integrating IBM Cognos Business Intelligence

To provide world class dimensional reporting, Business Monitor 7.5 now includes IBM Cognos BI V10.1 and deeply integrates the capabilities into every aspect of the Monitor lifecycle – including installation, configuration, administration, monitor model development and user experience.

A new Report Viewer widget based on the Cognos BI technology allows the user to interact with any Cognos BI report. A new Report Designer widget allows a business author to create and customize simple reports using the information provided by Monitor, directly from the Business Space, without having to learn to use any Cognos BI report authoring tools. Figures 7 and 8 show the new widgets in action.

Figure 7. Report Viewer
Report Viewer
Figure 8. Report Designer
Report Designer

These new widgets replace the Dimensional and Report widgets provided in earlier releases of WebSphere Business Monitor. These older widgets and the DB2® Alphablox technology underlying them have now been deprecated in Business Monitor, and are hidden by default. To help with customers transitioning from previous releases, the Report Designer widget speeds creation of reports that follow a table plus chart combination style similar to that provided by the Dimensional and Report widgets.

Note that for more advanced report authoring needs, the user also has the ability to launch the full Cognos BI report authoring environment. Reports created in this advanced environment can also be used by the Report Viewer widget. Likewise, reports initially authored in the Report Designer widget can later be edited using the Edit Report capability in the Report Viewer widget. This action launches the full Cognos BI report authoring environment "in place," where you have powerful capabilities to produce a highly customized report, including the option to choose among dozens of chart types.

Developers who have experience with previous releases will be pleased to know that the dimensional model portion of the monitor model remains the same, so a porting effort is not required as part of the transition to use the embedded Cognos BI capability. Business Monitor takes care of repurposing the dimensional model into Cognos BI cube packages.

The Cognos BI 10.1 capability embedded in Business Monitor is subject to a limited use license, intended for use with the MONITOR database and the information that Business Monitor collects by correlating events from event sources. Some scenarios may benefit from use of a full Cognos BI license, for example, to add additional databases as data sources for reports. In addition, because of the deep integration of Cognos BI, you can use companion Cognos BI products together with Business Monitor. A great example is IBM Cognos Mobile, which can extend reporting out to a myriad of mobile devices including RIM® BlackBerry®, Apple® iPhone® and Apple® iPad®. This is a good complement to the Blackberry and iPhone Web application provided by Business Monitor for viewing KPIs and alerts.

Part 2 of this series includes an example of using the Report Viewer, and Part 4 shows you how to author a new report using the Report Designer.

Simplified filtering and sorting of instance details

Instances represent the foundation of the monitoring information correlated from events. Unlike traditional reporting systems that usually deal with aggregate information updated on a scheduled basis, the Monitor Instances widget provides a live real-time view into the details of processes and activities. Using a table style design, each instance is represented by one row, and each business metric is represented by a column. Often your organization has many instances running at any given time, or recently completed. In order to identify problem instances, for example, those requiring an exceptional amount of time to complete, or to search for an instance that meets certain business values, such as gold customer orders, you need to filter the instances on certain conditions.

As shown in Figure 9, the instances widget has been enhanced with new inline filters. Setting a new filter is as simple as clicking on the column heading, choosing the filter type and, where applicable, entering a filter value. The filters are sensitive to the type of the data in the column. For example, while String metrics have filter operators such as contains and begins with, Date metrics offer filters such as until now, yesterday, and a date range.

Figure 9. Inline filtering instances
Inline filtering instances

As shown in Figure 10, you can also set multi-column sorting inline with viewing instances. Using this example, you can sort first by loan officer, and then by loan amount within loans for the same officer.

Figure 10. Multi-column inline sorting
Multi-column inline sorting

Custom themes for complete control of page designs

The Business Monitor dashboard UI, based on the Business Space component, offers the ability to create highly customized combinations of dashboard widgets configured to meet the needs of your organization’s monitoring scenarios. Previous releases have offered the ability to perform limited customization of the overall page structure around the widgets. For example, in WebSphere Business Monitor V7, you can change the banner to a limited extent, and create a "style," which provides fonts and colors through CSS style extensions. New in Business Monitor V7.5 is the ability to completely customize the theme used by a given page using a combination of HTML, CSS and Javascript. This means you have complete control over the banner, footer, layouts, navigation, palette and other visual elements on the page. Figure 11 shows an example of the default theme compared to a custom theme.

Figure 11. Default theme compared to custom theme
Default theme compared to custom theme

Improved WebSphere Portal support

As described earlier, Business Monitor includes a dashboard UI right out of the box, installed with the product. In some scenarios you can obtain additional value by combining your dashboard into your enterprise WebSphere Portal environment. Business Monitor 7.5 includes support for using the dashboard widgets on portal pages alongside other widgets and portlets in WebSphere Portal V7. This is an improvement over the WebSphere Portal support in WebSphere Business Monitor V7, where widgets required a specific portal theme.

This capability builds on the new "universal integration hub" feature in WebSphere Portal V7, where iWidgets are treated like portlets and can be placed on portal pages alongside portlets and wired together with portlets for interactions. As shown in Figure 12, you can add remotely hosted widgets into the Portal palette. No special installation program is needed to add the Monitor and IBM BPM widgets to the Portal server.

Figure 12. Business Monitor widgets in the WebSphere Portal palette
Business Monitor widgets in the WebSphere Portal palette

Improved monitoring across contexts

Sometimes an end-to-end process is represented by more than one event source or flow. For example, you may have two BPMN processes chained together to execute order-to-cash. Or you may combine events from different types of sources, such as a SAP transaction followed by an ESB flow to process an invoice. Usually the granularity of a monitoring context within the monitor model is one per event source. Unfortunately, having separate contexts means that business users would have to manually check across multiple views to see the end-to-end process.

The Monitor Toolkit feature in Integration Designer V7.5 introduces a new Global Monitoring Context wizard as shown in Figure 13, to help the monitor developer incorporate metrics from separate monitoring contexts and create a single global monitoring context. This enables you to see the end-to-end execution of a process instance in a single view in the dashboard.

The wizard allows the user to specify a common business correlation key present in events from each source context. In the example screen shot, an end-to-end code defect process uses the defect number as the common key. The wizard generates the global context with proper relationships to the source-specific monitoring contexts. It also generates a cube definition for this global context, which contains all appropriate measures and dimensions from the cubes associated with each source-specific monitoring context, so that you can perform end-to-end dimensional analysis from a single Cognos BI report widget.

Figure 13. Global Monitor Context wizard
Global Monitor Context wizard

Improved administration and scalability

The IT roles responsible for the administration, maintenance, health and performance of the Business Monitor server benefit from three key improvements in V7.5.

New fine-grained data security

Most organizations have security policies to dictate who has access to what types of business information. The primary technique for implementing these security policies with previous releases of WebSphere Business Monitor has been to segregate business data into separate monitor models, and apply data security policies at the monitor model level.

Business Monitor V7.5 introduces fine-grained data security, which provides the ability to align your security policies more naturally, without having to create separate monitor models. Fine-grained security supports all forms of Monitor data, through all Monitor widgets and across REST services and reports. Business Monitor can now be configured to enable or prevent access based on any category, based on users or groups defined in Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP), another application, or within Business Monitor itself. The administrator can use wsadmin commands to import, export and delete security filters and object rules. The filters and rules are specified in JSON files.

For example, you can define a security filter that ensures specific users and groups can only access mortgage loan instances where the Loan Amount metric is less than $100,000. Because the security filters are placed at the lowest level of access, even the KPI calculations that aggregate instances must adhere to the security filter definitions. In this example, a KPI "MTD Count of Loans" for the specified users and groups would only aggregate loans where the loan amount is less than $100,000, and would not count all loans.

Object rules represent another type of fine-grained security. You can grant or limit access to specific metrics, KPIs, alert templates, cube dimensions, and measures. For example, an object rule can prevent the user from accessing the "MTD Amount of Completed Loans" KPI.

Scalability of monitor models

Monitor V7.5 now offers concurrent operation of a single monitor model on all members of a cluster or multiple servant regions on a z/OS® server. In past releases, clustering was supported for high availability (fail-over) purposes, but now you can cluster for workload distribution as well.

Monitor event processing now scales well both vertically (better hardware) and horizontally (more hardware). Also, the processing of time-based triggers now scales well, as you add cluster members or z/OS servant regions.

Disaster recovery

Monitor V7.5 now supports disaster recovery scenarios. In past releases, you could avoid a single point of failure for a specific machine (via clustering), but now you can also put strategies in place to address the loss of an entire data center. V7.5 provides a fully documented and tested approach to producing periodic, synchronized back-ups of both BPM and BAM data, so that you can quickly restore it at a secondary location and get your environment up and running, with minimal data loss. Several approaches are supported, ranging from simple server backups to shared file systems to full SAN environments. See the support document Disaster Recovery in IBM Business Process Management V7.5 for further details.


Conclusion

IBM Business Monitor V7.5 includes new capabilities applicable to business users, developers, administrators and architects. This article has highlighted the improvements and features across four categories:

  • Providing end-to-end visibility for IBM Business Process Manager
  • Improved monitoring across contexts
  • Improvements for business users
  • Improved administration and scalability

Future articles in this series provide a deeper, hands-on approach to learning about IBM Business Monitor V7.5.

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