As we showed in the prior articles of this series, diverse industry solutions can be developed to leverage increased instrumentation and apply those additional observations to the improvement of business processes. Each of the solutions described in these articles is based on the observation and processing of sensor data to extract insights about the physical world, and take the appropriate action based on the interpretation of that data.
|Instrumented: Sensor technologies|
This series also discussed how different sensor-based technologies can be leveraged to collect these observations:
- In the supply chain scenario, you saw how RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) or barcode is used to collect identification information of products as they move through the supply chain from manufacturer to consumer.
- In the home healthcare scenario, smart health monitoring devices such as heart rate monitors, glucose meters, and blood pressure monitors were used to collect health metrics at home, which meant that this information was collected more frequently and more consistently than if office visits were required.
- In the process optimization scenario, you saw how real time location tracking of assets can be used to help optimize manufacturing process flow.
These different scenarios leveraged sensor data from different technologies but all provided the foundation for building solutions based on a core aspect of smarter planet solutions: instrumentation. Sensor devices, therefore, come in a wide variety of forms with common purposes to collect data to provide identification, location, or condition information that can be used to provide visibility to a new aspect of a business process.
|Interconnected: WebSphere Sensor Events|
This series also showed how the Data Capture and Delivery component of IBM WebSphere Sensor Events can be used to interact with those devices directly to collect the sensor data, provide a run time environment in which the data can be operated on in the early stages of collection, and then subsequently deliver the data in a reliable manner to the server. Beyond the scenarios already described, WebSphere Sensor Events can also be used to collect sensor data from a range of devices to support a broad solution area. These can include:
- Condition data, such as temperature, humidity, shock, and vibration.
- Real time location data and identification data for solutions in areas such as fleet monitoring, hospital asset tracking, warehouse management, personnel safety and security, supply chain management, inventory control, and work-in-process.
The Data Capture and Delivery component is an integration platform that provides the infrastructure to collect, filter, and analyze this data in a distributed environment that can be located near the data source. It not only provides interconnectivity services to collect the sensor device data, but it also uses industry standards (where available) so that businesses can easily and reliably connect with these new sources of data.
|Intelligent: Business event processing|
The goal, of course, is the collection of additional data is to gain business value. You can see how sensor data can be acquired to gain new insight or new visibility into operational processes. The critical step is to derive business-actionable intelligence from that data.
For example, from the scenarios discussed in this series, the objective was to establish business value in the form of:
- Improved inventory control in supply chain processing.
- Reduced healthcare costs by reducing office visits and establishing more frequent monitoring with home health care systems.
- Operational efficiency through real time asset tracking in work-in-process execution.
While WebSphere Sensor Events assists with sensor event collection and integration, other IBM software products handle the tasks of deriving business events, running business processes, and providing analytics and business process visualization through operational dashboards. Again, the scenarios described in this series showed how these products provide business intelligence.
- IBM WebSphere Business Events.
- IBM InfoSphere™ Traceability Server (including Business Intelligence with Cognos®).
- IBM WebSphere Business Monitor.
Beyond these is a full suite of business process management (BPM) products that can help drive business value from the sensor data collected and processed by WebSphere Sensor Events. This article, the conclusion to this series, highlights some of these products and explains how they can be used in combination with WebSphere Sensor Events in smarter planet solutions.
Part 1 of this series discussed the WebSphere Sensor Events architecture and discussed in some detail:
- The services provided to support sensor device integration.
- A common set of sensor event services.
- A programming model on which to build new operational services.
- A set of services to provide integration with key enterprise software products.
Figure 1. High level architecture for WebSphere Sensor Events showing event runtime infrastructure
That article focused primarily on the capability provided by WebSphere Sensor Events itself. Here, let's look more closely at the capabilities provided by the other products that combine to form a full set of capabilities for building sensor solutions that realize business value.
WebSphere Business Events
Sensor solutions leverage WebSphere Business Events as a critical link in transforming raw sensor data into business events. WebSphere Sensor Events captures the sensor events, applies simple filtering, smoothing, de-duplication, and data enrichment, and then passes the augmented events to WebSphere Business Events for pattern detection and event correlation.
WebSphere Business Events then provides business event identification and processing. In other words, it determines when a business event has occurred or failed to occur (based on pattern or rule definitions) and invokes a business operation as a result. WebSphere Business Events provides the user interface so that non-programmers can define the business rules that dictate how business events are recognized and what business operations should get invoked as a result. The rules can be dynamically deployed, which enables flexibility in how business events are processed.
A key point here is that when used in context of a sensor solution, WebSphere Sensor Events provides the mechanism to integrate the sensor event data while WebSphere Business Events adds the business context evaluation logic. You would expect the sensor data integration to be a relatively well defined and fixed process, with little implication to business driven changes. However, the interpretation of that data and the resulting processes that run should be much more dynamic and driven by changing business needs. A dynamic, rules-based environment is an excellent match for this aspect of the overall solution.
WebSphere Business Events also provides tooling to define data sources that will provide input to the WebSphere Business Events event processing engine. When used for sensor solutions, sensor data is processed through WebSphere Sensor Events, and the data source and the event formatting is already provided. As the solution developer, you can focus on building the business processing aspects of event correlation without having to deal with inbound event definitions.
InfoSphere Traceability Server
As you saw with the pharmaceutical supply chain solution, there can often be a requirement for providing the ability to not only track product as it progresses through the supply chain, but to also be able to share data between producers, logistics providers, and consumers so that you can have visibility into the entire supply chain. InfoSphere Traceability Server provides this information sharing platform.
InfoSphere Traceability Server supports EPC Information Services (EPCIS), which is a standard for information sharing platforms that enable partner applications to capture and consume information about product movements with real time (or live) operational data. With EPCIS as the framework for product traceability solution information, you do not need to worry about data management details (such as the definition or interfaces to detailed product information), search capability for product information over time, or the mechanism to share relevant data within internal application solutions or with other business partners.
In sensor solutions, therefore, InfoSphere Traceability Server provides the single repository for event data based on a defined operational model that is independent of any specific application, and can therefore can be shared across the enterprise. It also provides business intelligence capabilities to support analytics on operational business performance.
Master data management is extremely important to solutions as you introduce new visibility into your operational systems. Master data is any operational data that needs to be managed and distributed across operational systems, and typically includes customers, products, accounts, suppliers, employees, parts, agreements, and many others. As you add operational activities to collect new data, you need to ensure that the enrichment operations on that data that enables you to provide meaningful analytics and business evaluations are consistent with the master data management approach of the enterprise. Using a product like InfoSphere Traceability Server for this processing helps ensure that you support that goal.
Figure 2. Solution components within the smarter planet context
WebSphere Business Monitor
WebSphere Business Monitor presents Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) through visualization components like dashboards and charts. You saw an example of this in the manufacturing process flow scenarios in Part 2, where WebSphere Business Monitor was used to monitor process flow and show tracking of components in a simple process. The benefit of WebSphere Business Monitor in these scenarios is to both:
- Provide the real time visualization of sensor events and derived business events.
- Provide real time monitoring of business KPIs, including alerts and notifications.
When discussing the value of sensor solutions, these articles have mentioned how applying sensor technology adds "visibility" to some aspect of the business. You can think of visibility in two forms:
- One form provides the visibility (or awareness) of business events or business conditions upon which you want to invoke a business process.
- In a more direct sense, that visibility literally refers to the ability to represent a real time, accurate state of one aspect of the business in a form that conveys logical value for the line of business personnel to observe and then act upon.
WebSphere Business Monitor provides the framework for exactly that capability. When integrated with sensor events that have been enriched, conditioned, filtered, and correlated, you represent meaningful business event data.
WebSphere Business Process Management suite
Once business events have been identified, appropriate actions need to be taken. This can be achieved through a variety of software components. Previous articles discussed business processing using InfoSphere Traceability Server with Cognos. While it was not discussed on this series, interaction with IBM Maximo® Asset Management processing is another key platform for business solutions.
A key component in the IBM BPM software stack is IBM WebSphere Process Server. BPM systems support the modeling, orchestration, and execution of business processes within an enterprise. The business processes themselves are defined using Business Process Execution Language (BPEL) and can be invoked as the result of an observed (or derived) business event in your event processing system. Additionally, business processes could themselves be the source of "synthetic" events which can in turn feed back into the event processing system.
In WebSphere Process Server, the business processes defined using BPEL represent the implementation of a process model that define the order in which component parts (services) of a business process are executed. Therefore, a process is an ordered sequence of component services (including rules and conditions) that implement a business goal. This is a critical linkage point to tie the observation of new business insights (or visibility) based on the correlation of sensor events to affecting business process change.
In the examples discussed in this series, a very natural progression of the scenarios would have been to link business processes with event pattern detection based on defined rules using WebSphere Business Events. For example, in the home health care scenario, WebSphere Business Events was used to correlate and evaluate patient health monitor events to assess patient health. If various conditions were met or thresholds exceeded, an action for a business event was identified (patient health alert). In the example, the action taken as a result of that observation was a simple e-mail notification. In an actual deployment scenario, however, you would expect that same patient health alert to initiate a much more involved process. In that case, a process for activities like patient alerting, doctor notification, and follow-up tracking could be defined as a BPEL process invoking a set of component services. The process itself would be invoked directly as a result of the WebSphere Business Events event processing.
Business process execution is the critical step in sensor solutions because it is here that business value is realized in the event capturing infrastructure. Whether those business processes are executed as BPEL processes in WebSphere Process Server, as actions in Cognos or Maximo, or to a back end system integrated as part of the enterprise infrastructure, this is the key component in the overall solution.
WebSphere Enterprise Service Bus
An Enterprise Service Bus (ESB) provides a flexible connectivity infrastructure for integrating applications, data, and services. WebSphere Process Server includes the full capabilities of WebSphere ESB, whose features can be used to integrate with existing assets based on Web services, JMS, WebSphere MQ, and WebSphere Adapters.
WebSphere ESB supports the integration of event messages into the sensor event server and the ability to invoke services and processes from the sensor event server. Because WebSphere ESB provides a connectivity infrastructure that supports a wide range of communication protocols, data format transformations, routing, and mediations, services that exist in disparate back end systems can be invoked as business process operations. This capability extends the capability of business operations beyond the capability provided by processes defined in WebSphere Process Server, or by business processes implemented on other key component products already integrated with the sensor event server. In addition, WebSphere Adapters dramatically simplify the process of integrating with a number of supported back end systems and technologies.
While this series did not explore either WebSphere Process Server or WebSphere ESB, WebSphere Sensor Events supports integration with both environments.
- WebSphere ILOG JRules BRMS
WebSphere ILOG® JRules business rule management system (BRMS) enables business and IT groups within an organization to work together collaboratively for authoring, maintaining, and deploying business system decision logic. Although they might be not organized together logically, business rules are often implemented throughout business applications in the form of if-then-else statements. To be more responsive to changing business needs, IT organizations need to be able to modify those business rules. A business rule management system separates that business logic from the applications themselves, enabling the business logic to be defined and deployed in a consistent manner across the enterprise. When implemented as a defined set of rules, the business decision logic is easier to maintain, change, and monitor.
A business rule management system includes three components:
- A repository enabling rules to be externalized from core application code.
- Tools enabling business experts to define and manage decision logic that was previously in application code.
- A run time engine enabling production systems to access and execute decision logic.
Business event processing (as with WebSphere Business Events) provides event processing capabilities that detect event patterns over time. The events themselves can come from a variety of sources. Once a pattern, based on a defined set of rules, is recognized, an "action" is taken, where the action is an invocation of some processing on another system. The business event processing system, therefore, focuses on identifying when a business event has occurred.
By contrast, a business process management system is used to describe how key processes of an enterprise work; they could be a combination of programmatic processes and human processes, but they focus on operational processes.
A business rule management system focuses on automating business decisions and answers the question of what business action to take. It is concerned with operation intelligence and uses business rules to automate business decisions or recommendations. This operational capability makes ILOG JRules another key component in the software stack, providing the capability to execute the appropriate business processes based on observed events.
- Maximo Asset Management
IBM Maximo Asset Management is an asset management solution that delivers a comprehensive view of all asset types -- production, facilities, transportation, and IT -- across your enterprise. It manages all of your asset deployment, specifications, monitoring, calibration, costing, and tracking from a single system.
A scenario with high business value has Maximo Asset Management managing high value, portable assets. Organizations continually look to improve operational efficiencies and utilization of these assets. Adding real time asset location capabilities to Maximo Asset Management provides visibility to an organization’s high value assets in real time.
For example, hospitals report substantial staff time expenditures when searching for critical mobile equipment. In addition, with increasing losses or misplacement of mobile assets annually, hospitals compensate by spending capital on excess capacity assets to ensure they meet demand. This leads to the underutilization of critical assets simply because they might not be readily available. In some cases, the problem is exacerbated as assets are hoarded precisely because of the difficulty in finding them when needed. Also, without efficient asset controls, critical equipment could become unusable if needed preventative maintenance and regulation-directed calibrations are not performed in a timely manner.
Sensor technologies can be used to provide real time location tracking with Maximo’s industry-leading asset management capabilities. This improves asset visibility and achieves operational efficiencies though automated processes, which support business rules and approvable regulatory requirements.
Real time location capabilities in conjunction with Maximo Asset Management supports:
- Management of critical resources (people and equipment) through real time visibility.
- Reduced asset "shrinkage" through alerting capabilities whenever an asset leaves a location.
- Improved asset utilization and employee productivity by providing the location of resources and ensuring assets are in the right place at the right time.
- Improved inventory management, procurement, reduced asset shortages, improved audit, and compliance capabilities.
- Minimized downtime by optimizing preventive and predictive maintenance tasks.
- Monitoring of state, condition, and utilization of assets to improve asset usage.
The capability provided by WebSphere Sensor Events enables you to gain access to sensor data that you can leverage to improve your business processes. This helps you collect information about what is happening in our environment, such as where objects are and what conditions they are in.
Software components like WebSphere Business Events enable you to correlate the information about what is happening and add meaning to the events that you see.
Components like WebSphere Business Monitor and the business intelligence capability in InfoSphere Traceability Server provide the capability to represent information about what is happening. ILOG JRules and WebSphere Business Events determine what business operations to perform based on what is happening in your environment.
Finally, software such as WebSphere Process Server and WebSphere ESB manage and choreograph the processes that run the required business operations that are identified and triggered as part of the sensor solution. They help address business challenges by implementing improved processes across physical operations, business processes, and supply chains. These optimized processes leverage the new visibility and can also integrate with legacy applications.
Regarding solutions built using WebSphere Sensor Events, it is important to understand that while the WebSphere Sensor Events environment supports a sensor event programming model, the business operational aspects of the overall solution should not be developed and executed there. WebSphere Sensor Events is a collection point for sensor data and an environment for event server processing. The business value, though, is derived from getting those events into a business process consumable form and integrating them with the other business data elements within the enterprise. Therefore, you don’t want to provide a unique environment for operations like analytics, business process flow execution, representational dashboards, scorecards, or reports. You want the data collected to be part of the new sensor solution, and you also want these operations to work within the enterprise operational definitions for data and process modeling, persistence, and security. The goal is to integrate the sensor data within the enterprise so that the role of the sensor integration platform should focus on data collection, business event derivation, and integration to products and components that are part of the IBM enterprise software portfolio.
As discussed throughout this series, instrumentation, interconnection, and intelligence are brought together to help you make the right decision at the right time to transform your business. WebSphere Sensor Events provides the middleware platform to reach out to that sensor-based, real time data, provide the event analysis that derives business events from sensor events, and integrate those business events into business processes.
More in this series
WebSphere Sensor Events product information
WebSphere Sensor Events Information Center
IBM Sensor Solutions
WebSphere Business Process Management product information
Tim Hanis is the lead architect in WebSphere Sensor Events development at IBM in Research Triangle Park, NC. He has led a number of development projects within IBM and has extensive experience helping customers solve business problems with WebSphere products.
Allen Smith is a Senior Certified IT Specialist in IBM's Application and Integration Middleware Software group in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina. He works with business partners to design and implement sensor based solutions using WebSphere Sensor Events. You can contact Allen at firstname.lastname@example.org.
John Senegal is the lead developer for WebSphere Sensor Events Server at IBM in Research Triangle Park, NC. He has broad experience working with IBM customers and partners building solutions using IBM tooling and middleware.
Ken Greenlee is an Advisory Software Engineer with the WebSphere Sensor Events team at IBM in Research Triangle Park, NC. He has extensive Java/WebSphere experience and is responsible for many components within the WebSphere Sensor Events server product. He has worked with customers to create solutions based upon the WebSphere Sensor Events software stack. He has reached the third patent plateau, most on RFID technologies.