Friday, January 20, 2012

Business Rules, ILOG and WebSphere Operational Decision Management

Business Rules and why they are needed?
Business rules have been a very familiar term not only in the insurance, banking and retail sectors but the public sector as well. Change is inevitable in any organization’s business. What drives them apart is how quickly one can adapt to change. But this is what everyone talks about - change and adapting to change. Where do business rules fit in here?

Rules are policies that are defined by the business and they are designed by definition to expect constant change. Moreover, since rules are defined and designed by the business, they make more sense to the business. Traditionally, a business has been dependent on IT to implement any change that occurs in an organization. Business rules give the power of implementing that change back to the business. This is what drives organizations to the world of business rules.

The prime and most robust solution to implement business rules is IBM’s Websphere ILOG JRules. The entire rule management solution is known as a BRMS (Business Rules Management System). In this article, we will look at the latest IBM offering – WODM (which is ILOG v7.5). Before diving into WODM, let us look at ILOG JRules and what your organization needs in order to implement ILOG JRules.

Exploring ILOG JRules
ILOG comes from two French words – “Intelligence” and “Logiciel” meaning intelligent software. When business rules are implemented in ILOG, they tend to act as intelligent systems which can give you an answer based on relevant information that you provide, hence the name.

Before moving on to a rules-based solution I recommend asking the stakeholders in your organization the following:
  • Do you need to improve your organization’s current decision collaboration with more visibility and transparency?
  • Do you need to see instant change or automate real time actions with high performance and reliability?
  • Is your organization spending too much time and money to change minimal decision logic?
  • Do you need increased speed and agility in your change control process?
If the answer to any of the above was yes, then ILOG JRules is the way to go.

An ILOG BRMS gives your organization the capability to put all your business rules in one place. This is called a rules repository. Not only are these rules separate from your application code but also independent of any change that occurs in your application code across the enterprise. Apart from being independent, rules in ILOG can be changed by the business without IT collaboration. Managers can monitor changed rules and for the first time business logic becomes transparent as opposed to embedded deep somewhere in that ugly thing called code.

In order to make a recommendation to your organization, you need to get a background of what would need to be done in order to implement ILOG’s BRMS (business rule management system). Let’s look at what components ILOG JRules consist of.

Components of ILOG JRules
WebSphere ILOG JRules has three different components. These are:
  • The standalone developer tool – Rule Studio Eclipse for JRules.
  • Rules Execution Server – web based tool to deploy and execute the rules.
  • Rule Team Server – web-based tool to change/update rules on production, for the business owners/ users.
Apart from the above, there are testing tools that might be needed; these include Decision Validation Services or Rule Scenario Manager (in the older version of ILOG JRules).

Since ILOG JRules is now being replaced by WODM we will now shift our focus on WODM (version 7.5)

WODM (WebSphere Operational Decision Management) – What, Why and How?
In an effort to package and market ILOG JRules as a more robust solution for entire decision management, IBM renamed ILOG JRules to WODM recently. This is ILOG’s 7.5 version. WODM gives your business the enhanced capability to integrate business events with business rules.

Before exploring further, let’s look at how one can distinguish between a business event and a business rule. A business event is something that occurs such as ‘a claim’ or ‘a transaction’ or ‘an alarm’. It’s the trigger that causes business rules to get invoked. An event does not care about the “logic” that goes with a business policy or change, rather it acts as a signal to invoke rules and generate a response based on the business rule.

Based on the above we can safely say that WODM does not really change the way ILOG has been as far as implementing a BRMS is concerned. It provides integration with business events but when it comes to what needs to be done to implement rules and a BRMS, there are hardly any surprises. Bottomline – if you are familiar or comfortable with ILOG JRules, you don’t need to worry about any learning curve in transitioning to WODM.

Since a picture is worth a thousand words, let’s look at one shall we?

The above picture represents a high-level view of WODM. The entire arrow on the left represents rules, and in parenthesis you can see “WebSphere ILOG BRMS.” The right hand side of the picture includes WebSphere Business Events.

Exploring WODM
In order to improve the quality of repeatable transactions and process-related decisions, a combined business rules and business events platform is needed. WODM provides this solution. It enables stakeholders within any line of business to create decision logic, separate decisions from processes and applications and execute real time decisions based on various interactions.

Components of WODM and Differences from ILOG JRules
Below is a figure representing components of WODM:

From the figure above, there are two specific components that need mention – Decision Center and Decision Server. Let’s look at what these are and how they differ from ILOG’s previous versions.

And, that is it. The way business rules were designed previously in ILOG does not change. Instead of using Rule Studio eclipse, now the enhanced Rule Designer is used. Decision Center for business space offers the capability to change namespaces out of the box and view enhanced reports for business rules and events.

Having discussed what WODM (and ILOG) is and what it consists of, let me now propose a delivery structure that gives you an idea of how your organization can implement a BRMS.

Proposed Delivery Suggestion for WODM
In order to establish a new BRMS system, there has to be detailed steps involved with Installation, Testing and Integration of the BRMS with application server environment. A new BRMS delivery approach should be broken down in four phases:
  • Installation of Decision Server (Rule Designer and Rule Execution Server) on IT developer and Architect’s personal machines.
  • Installation of Decision Server (Rule Execution Server) on dev/qa boxes and rules exposed as a service to be consumed by other services.
  • Installation of Decision Center (Rule Team Server) on dev/qa boxes in order for rule reviewers and business users to change rules on the fly.
  • Replicating qa installations of Decision Server and Decision Center on prod boxes. Note: Decision Center prod install is optional based on your organization’s governance policies.
The above breakdown of phases in which a WODM-ILOG based solution is delivered ensures that the rule solution has first been integrated within the SOA enterprise before the rules are exposed for being edited by the business. This breakdown also ensures if any leaks and gaps are present they get detected in the first three phases rather than breaking the system and causing damages on production when business users make a change on the fly. The above breakdown also takes into consideration the learning curve associated with making business users comfortable with changing business rules.

Transitioning from ILOG to WODM is an easy process and all your organization needs to do is get the latest software from IBM and follow the four step process above. Learning curve is almost zero if your organization is already using ILOG.

Business rules in general drive your organization towards becoming highly agile and flexible to change. Implementing a BRMS in your organization gives you an edge over your competitors in today’s world of quick adaptability. Automated decision making capabilities reduce cost and overhead for your organization. IBM’s WebSphere Operational Decision Management is the most robust solution to achieve your organization’s goals of having transparent and improved quality of transactions and process related decisions.

Akshat Srivastava is an ILOG consultant at Prolifics with 5 years experience in the IT industry having worked in insurance, banking, retail and public sector companies. He is experienced in all aspects of the development life cycle, including bottom-up estimates, analysis, design, development, testing, release management, and bug-fixing. He has created rule based solutions at various clients, authored rule repositories and best practice documents while focusing on ILOG as the implementation environment.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Exceptional Web Experiences 101

As I continue to prepare for Lotusphere 2012, I am reflecting on my experience last year at the conference in 2011. At Lotusphere 2011 there was lot of attention on providing an “Exceptional Web Experience” to the customers. And rightly so. At the end of the day, it’s all about making the customer, the end user, the client (or whatever they are called) happy. There can be a lot of misconceptions in the User Experience space about the concept of “web” experience”

So I asked my self this question: Is an iGoogle Page (that I view every single day) a good web experience?

Sure enough, the iGoogle page provides me with the information that I need. But to get the information, I had to enter my zip code 5 times and my address a couple of times. And none of the snippets or widgets of information talk to each other. Is this what you would call “Exceptional”?

This year, I participated in a few IBM Social Roadshows last year and I decided as part of Prolifics commitment with IBM I would talk about the whats and hows of this social experience and also present some trends in the space.

So what exactly is an “Exceptional Web Experience”? How do you achieve it?

When I looked up the meaning, I found the following answer: “it’s about how a person feels about the system”. To me that said it all, but the real question is how do you design the user experience (UE) so that it makes the end user feel good about the system? How do you attain the level of excellence?

According to me, these are some of the key drivers in creating a great User Experience
1. It’s about Relevance - Create highly personalized customer interactions

2. It’s not only just about the product - Design experiences, not features

3. Go beyond the desktop or laptop - Having a mobile presence is a must

4. Earn the trust of the customer - Improve customer loyalty and relationship by enabling “Social”

5. It’s about Web 2.0 and beyond… Web 3.0 - Visual Appeal + Ease of use = Wow customers. Keep the UI Simple, Interactive and Responsive (SIR principle)

For over a decade, IBM WebSphere Portal has led the web 2.0 space in providing a seamless web experience. But now with the help of its accelerators (Social, Collaboration, Mobile etc) it’s poised for providing greater results in the enterprise business and social space. IBM WebSphere Portal delivers greater flexibility by creating personalized web experiences that seamlessly combine back-end applications, commerce solutions, social media sites, and cloud-based services.

Speaking of Social, there is phenomenal potential in the power of introducing “Social” into day-to-day business.

I have observed some trends in how customers and clients are using the power of social to engage customers.

Social Trend #1 - Engage the Customer on the Site

This is the single biggest focus of most customers and clients. Two questions that normally arise in a UE discussion are: how do we keep the user engaged on the site? How can we have share information with users and between users?

Answer: Leverage Social. By Enabling Users to Socialize:
  • Share conversations and information between users
  • Wikis, blogs, forums, communities
  • Ratings, commenting, tagging
  • Shared bookmarks, files, activities for work & ideas
• Based on profile: expertise, projects, responsibilities, and interests.

Customer Service
• Enable customers to get problems resolved quickly with click-to-chat functions.Provide them targeted results

Social Collaboration
• Improve brand awareness by syndicating content across the web, into other online properties, such as Facebook, Twitter, Google etc.

IBM WebSphere Portal provides a great point solution to start your social initiative. Concepts like tagging and rating are essential components for developing collective intelligence about the site/product. They have also proven useful in engaging customers on the site and creating a trust and a sense of community between the end of users. Out of the box templates like Blogs, Wikis, Newsletters, Communities have made it very easy for clients to share information with the users. (Requires no development, only customization). Tools like click-to-chat, integration with RSS feeds from external sources like Facebook, Twitter, Google etc have added a great social dimension to Portal which was always perceived as “single point front end solution to IBM SOA framework"

Now if your business is ready for a more mature Social strategy IBM Lotus Connections is the right solution. To highlight some of the key features that product presents
• Profiles – Find people and expertise in your social network
• Community - Connect with people of common interests to share ideas
• Forum - Start discussions to solicit feedback from end users
• Activities - Dashboard of to-dos and activities within your network
• Files - Share variety of artifacts with your individuals and groups

Social Trend #2- Expand Beyond Traditional Web

There are 4.6 Billion mobile customers. To me it means 4.6B reasons to expand the outreach of your products to beyond traditional desktop. Having a mobile presence does not mean that users can access your site via a smart phone. But a true mobile experience comes from having a site to adopt the rendering process based on the smart phone. UI elements like themes on the portal pages, the navigation schemes should be able to differentiate between an iPhone or a Blackberry or any other smart phone.

Keep in mind the following consideration for developing a mobile strategy

  • Create a device agnostic presentation
  • Utilize common business logic and services
  • Cater to device specific requirements (iPhone maps, geo location etc)
  • Create lots of screen presence despite limited real estate
  • High Response time despite broadband limitations
  • Leverage one common theme

There are several questions in this space. What sort of a mobile strategy should customers adopt? Should I create a native iPhone app? What about a mobile website? What’s the buzz about HTML 5?

Consider your requirements before choosing a solution. Here are some options

There are several other options for non-Portal, non-IBM based customers as well, such as using one of the open source mobile and HTML 5 based frameworks.

Social Trend #3- Optimize the Experience with BI Analytics

One of the focus areas in social business is optimizing the experience based on real-time data, site usage and social analytics.
  • What drives BI Analytics?
  • Who is coming to my site?
  • How did they find it?
  • What are they doing?
  • What did they search for? Did they find it?
  • What are the most popular areas?
  • What are the most popular topics/content?

Leverage analytics to:
  • Improve user engagement by measuring and then fine tuning the customer experience
  • Intelligently manage your marketing resources
  • Make better decisions faster
  • Exceptional web experiences engage, attract, satisfy and retain customers and partners.
  • Being nimble and agile is required to keep web content fresh, engaging and relevant.
I look forward to seeing how these trends have evolved since Lotusphere 2011 and discover new trends to look for in 2012. Click here to see what Prolifics has in store for Lotusphere next week, including information about our 4 speaking sessions.

Niral Jhaveri is the User Experience Practice Director at Prolifics and has extensive expertise in the IBM Lotus, WebSphere and Rational family of products. He has played a key role at several strategic clients by providing technical leadership. Niral has an extensive background in the design and development of IBM WebSphere Portal, SOA and Web 2.0 applications with a proven track record of consulting and architecting solutions for several industry verticals like Finance, Retail, Insurance and Technology.

Friday, January 6, 2012

A 'Smart Web' Pattern for Tomorrow’s Enterprise

With over 5 billion mobile subscribers and 627 million mobile web users, projected to reach 1.5 billion by 2015, 'Mobile Platforms' are here to stay. Most Enterprises want to take advantage of these platforms to stay competitive and provide value to consumers.

Despite widespread adoption what daunts most technology teams today is the maintenance of multiple code bases across Web, Tablets and Smart phones. Web applications were developed targeting desktops and laptops as smart phones were a luxury a few years back. However, enterprises have taken note of the recent mobile wave and added support for smart phones and tablets rather than a ground-up redesign. The immediate need was to get a mobile presence out there which was accomplished using an ‘App’ or a mobile website in addition to existing assets. This adhoc solution approach leads to code fragmentation and maintenance becomes a nightmare in due course of time.

The following article discusses in detail strategies that could be employed for building mobile frameworks and apps with maximum re-usability and minimal code fragmentation: 17 Solutions to Build your own Mobile Application

Enterprises look for a development pattern that helps in the development of Web Applications and native mobile apps (iOS, Android) in a seamless manner through a single application code base. The pattern should be flexible to accommodate existing web applications. Such a pattern could be achieved by having an abstraction layer on top of mobile platforms (created using COTS Products) and integrating new code with their existing web applications.

We explored various options available in the market and zeroed in on Titanium IDE provided by Appcelerator. Titanium follows the same pattern as followed by Java, in that it’s a ‘Write once , run everywhere’ platform. It creates an abstraction layer in Javascript that helps developers generate native code for individual platforms without going through the process of maintaining individual code bases. The generated project, essentially a collection of Javascript files could be integrated with existing code base resulting in a single code base across platforms. Of course, a few tweaks are required in the build process to create customized builds for each device but that’s a one-time effort. The entire development process is seamless and bodes well for the organization in terms of maintenance and gives them extra leverage to react to changes in this ever growing market.

Selecting the right COTS Product for Mobile Development is a challenge given abundant products available in market today. Titanium IDE is based on Open standards and generates native code for mobile platforms. It provides Out-of-the-box Mobile ecosystem and connections to Enterprise data, content and processes. This results in shorter development cycles, manageable code base and code reuse across platforms. Enterprises can spend their dollars building new features and reacting better to market changes by adopting the above 'Smart Web' pattern.

Laks Sundararajan is a Solution Architect with Prolifics and a key member of highly specialized team working on IBM WebSphere Portal, Content Management and Collaboration technologies. He has led the implementation of many global projects using IBM WebSphere Portal and has extensive background in design and development of enterprise portals. He specializes in providing Enterprise SOA solutions leveraging WebSphere Portal, Content Management, Tivoli and Mashup’s. He holds Masters in Information Technology from Carnegie Mellon University and a Graduate Degree in Engineering from BITS, Pilani.