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SOA moves toward event handling

Event handling capabilities will be the new frontier for BPM/SOA combined offerings, according to a Forrester analyst, but vendors have been slow on the uptake.

What the heck are BEM and CEP? And does the SOA/BPM world need more acronyms?

Like acronyms or not, business event management (BEM) and complex event processing (CEP) are the next step in the fusing of SOA and BPM in business process management suites from major vendors, according to analysts at Forrester Research Inc.

Ken Vollmer, principal analyst at Forrester, had identified these two emerging technologies in a paper titled "Comparing Business Event Management And Complex Event Processing: New Features Add To Overall Business Process Management Suite Capability," which was published in August and may have gotten lost in the summer haze. In that paper he defined what these two new technologies are and why they will be important to the future of SOA projects focused on making business processes more agile.

BEM for humans

BEM is a way to get machines to alert people when a business process is going wrong and needs human attention to get back on track.

"Business event management is the process of capturing real-time business events from multiple sources and assigning them to the appropriate decision-maker for resolution based on the business context of the events," according to Forrester's definition.

BEM is a cousin to workflow systems, but where the latter focus on human interactions within an organization, BEM focuses on the business processing and business rules and then alerts humans when something goes wrong. The goal is to speed processes up by minimizing time lost because of an exception. As an example, Vollmer points to a system where a credit exception needs to be granted to a customer to complete an order. If a sales manager is alerted, the credit exception for a reliable customer could be granted immediately and the transaction could then be completed. Without the BEM alert, the customer might become frustrated, turn to another supplier and major business might be lost.

While BEM is not yet part of many vendor offerings, Vollmer notes in his report that the technology is making an appearance in some products. "Vitria Technology's Resolution Accelerator provides BEM capability," he writes, "Lombardi Software's Undercover Agents provide a similar functionality, as does the event manager component of SAP's NetWeaver."
CEP emerges

In his report, Vollmer defined CEP as processing software that "automatically correlates events into patterns that may represent a threat or opportunity and orchestrates an appropriate response." As he points out, the concept is not new, having originated in 1998 in a Stanford University research paper authored by David Luckham and Brian Frasca. Their paper titled "Complex Event Processing in Distributed Systems" outlined a message-based system that would gather data on events in a process, use historical data and algorithms to analyze it, and then identify potential problems. The problems might be resolved by applying existing business rules or might be referred to a carbon-based biped for further review and action.

But CEP has been slow coming to market, although Tibco Software Inc., webMethods Inc. and Sun Microsystems, include it in their integration-centric business process management suite (IC-BPMS) product offerings, Vollmer said.

Vollmer notes that there are vendors specializing in CEP, currently led by AptSoft Corp. "They are not an IC-BPMS vendor," he said of AptSoft, "but they do have advanced CEP capability." He anticipates that there will be more of these specialists developing CEP tools to work with products from larger vendors.

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Forrester sees convergence of SOA and BPM

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AptSoft provides examples of CEP applications already in use by its customers including Georgia-Pacific Corp., which is using AptSoft's CEP software platform to "to automate a time-consuming, rather intricate process that maintains our supply-chain data," according to Scott Lackey, senior analyst, Georgia-Pacific. He credits CEP with automating formerly manual process including handling anomalies, which goes beyond what can be achieved with traditional business rules engines.

However, despite the promise BEM and CEP to take SOA and BPM technology to the next level, adoption remains slow and Vollmer said he has not seen much progress in adoption in the six months since he wrote his first report.

"There has not been much movement yet among the other IC-BPMS vendors," he said.

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