IBM Plunges Into 'Business Event Management,' Helping Define Field

The fairly new field of complex event processing sets parameters around a software event and triggers alerts if the rules governing it are violated.
IBM is staking out a position in complex event processing as applied to business processes; it's coined the term "business event management" to describe this embryonic field.

Complex event processing is relatively new. It was pioneered over several years by startups such as StreamBase Systems, a company founded by former University of California at Berkeley professor Michael Stonebraker, and both Oracle and IBM now offer it. Complex event processing is an ability to define a discrete software event, then monitor it over time, set parameters around it, and trigger alerts if the rules governing it are violated.

"What is a complex event? It is an event that could only happen if lots of other events happened," answered David Luckham, author of the book The Power Of Events and professor emeritus at Stanford University. A mortgage approval is a complex event, and a lot of observers believe that a routine check by a complex event processing system would have tagged many subprime mortgages as candidates for high-risk, if not fraudulent, issuance.

One reason that IBM stirs interest when it says it wants to get into business event management is that it's in the process of buying ILOG, the business rules engine market leader. ILOG recently displaced Fair Isaac, a leading credit-checking system, as the top business rules engine, according to IDC. Since the acquisition is not complete, InformationWeek's discussion with Kramer Reeves, IBM's manager of business process management product marketing, could not include ILOG, but the $340 million purchase lends intrigue to IBM's BEM moves.

IBM started edging up to BEM with the acquisition of AppSoft last spring. It previously had a toe in the business process management market with WebSphere Event Broker, WebSphere Enterprise Service Bus, and WebSphere Process Server.

"None of these products amounted to a real strategy. We didn't have tight engineering, focused on business event management," conceded Reeves.

That changed with the AppSoft acquisition, which provided the "capstone" product for a BEM lineup issued earlier this year, called WebSphere Business Events, Reeves said in a recent interview. The acquisition provided the "tooling for dialing between complex event processing (based on related events which occur in the software infrastructure) and business event processing," which may occur between unrelated systems with human interventions.

By being able to combine views of software events and business events in one set of tools, IBM gains the prospect of "allowing business users to more easily change the logic in the business event processes," Reeves said. And they should be able to do so in business language, not programming languages.

It's IBM's goal to put "simple user interfaces, simple interactions based on simple conditional logic" in front of business processes and start allowing more automated monitoring, change, and control of them, he said.

Look for IBM to start filling out what Reeves calls the WebSphere Business Service Fabric, a suite of business event processing products, which will separate the rules governing business events from the software processes themselves. If that's accomplished, then it will become a more straightforward problem to express business rules in the "if/then" conditional sequence used by business rules engines. In other words, if a certain condition prevails, such as an order for $1 million worth of goods, then a condition that dictates checking the credit worthiness of the buyer kicks in.

Other vendors are likely to understand the potential value of this space. Oracle, with the acquisition of BEA Systems, gained an ability to expand its business process management and business rules engine application as well and is likely to compete on this front.