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User story: Applying Tibco CEP for tracking and tracing containers at sea

A firm managing ocean-going containers has forged a complex event processing (CEP) system to track shipments and trigger important business processes as key activity milestones are met or missed.

Business Process Management (BPM) projects have often been launched because of regulations. An ongoing effort at Orient Overseas Container Line is different in that it is actually something of a result of deregulation.

The $4.6-billion-per-year ocean-going container corporation has been adapting in recent years to a different business environment. Where container lines once were excluded from antitrust rules, and able to work out pricing and lading in conference, they now set prices and manage inventory individually, the way other businesses do. That means management needs a much better view into operations, which are global and complex.

In response, they have forged a complex event processing (CEP) system to track shipments and trigger important business processes as key activity milestones are met or missed.

This complex event-driven system has been created to meet management needs at San Jose, Calif.-based Orient Overseas Container Line. The company's operational systems for monitoring events have gone through a few iterations to get to this point. Now, according to Matt Rosen, Orient Overseas Container's director of application development, a Tibco system correlates activity, while adapting to changes in the business climate.

Complex event processing

The declarative programming model was new to the developers, and we had to give time for them to work on it -- basically for the light bulb to go off.
Matt RosenDirector of Application Development, Orient Overseas Container Line

"We are assessing different activities about which we want to be alerted if milestones are reached or not reached on time. The system emits events. The implementation is plugged into a monitoring activity," he said. "This might invoke a Web service or a JMS message, or it may [give someone] a task to complete." Sometimes the tasks can be complex, involving more than a single system, Rosen added.

Early versions of a shipping planning system that is part of operations centered on a J2EE object-oriented development that employed an internally developed framework for strict event sequencing. This was followed by a system heavily based on BPEL tools. Parts of these systems are active still, but the operations shipping planning system is now principally built around Tibco Business Events technology.

Lack of agility and scalability were issues that were encountered in implementing the J2EE-oriented system and the BPEL system, respectively, according to Rosen. In the first case, a change in rules required a new technical release. In the second case, the system encountered scaling problems as more and more tracking milestone types were added; complexity of BPEL process definitions for exception handling and other functions also were at issue.

Declarative programming

Tibco BusinessEvents employs a Rete algorthim for determining the order in which rules are applied. BusinessEvents rules are declarative, which proved useful in Rosen's project, although not without some challenges.

"The declarative programming model was new to the developers, and we had to give time for them to work on it - basically for the light bulb to go off," he said. So training is important.

Meanwhile, declarative programming is not for all purposes. "It's good for some problems," said Rosen. "It's a good tool for the tool box but you don't want it to be your only tool."

At its Tucon user event in May, Tibco detailed plans for BusinessEvents 4.0. It supports rules creation in a spreadsheet-style environment, as well as in the BusinessEvents' Event Pattern Language. Events can also be edited via flow charts. Rosen said a native debugger in BusinessEvents 4.0 is a welcome addition.

"One thing we learned about BusinessEvents is it is quite scalable. With a fairly modest hardware investment, we were able to scale it, and we have room to grow," he said.

Related CEP information
Tibco Tuscon Orient Overseas Container - Brenda Michelson report from Tucon 2010 – ebizQ.net
 

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