OfficeMax had a visibility problem. "Two years ago we started a major third-party drop-ship program that caused us to lose some visibility of the orders after they left our network," says Brian Walmsley, divisional vice president of EAI technology at OfficeMax. This problem became a customer service issue, particularly for orders that went through many different suppliers. "Not only were call center staff unable to see where orders were in the process, but there was no way to determine which suppliers were underperforming and which were on target or better. The best we could do was to generate historical reports or have a staff of people carefully track individual vendors manually, which was not a great use of resources."
The company turned to webMethods Optimize, a BAM (business activity monitoring) solution that rides on top of the webMethods EAI platform OfficeMax used to integrate with its suppliers' systems. Walmsley is excited by what he's seen so far. "We'll be able to see in real time the state of each and all our transactions by vendor … how many transactions are falling out of the process model, and get live, ranked vendor scorecards. The system will also alert us if a vendor hasn't responded to orders in a while, so we can contact them before customers are impacted. If a vendor's scorecard is falling, we'll be able to correct the situation before it becomes a problem."
OfficeMax's experience is typical of today's "real-time" enterprises. "There's a lot of pressure on companies today to respond to business events much more quickly," says Bill Gassman, principle analyst at Gartner. "Business managers don't want to wait for the next day for data warehouse information to be rolled up. They want to know in a couple of minutes if inventory on a product has fallen below a certain amount, if sales didn't make this number of calls, or if they got a purchase order over a certain value from an important customer."
In fast-paced businesses, such as financial services, each hour of nonresponse can cost tens of thousands of dollars. And such regulations as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act -- which requires regulated businesses to report significant business events, such as multimillion dollar orders, within 48 hours -- are also driving the need for real-time information. "How long would it take before such an event percolates up into the reporting world of most large enterprises today?" Gassman asks. "A week? A month? Businesses will have to be able to get to and trust a single version of the truth fast. BAM will be one of the key tools they use."
Live or near-live monitoring of business processes and KPIs (key performance indicators) is precisely the mission of BAM, which typically pulls information from a variety of applications and data sources then presents it to the user as live, integrated, "dashboard" displays filled with speedometers, bar graphs, maps, and tables. BAM also filters the information it monitors based on user-defined business rules, sending out alerts when key thresholds are reached, including inventory running below a certain level, or, in the case of OfficeMax, lack of response from a vendor within a certain time period. In some cases alerts may initiate other actions, such as e-mails to staff, customers, or suppliers.