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Thursday, July 17, 2008

Rendering Unto Caesar - The Role of the Business User in CEP

Posted by Chris Martins

"Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's
and unto God the things that are God's"

A recent posting in the Enterprise Decision Management Blog entitled "Can we trust business users" addresses a topic that seems equally pertinent to the CEP market. I think there is a tendency to become so enamored with the technical virtuosity of new technology that we may lose sight of who the real users are. In terms of the development of CEP applications, an understanding of the prospective roles of business users vs. that of IT developers seems to be an evolving thing. Apama has long been a proponent of the participation of the business user in the process of building CEP-driven applications. In Capital Markets, the notion of "empowering the trader" has been a key element of our strategy and the Apama product offers a graphical development tool, Event Modeler, that focuses on that constituency. We have another RAD tool that is intended for developers who can create applications in our event processing language, as well.

We are beginning to see third party validation of the value of this approach from outside of Capital Markets, as well. For example, a report from Forrester Research published earlier this year indicated that early adopters of CEP have tended to come from the line of business rather than IT because "developers and architects often know painfully little about these [non-traditional, non-IT] events and how they are used to run a business." That Forrester quote is certainly not intended to diss IT. It just recognizes that there are lots of different kinds of events that are important to a business and not all those events are traditional IT-aware or IT-generated events. In order to make sense and respond to such events, it seems quite logical that providing tools that are amenable to a more "business" oriented audience is important.

But I would argue that it is not just the nature of events - and their varied sources - that suggests a strong correlation between CEP and business users. It is also the nature of the CEP-driven applications themselves. CEP applications are not "one and done", they tend to be iterative and evolving, because they are crafted to respond to what is happening and what is happening is often a frequently changing set of conditions. Or, if the conditions are not changing, how you choose to respond to them may be changing. So you need to continually calibrate and revise.

In another Forrester report published earlier this year, this characteristic was noted within the context of a review of Business Activity Monitoring best practices. Event-driven BAM is a particularly strong use case for CEP and the report stated that BAM efforts "are typically never-ending projects" with a "high degree of change." That makes sense since BAM monitors 'business activities' and the nature of most businesses will change over time. So to support BAM applications, it seems perfectly logical to provide tools for business users who can take on some role in the initial development and ongoing operational calibration of these applications. There is clearly an important role for developers in building these applications – no one would suggest otherwise, but we best not forget what the “B” in BAM refers to.

What seems to be emerging is the notion that we are should not look at CEP and/or BAM deployments as discrete, finite projects with clearly prescribed end dates. They are continuously iterative projects that must evolve to remain effective. That’s the environment in which they operate. Given that, perhaps we should not see the roles of business users and IT as fitting within well prescribed boundaries. The development and ongoing management of these applications will have evolving roles for the line of business user and for IT over time. We might expect IT-centric development to have a more dominant role in the initial deployment, but over time the goal might be to have the line-of-business assume greater and greater roles - because the business will be the dominant user and best positioned to react to changing circumstances.

Perhaps the EDM blog posting says it best, though it expresses it within a "business rules" context. “Too many rules specialists focus on rules that will get executed and not enough on the people that will maintain those rules, although this is where the success of the project resides.” That is quite the same for CEP and BAM. There is a role for business users, driven by the nature of events and the continuously evolving nature of the applications that are “event-driven.” And it is incumbent on the technology provider to offer tools that will facilitate that evolution. All the CEP performance in the world will be of little use, unless that performance is well-aligned with the needs of the business.

So we might debate who is the metaphorical Caesar and who is God in CEP development, but the success may well rest on giving each their due.

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