Complex Event Processing

There’s a lot going on in our system…. What does it really mean?

Complex Event Processing (CEP) is an emerging field that leverages the transport-level layer of the Event-Driven Architecture (EDA) model and applies an “analysis” layer on top of it.  EDA enables you to monitor and analyze important events that affect your business – like unusually large orders, significant inventory draws, critical processing delays, high- and low-water resource thresholds, and even suspicious activities – and provides a technological basis for responding to those events.

Supplementing conventional batch processing with EDA requires a mindset change, but once you have an EDA implemented, a lot of useful and actionable information about how things are working in your system becomes available.  However, coordinating this analysis and correlating disparate events into meaningful information is not a trivial task. There are significant considerations including cross-domain correlation of events that happen across business-units and supply-chain partners, boundary activities that might indicate fraudulent or even illegal activities, and intra-domain activities that generate large volumes of events, such as manufacturing or logistics processes.

Fortunately, it’s not just you and me thinking about this problem.  Roy Schulte, Vice President and Distinguished Analyst at Gartner, recently wrote a book on the topic called “Event Processing: Designing IT Systems for Agile Companies”. Roy is definitely a thought-leader in this space.

I spoke with Roy on this topic back in 2007, and you could hear the enthusiasm in his voice about how CEP will help businesses improve their decision processes by having more information available, in context, along with being able to filter out the “noise” and allowing businesses to focus on their real concerns. CEP has horizontal application across all business domains and focuses on correlating multiple event interactions into a logical trigger-point that allows businesses to identify key areas and activities of interest.

This can directly be applied to contemporary challenges such as fraudulent credit purchases.  I was recently travelling to San Francisco and within one hour of making a purchase using my credit-card in San Francisco, I received an email from my credit-card company alerting me to possible fraud (I started the morning in Philadelphia).  I appreciated their attention and confirmed that everything was ok.  But let’s consider the real value here;  The credit-card company protected themselves from exposure to charges that they may have had to absorb AND I, the consumer, received excellent customer service because of their attention to transaction activity.  Now, consider how substantial their transaction volume is on an hourly basis and you can imagine the processing that was required to filter all of those transactions to make intelligent decisions that serves the business.

This type of event analysis and coordination is what Roy is proposing, and I must say, having spoken with him and followed his thinking along these lines, I appreciate the potential he sees for CEP in businesses of all kinds.

To quote Roy;  “It’s a familiar story: the pace of business has increased, the world is changing faster, and competition is getting tougher.  These business pressures have inspired the development of numerous modern management strategies with the net result that the world is awash with advice on why your company needs to be more responsive and adaptable. It’s now time to move on to the more important discussion of how to actually do it. Smart devices, sense-and-respond systems and situation awareness depend on getting the maximum value from business event data.”  (reference: http://www.gartner.com/it/page.jsp?id=1212113)

You can also listen to a brief interview with Roy at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b6Lb0FRojXM

I’m going to spend the next few blogs discussing CEP, it’s application and impact on businesses.  Keep checking back for further updates.

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