Take orders faster and address degraded performance

Note: Growing order data – Is it really an issue? This blog is Part 1 in a series.

The IBM Sterling Order Management database grows as sales increase and as new business units and channels are on-boarded to utilize a common business process. Usually, an upsurge in transactional data volume is observed over time, and this growing data becomes a problem for customers. The sales order data can grow significantly large for relational databases to provide an optimal response. A large data volume not only slows down the read and search mechanisms but also contributes to degraded performance of other transactions like inserts and updates.

In order to continue taking orders at a faster rate and address the degraded performance, read operations can be moved from the main transactional database to an efficient and more agile datastore. The active transactional database can then be trimmed down to house relatively small transactional data. For example, retain transactions that are still in the fulfillment process or transactions that are based on certain pre-defined criterion, which is justifiable with business use cases. This approach not only improves the performance of the reads but also improves the inserts and updates to the transactional database with reduction in the data volume.

Data stored in an external datastore is still accessible as readily as online data and benefits over purging and storing data on tape. As an option, this external datastore can optionally be subdivided. For example, by type of data or by time (sales orders older than X years).

A similar approach can be used for other data sources like mainframes to provide an enterprise-wide order search service.

The following diagram shows a high-level view of putting this all together to manage growing data in IBM Cloud.

High-level view

Some common use cases for order transactional data are as follows:

  1. Get order (definition, complete details, etc.)
  2. Get order status
  3. Get order history
  4. Search orders

This solution can be extended to other types of data like opportunities and quotes.

Up next: Part 2 shows an implementation strategy for this approach.

Tushar Agrawal

Order search service – A change data capture perspective

Note: Growing order data – Is it really an issue? This blog is Part 4 in a series.

This blog provides an alternative approach to implement order visibility and search using a change data capture software pattern or technique instead of using IBM Sterling Order Management event extension points described in a previous blog in this series.

Change data capture is a popular software pattern used by databases to track changes in data and perform certain actions. It is employed as a real-time data replication technique that does not require making any code changes in the software application.

The source database must enable transaction logging that is read by a change data capture tool, and the data is pushed to a target data source, which can be another datastore or a flat file. This data is then transformed into an order object required to support the read and search mechanisms. The contents of transaction logs are proprietary to the database management system, so a change date capture tool is used to interpret them. There are many standard tools available in the market, including those from IBM, Oracle, Informatica, etc.

The following diagram shows an IBM Cloud approach to change data capture based on real-time data integration to support the order search mechanism.

Change data capture approach

Note: Similar components from other cloud providers like Amazon, Microsoft, and Google can also be used as desired.

Up next: Part 5 looks at change data capture vs. events.

Tushar Agrawal

Order search service – An implementation strategy

Note: Growing order data – Is it really an issue? This blog is Part 2 in a series.

Transactional databases grow with order data exponentially over time. Data is valuable! It cannot be purged to trim down a database. The next challenge for solution designers is to implement an approach so that their applications can provide a better user experience while business continues to grow with transactions. This blog presents an implementation strategy in IBM Cloud that uses the integration between IBM Sterling Order Management and IBM Event Streams.

Data in Order Management belongs to three major categories: transactional, configuration, and master. A process can be established to push transactional data into an external datastore and to meet the rapidly growing business needs around data retrieval. This data can be pushed in real time using an asynchronous event-based mechanism. The configuration and master data can be pushed through scheduled cron-based processes that can be run at regular intervals. Some common examples are as follows:

Data/Event Type Data Integration Style
Order Create Transactional Near Real-Time
Order Update Transactional Near Real-Time
Order Shipped Transactional Near Real-Time
Item Master Scheduled Cron
Categories Master Scheduled Cron
Enterprise Configuration Scheduled Cron

Data publishing using event framework

A scheduled cron based process can also be used to migrate existing or historical transactional data from a backup database into the read datastore. Once the historical data is migrated successfully, another process can be established to trim down the active transactional database periodically.

REST-based microservices can be created to access data from the read datastore. Some common use cases can be implemented as shown in the following table:

REST URL Pattern Notes
/salesorders/<ordernumber> Returns sales order information
/salesorders/<ordernumber>?info=complete Returns complete sales order information
/salesorders/<ordernumber>/status Returns sales order status
/salesorders?customerid=<customerid> Returns purchase history of a customer
/salesorders?customerid=<customerid>&startdate=<startdate>&enddate=<enddate> Returns purchase history of a customer within a date range

Consumers for read microservices

Up next: Part 3 shows taking this beyond the IBM Cloud.

Tushar Agrawal

Order search service – Change data capture vs. events

Note: Growing order data – Is it really an issue? This blog is Part 5 in a series.

Previous entries in this series provided implementation approaches using events and change data capture techniques. This blog highlights certain pros and cons of using events vs. change data capture with respect to order search service implementation in IBM Sterling Order Management.

Change data capture approach

Pros:

  1. No code changes are needed in the Order Management application to track changes in data.
  2. Minimal impact on the database; transaction logging must be enabled to track transactions.
  3. Transaction log can show a complete replay of updates to the data.
  4. Data tables can be enabled/disabled for transaction log, allowing for the ability to control the data footprint for lookup and search.

Cons:

  1. Contents of transaction logs are proprietary to the database management system; a change data capture tool is needed to interpret them.
  2. Dealing with changes in data definitions are difficult for the consumer, so customization and product upgrades need revisiting.
  3. Creation of order data in a format needed for search and lookup from the output is complex and a staging area is needed for data processing.
  4. Reprocessing of a record via transaction logs is not straightforward.
  5. Increased solution complexity; additional tools and technologies are added.
  6. Tightly coupled to database; with modularization of Order Management application, it may be difficult to apply this process to different databases.

Event approach

Pros:

  1. Although this method needs programming the application to track transactions, this provides an accurate picture of data needed for order search and lookup.
  2. Many events are pre-defined in Order Management and need configuration changes to enable them.
  3. Pre-established data integration pattern uses an event-based data integration solution with other cloud solutions like IBM Watson® Order Optimizer and IBM Watson Order Insights.
  4. Reprocessing of an event is easier because each event is tracked and stored.
  5. Solution complexity is low and hardware footprint is small.
  6. Easily upgradable.
  7. Changes in data definition does not affect this approach because all data is present in the order object.

Cons:

  1. Application extension/customization/configuration may be needed.
  2. Increasing the data footprint needs a new application release.
  3. Event processing consumes resources from the application, although this can be optimized via asynchronous processing and combination of mirror database to some extent.

To summarize, it is difficult to say which approach is better. Software designers should consider the pros and cons of both the approaches with respect to their existing solution boundaries and technical environment prior to selecting one of them.

Tushar Agrawal

Order search service – Taking it beyond IBM Cloud

Note: Growing order data – Is it really an issue? This blog is Part 3 in a series.

We previously focused on using the existing integration between IBM Sterling Order Management and IBM Event Streams in IBM Cloud to provide a better user experience while business continues to grow with more transactions. This blog targets implementations where the choice of cloud platform is different from IBM: Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform. This blog will also present an option to implement the solution on premises.

IBM Sterling Order Management uses event extension points to establish an integration with IBM Event Streams. The event extension points can also be extended to implement a customized logic and producer for open source tools like Apache Kafka, Kinesis in Amazon Web Services, Event Hub in Azure, PubSub in Google Cloud Platform, etc.

Event-based data integration patterns for the transaction data type and scheduled cron-based process for master and configuration data, as established previously, can also be used with other cloud providers. The following diagrams show reference components that can be used to achieve a similar outcome in Azure and the others.

Note: The components displayed in the following diagrams are not benchmarked and can be swapped with alternates as needed based on non-functional requirements.

Amazon Web Services

Amazon Web Services approach

Microsoft Azure

Microsoft Azure approach

Google Cloud Platform

Google Cloud Platform approach

Open source

An option using common open source tools for implementations that may want to retain all data on premises is shown below.

Open source approach

Up next: Part 4 explains a change data capture perspective.

Tushar Agrawal

Get acquainted with Supply Chain Insights

When everything is going well, details like which route your carrier took to deliver the package to your customer seem completely immaterial. But what happens when a massive storm hits and you realize that all of your carriers are stuck in it, and none of your packages will be delivered on time? You’ve just broken your promise to your customers, and more likely than not, you’ll have to deal with demands for refunds. This is where IBM Sterling Supply Chain Insights with Watson™ comes in.

Supply Chain Insights provides your organization with end-to-end visibility throughout all stages of the supply-chain life cycle – from planning and sourcing to delivery and service and everything in between. With its news integration, Supply Chain Insights can inform you, the supply-chain manager, that a massive storm will likely affect many of your shipments, so you can then advise your carriers to alternative routes, as well as let your customers know that delays are possible.

Operations Center – The dashboard

With a dashboard that offers an easy way to visualize your end-to-end supply chain, Supply Chain Insights can help you prioritize the items that require your attention, and give you all the information you need to make an optimal decision in the face of disruptions.

dashboard

Operations Center – The dashboard, detailed view

What’s really great about the dashboard is that at first, you get a nice high-level picture of your business, but if necessary, you can also get into the details and drill down for the specifics. For example, you can see that there are some problems with the open sales orders. If you click on the Open Sales Orders widget, you can see the exact percentage of orders and the amount of revenue that’s affected. From there, you can see all of the unscheduled sales orders and get a list by sales order number. If you drill down even further and select a sales order number, you can view the order summary and a timeline on the right side of the screen. You can see any concerns with the order, such as if there is no shipping date. This is just a quick example, but you can see how much detail you can get from this platform.

opscenter

Ask Watson

Another great feature of Supply Chain Insights is the capability to talk to Watson in natural language and get real-time responses. For example, instead of looking for widgets on your dashboard, you can tell Watson to show you all of the open sales orders, and Watson will provide you with links to details on those orders in real time. Not only that, but Watson is trained on a multitude of supply-chain questions, and you can train Watson on your own skills as well — but that’s a topic for a future article.

talktowatson

Resolution Rooms

Supply Chain Insights is a collaboration platform that enables businesses to set up resolution rooms to discuss and take action on problems that inevitably arise during the supply-chain process. Let’s say there is a problem with supply order ZB-PO-0001924. You want to get in a room with all of the stakeholders, so you can easily invite people to discuss the details of the problem and come up with a resolution. The rooms allow you to have all of the details of your order available, take and save notes, and resolve your problem before it’s too late.

resroom

Learn more

This is just a high-level overview of some of the features that come out of the box with an IBM Sterling Supply Chain Insights trial, but there are many more to explore. You can also learn how to get started uploading data through APIs.

Horea Porutiu

Developing supply-chain solutions just got better for developers

Sterling supply chain suite image

Over the last few months, IBM has significantly aligned our portfolio to optimize for open development, while better addressing customer needs. Today, we announced the open IBM Sterling supply chain suite, which comes with a developer hub and advocacy support. This announcement is exciting for me because it makes life easier for the developer — both through product enhancements and through our developer offerings.

An open platform for you to build what you need

Traditional supply-chain products keep data and functions within their suite of products. For speed and efficiency in a supply chain, you need end-to-end visibility of data and access to services to innovate and build the intelligent, trusted business networks of the future.

The new IBM Sterling supply chain suite eases the burden on developers by giving greater access to the data and services you need to do your job. Our entire stack is in the open platform, meaning that you can easily extend all applications, business services, and microservices. You can build exactly what you need, with greater access to the underlying technology.

Resources you need to succeed

Helping developers do their jobs better, faster, and more efficiently is at the crux of everything we do through IBM Developer advocacy. The IBM Sterling developer hub gives you access to the code, content, and community you need to succeed on the platform.

In the hub, you will find:

  1. Tutorials, blogs, and articles to help you understand the technology and how to get started
  2. Code patterns that you can extend in your own environment to immediately get started coding
  3. Events, meetups, and workshops where you can meet our developer advocates, ask them your questions, and learn in person

A great day for developers on the supply chain

Our IBM Developer team is excited to support the IBM Sterling supply chain suite through our advocacy and content efforts. Be sure to check out the conversation with Stephen Kenna and Marshall Lamb to learn more. We hope you’ll visit our hub, where you’ll have access to a vast library of knowledge resources to help you build and extend apps, and get started developing your next supply-chain solution.

Willie Tejada

Discover how to build intelligent, self-correcting supply chains

The IBM Sterling suite offers solutions for supply chain and B2B collaboration. For complete product documentation, including information on how to extend the solutions, check out the following product Knowledge Centers.

Supply chain

IBM Sterling Order Management — Enhance cross-channel efficiencies, improve and streamline complex product order management, and fulfillment operations across commerce systems.

IBM Sterling Store Engagement — Extend access and control of store operations to store associates through intuitive mobile applications that enable omni-channel offerings like “buy online, pick up in store” and “ship from store,” as well as managing returns across channels.

IBM Sterling Call Center — Provide solutions to the challenges found in typical customer order management business scenarios.

IBM Sterling Configure, Price, Quote — Present product information throughout all channels and let employees, customers, and partners accurately configure, price, quote, and order products, services, and solution bundles.

IBM Sterling Inventory Visibility — Process extremely high inventory supply-and-demand update activity and present an accurate real-time availability picture across all e-commerce channels.

IBM Sterling Fulfillment Optimizer with Watson — Formerly known as Watson Order Optimizer, this solution provides insight into your business by analyzing big data with the goal of minimizing the total cost to serve your customers using both stores and distribution centers.

IBM Sterling Supply Chain Insights with Watson — Provide visibility across your supply chain to help you manage constant change. Quickly detect potential disruptions and collaborate with colleagues and IBM Watson™ to resolve issues.

IBM Sterling Supply Chain Business Network — Establish reliable connections with suppliers and business partners. Then, using cognitive technologies, achieve deep visibility into B2B transaction life cycles and partner performance. Depending on the edition, also includes IBM Sterling Business Transaction Intelligence, InFlight, IBM Sterling Delivery Transaction Intelligence, Sterling Information Broker, IBM Sterling e-invoicing, and IBM Sterling Web Forms.

IBM Sterling Supply Chain Business Assistant — Use the best techniques to bring AI to your applications. IBM Sterling Supply Chain Business Assistant presents a unique and proven model based on modern approaches to machine reasoning.

B2B collaboration

IBM Sterling B2B Integrator — A transaction engine that runs the processes that you define and manages the processes according to your business requirements. Supports high-volume electronic message exchange, complex routing, translation, and flexible interaction with multiple internal systems and external business partners.

IBM Sterling Secure Proxy — An application proxy between nodes or between a client application and a B2B Integrator server. It provides a high level of data protection between external connections and your internal network. Define an inbound node definition for each trading partner connection from outside the company and an outbound node definition for every company server.

IBM Sterling File Gateway — A framework for movement of large and high-volume file transfers, with end-to-end visibility of file movement in a process-oriented and highly scalable framework. This framework alleviates file transfer challenges, such as protocol and file brokering, automation, and data security.

IBM Sterling Connect:Direct — A point-to-point (peer-to-peer) file-based integration middleware meant for round-the-clock unattended operation, which provides ensured delivery and secure high-volume data exchange within and between enterprises.

IBM Sterling Partner Engagement Manager — A system that enables faster onboarding, collaboration, interaction, monitoring, and visibility of activity flows between an enterprise and their partners, customers, and suppliers.

IBM Sterling Transformation Extender — A powerful, transaction-oriented data integration solution that automates the transformation of complex high-volume transactions. Supports EDI, XML, SWIFT, HIPAA, and other standards-based B2B integration, as well as the real-time integration of data from multiple applications, databases, messaging middleware, and communications technologies across the enterprise.

IBM Sterling Control Center — A centralized monitoring and management system that enables operations personnel to continuously monitor business activities across the enterprise. IBM Sterling Control Center also enables the management of Connect:Direct servers configuration and licenses.

Valerie Westcott