By Alan Little, IBM Distinguished Engineer - AIM z Cloud z CTO and Chief Architect for WebSphere for z
This blog entry is part one of a pair of blogs on Systems of Engagement and Systems of record. Check out part two, The New Modern Cloud-enabled Systems of Record, by Mike Baskey on the IBM Mainframe Insights blog.
Systems of Engagement represent a new “mobile led, born in the cloud” application tier that is focused on rapid, continuous development and execution of “engaging” applications. The engagement tier interacts with many sources of data, including the Internet of things and System of Record data and applications.
The way in which businesses interact with their customers is changing. Customers have more demanding expectations in this world of 24x7 access using smart phones and tablets, placing information and services at their fingertips. Application providers must now engage the customer and not just service the specific request. Engaging (e.g. mobile) applications leverage new technologies that allow businesses to gain new insight into the customer’s needs and habits, as well as just process the specific request. They potentially interact with social media to allow happy customers to promote the business, or allow the potential customer to understand that this is a good place to do business.
Lets take an example; just to give a quick description of what might be an application done in an engaging way.
George is customer of an auto insurance company. The company has just rolled out a new engaging application to help customers address all their insurance needs. George installed the application, and was quickly and easily enrolled.
It’s a winter morning, and George stops for a car turning left in front of him, next thing he knows he hears the squeal of brakes, and the car behind him slams into the back of his car. George gets out of the car; everyone is safe. A sickening feeling sets in as expectations of having to endure a lot of paper work being without his car for a long period of time fills his mind. Now comes the test for the insurance company.
George brings up the application on his smart phone, and indicates that he was in an accident. Next the mobile application goes into motion; it converses with George, asking if the police are present, whether injuries exist, whether a tow truck is needed. While this basic triage is being done, the application is recording the location of the accident from the phone's GPS. From that data, it has accessed and gathered road and weather conditions for those coordinates, all location and condition data information being pushed to the system of record.
George is asked to gather pictures of the scene with the camera on his phone, and further to take pictures of the police record. The mobile application seamlessly collects these records and delivers them to the business. After the evidence is gathered, the application suggests several garages for repairs and a taxi arrives to take George to the local car rental agency where a car is waiting. A workflow is created on the system of record to get George's claim settled, and his car repaired and returned rapidly. George is kept up to date via notifications on his smart phone.
In the end, George, while upset over being in an accident, is delighted with his insurance company. After taking delivery of his repaired car, George is pushed a notification to his smart phone to comment on his experience and chooses to let his friends and family via social media by using the integrated feature in the engaging application.
What are the important technologies that are used in this example that the Application Architect must consider?
Smartphones, which include sensors like a GPS and camera, in addition to being (prevalent) with a lot of customers.
Access to new types of data from the Internet of things, for example access to weather and road conditions.
Integration with social media.
System of Record information and programs, for example the workflow to get your claim complete.
The application is focused on the customer, the application did not ask a lot of questions about the customer, and the questions that are asked are asked once. The customer-facing system had a database of customer information that can quickly allow the application to be responsive to the customer. It fires off asynchronous information requests to gather information in a file of the incident. And there are many interactions between the engaging application and your systems of record.
Depending on the type of engaging application, workloads can be driven by real world events, having a customer-facing system that is elastic and can quickly handle expansions in workloads is extremely important. If the above application was for a homeowner policy, and a big event occurs, for example a hurricane, the customer-facing system requirements for hardware resources can grow orders of magnitude in a matter of minutes. This is why cloud technologies become an enabling technology for these Systems of Engagement.
Systems of Engagement evolve rapidly, and some have very short life cycles, measured in weeks not years. The use of cloud technologies enables for the rapid provisioning of the application, quick growth, and quick sunsetting of the short life-cycle application. And, not to be overlooked is good integration with the System of Record to maximize the business value to the Enterprise in a cost effective and secure, reliable way.
This style of application if done well, has the potential of creating happy customers, and attracting new customers. Ignoring, Systems of Engagement leave you at risk, because your competitors will build them and reap the benefits they bring.
Alan has been an engineer for IBM for more than 30 years, starting his career in the z/OS operating system. As a member of the z/OS team he help design and develop parallel sysplex. He then moved to a new project that turned into the WebSphere family of application servers. Originally, Alan led a team that brought WAS to z/OS, and later on took a broader role as the chief architect for the WebSphere Application Server on all platforms. Recently, Alan has focused on cloud technologies, bringing those technologies to IBM platforms including System z.