IBM offers patterns for e-business

Companies have been making mistakes with their e-business strategies since the whole brouhaha over online commerce started. But...

Companies have been making mistakes with their e-business strategies since the whole brouhaha over online commerce started. But IBM says it has the answer, writes Danny Bradbury.

In a bid to help customers get their businesses online efficiently, the company has launched its Patterns for E-business initiative. It is a distilled set of best practices from IBM's consultancy work and breaks down into six very high-level application types. These are user-to-business, user-to-online buying, business-to-business, user-to-user, user-to-data, and application integration.

Once you select the application type that matches your business best, you can begin to drill down, examining application topologies (describing interaction between users, data and applications) and runtime topologies that group functional requirements together.

These lead further towards mappings that define specific products to handle the parts of each solution and guidelines for implementation. Thus, the whole process is broken down into three sections, covering business, logical software infrastructure and finally physical implementation.

Peter Llewellyn, marketing manager for the initiative, explains that the patterns are a product of the IBM Redbooks process. This is a long-standing scheme in which the company involves a small group of experts in a six-week project, documenting the process and the architecture.

Many companies will be attracted to the idea of a well-trodden road map to e-business success, but such an approach is not without its problems. For one thing, the notation available with the patterns is far from standard. There is no support for the Object Management Group's standard Unified Modelling Language (UML) notation standard, which is designed to help codify applications from the business process down to the object class level.

"We built on IBM technologies," says Llewellyn. "We tried to keep the complexity of the patterns down. We have not done the spadework. Someone else would have to do that."

Such a supplier-specific focus is also evident in the company's product mappings.

While IBM says that its applications for e-business framework enables solutions to be transferred between products easily enough, its product mappings within the patterns initiative are still very IBM-centric, focusing on IBM's OS/400, OS/390 and AIX systems, along with Windows NT, which the company also sells.

Still, there are some saving graces. The company has produced a Patterns Development Kit (PDK), which is a skeleton application of the user-to-business pattern implemented in Java. "The architect can download the code off the Web site, and if he likes the look of it he can strip out the skeleton application and reuse it," says Llewellyn.

The company plans to implement other PDKs for the rest of its high-level patterns and will hopefully have two more by the summer. Still, the company has made its mark on the PDK too Ð the download screen warns developers that they need IBM products including Websphere and Visualage to use it.

Llewellyn admits that the patterns do not cover every eventuality. When companies get down to the runtime topology layer, for example, they may find that their existing infrastructures simply do not fit the anticipated topologies laid down by Big Blue. But he still believes that it can handle 80% of a business' needs.

"We said at the start that we cannot solve the whole world's problems in a single leap," he says, adding that the group will try to link up with other parts of IBM to codify other metrics.

This codification of e-business best practices is becoming more common. Rational Software offers a similar concept with its e-development Accelerators initiative, which relies on reusable e-business frameworks. Meanwhile, Aonix has gone beyond UML, concentrating on templates that can be used to capture business processes and turn them into code.

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