Book Review – JBoss Business Process Management

Quick Review

I would have bought the Packt JPBM workflow book even though I got a free review copy. I wish I had it when I was first learning Workflow / jBPM

Long Review

I like workflow, which doesn’t tend to make me very popular at parties. But, since you’re reading this blog, I’ll assume that you have some interest in Workflow, and will now proceed to tell you all about it (if I’ve got this wrong, and you’re using Google Reader, hit the ‘J’ button now to speed on to something more interesting. We’ll forget all about this in the couple of days when I next blog).

Still here? While most computer programs aim to finish as soon as possible, workflow programs can run over many hours , days or weeks (stick with me, this gets better). Most of the difficulties that programmers face when coming to workflow aren’t technical (workflow is no more difficult than using one of the many web frameworks out there) but  conceptual.

  1. Trust the force, Luke; If you’re used to writing your own programs, it can be a bit of a switch to writing small actions to be embedded into a larger workflow framework.
  2. Forget about Hello World. Workflow is used to solve complex problems. It’s going to take a bigger investment of your time to appreciate the true power of  workflow .
  3. Tip of the iceberg (aka Why can’t I write my own?) Most people start out not needing an entire workflow framework, but to solve a specific problem. So they begin to write their own framework. Then they find another requirement, then another. By the time they realise that they need an ‘off the shelf’ framework, they’re reluctant to to dump their investment.

So where does the book come into this?

jBpm Java Business Process Management book cover

jBpm Java Business Process Management book cover

Put simply, the book lets you overcome those  three big problems more quickly.

Yes, it deals with the ‘nuts and bolts’ of workflow – how to setup the framework. How to use the Eclipse based editor to draw / design your workflow. How to the use the various tasks that come bundled with the framework, and how to write your own. How to persist your workflow so that even if the system fails, the business can still recover. But all of these are covered quite well in the JBoss jBPM documentation, even though having it in book format is very useful.

Where the book is really good is that it talks you through the concepts of workflow, why you should be using it, and gives you the big picture straight away. It also will help convince you (or your boss) that an off-the-shelf framework is much, much better than even thinking of writing your own.

Combined with the fact that jBPM is open source, and is available for free download from JBoss / RedHat (i.e. it is low cost to start, but is credible enough to deploy in the enterprise), this make the book an ideal way to experiment with workflow. Even if you choose (or somebody else chooses for you) to use an alternative workflow framework, once you mastered the concepts (which are the same for most frameworks), picking up the technical details is relatively easy.

Things I didn’t like about this book; One is partly jealously – the style of the book (making a complex subject easily available to beginners) is one that I wish I had mastered in my own book. The other is that while the examples are very good in each chapter, it would have been good if each sample built on the one previously, so that you ended the book with quite a sophisticated system. Given my interest in other JBoss projects (such as JBoss Rules / Drools) it would have been good if these were mentioned and explained (e.g. the Drools rule engine integrates well with decision making nodes)

Minor gripes, and all very specific to my interest in JBoss technology.  I would still buy the book if despite knowing all of this, given that it introduces the concepts and technology so well.

Link to Book on Amazon.

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JBoss jBPM Book on its way from Packt – Java Business Process Management (Workflow)

In a previous life, I’ve been lucky to work with two very good JBoss Products – JBoss jBPM (Workflow) and JBoss Drools (Rules). Just in case you missed it; slides from the IJTC conference (jBPM), Rules presentation to the jBPM conference and of course not to forget the Rules Book. The lines between jBPM and Drools have blurred slightly, but the competing open source teams just enhance the quality of both products, and which one is best very much depends on the problem that you have at hand.

jBpm Java Business Process Management book cover

jBpm Java Business Process Management book cover

So, I’ve been asked by Packt (the guys how published my book) to review the new jBPM Developer guide book. So, not only do I get to help a fellow author (Good Karma), I get the catchup on features of jBPM I may not have used yet in my professional capacity, and I get a free book. What is there not to like?

Disclaimer – getting free copy, but am otherwise free to write good / bad / or completely off the wall ideas about it. Watch this space.

My First Book Published – Business Rules with JBoss Drools

The guys over at the official Drools blog beat me to the announcement, as I was waiting for it to published on Amazon, but now that it has, I’m happy to announce that after 12 months of pushing and shoving, I’ve finally got my first book , on Business rules and Workflow, out the door.

What, you’re still here? Well if it takes a bit more to convince you to buy it, here’s the info on the Business Rules and Workflow book direct from the publishers (Packt) own site. If you can’t wait, and want to dive right in, the code samples from the book are available on the Red Piranha 2 website.

JBoss Drools Business Rules
JBoss Drools Business Rules Capture, automate, and reuse your business processes in a clear English language that your computer can understand.

  • An easy-to-understand JBoss Drools business rules tutorial for non-programmers
  • Automate your business processes such as order processing, supply management, staff activity, and more
  • Prototype, test, and implement workflows by themselves using business rules that are simple statements written in an English-like language
  • Discover advanced features of Drools to write clear business rules that execute quickly
  • For confident users of Excel or other business software, this book is everything you need to learn JBoss Drools business rules and successfully automate your business.


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Sample Chapter 4 Guided Rules with the Guvnor [2.0 MB]
Table of Contents
Book Details

Language English
Paperback 305 pages [191mm x 235mm]
Release date April 2009
ISBN 1847196063
ISBN 13 978-1-847196-06-4
Author(s) Paul Browne
Topics and Technologies Open Source, Java


A comprehensive, practical guide for business analysts and non-programmers to harnessing JBoss Drools Business Rules in your organization

In Detail

In business, a lot of actions are trigged by rules: “Order more ice cream when the stock is below 100 units and temperature is above 25° C”, “Approve credit card application when the credit background check is OK, past relationship with the customer is profitable, and identity is confirmed”, and so on. Traditional computer programming languages make it difficult to translate this “natural language” into a software program. But JBoss Rules (also known as Drools) enables anybody with basic IT skills and an understanding of the business to turn statements such as these into running computer code.

This book will teach you to specify business rules using JBoss Drools, and then put them into action in your business. You will be able to create rules that trigger actions and decisions, based on data that comes from a variety of sources and departments right across your business. Regardless of the size of your business, you can make your processes more effective and manageable by adopting JBoss Rules.

Banks use business rules to process your mortgage (home loan) application, and to manage the process through each step (initial indication of amount available, actual application, approval of the total according to strict rules regarding the amount of income, house value, previous repayment record, swapping title deeds, and so on).

Countries such as Australia apply business rules to visa applications (when you want to go and live there)—you get points for your age, whether you have a degree or masters, your occupation, any family members in the country, and a variety of other factors.

Supermarkets apply business rules to what stock they should have on their shelves and where—this depends upon analyzing factors such as how much shelf space there is, what location the supermarket is in, what people have bought the week before, the weather forecast for next week (for example, ice cream in hot weather), and what discounts the manufacturers are giving.

This book shows how you can use similar rules and processes in your business or organization. It begins with a detailed, clear explanation of business rules and how JBoss Rules supports them.

You will then see how to install and get to grips with the essential software required to use JBoss Rules. Once you have mastered the basic tools, you will learn how to build practical and effective of the business rule systems.

The book provides clear explanations of business rule jargon. You will learn how to work with Decision Tables, Domain-Specifi c Languages (DSL)s, the Guvnor and JBoss Integrated Development Environment (IDE), workflow and much more.

By the end of the book you will know exactly how to harness the power of JBoss Rules in your business.
Read the full Table of Contents for JBoss Drools Business Rules

What you will learn from this book

  • Understand the basics of business rules and JBoss rules with minimal effort
  • Install the required software easily and learn to use the Guvnor, which is a user-friendly web editor that’s also powerful enough to test our rules as we write them
  • Learn to write sophisticated rules and import the fact model into the Guvnor and then build a guided rule around it, which makes your web pages a lot clearer
  • Gain complete knowledge of what we can do with the Guvnor rule editor, and then use the JBoss IDE as an even more powerful way of writing rules, and automate processes for discounts, orders, sales, and more
  • Know the structure of the rule file through the example of a shipping schedule, which will help you with your own shipping schedule
  • Test your rules not only in the Guvnor, but also using FIT for rule testing against requirements documents; run unit tests using JUnit for error-free rules and interruption-free services
  • Specifically, non-developers can work with Excel spreadsheets as a fact model to develop business processes without learning any other new technology
  • Work with DSLs (Domain-Specific Languages) and rule flow to make writing rules easy; which makes staff training quicker and your working life easier
  • Deploy your business rules to the real world, which completes your project successfully, and combine this into a web project using the framework of your choice to provide better services
  • Benefit from concepts such as truth maintenance, conflict resolution, pattern matching rules agenda, and the Rete algorithm to provide advanced and faster business systems so that staff efficiency is maximized

Chapter 1, Drooling over JBoss Rules. This chapter gives you a good platform to understand business rules and JBoss rules. We look at the problems that you might have (and why you’re probably reading this book). We look at what business rule engines are, and how they evaluate business rules that appear very simple and how they become powerful when multiple rules are combined.

Chapter 2, Getting the software, deals with installation. This chapter explains setting up Java, setting up Business Rule Management System (BRMS)/Guvnor running on the JBoss App Server, setting up Eclipse, and installing the Drools Plug-in. It also details the installation of the Drools examples for this book and the Maven to build them.

Chapter 3, Meet the Guvnor, deals with writing our rules using the ‘Guvnor’. Guvnor is the user-friendly web editor that’s also powerful enough to test our rules as we write them. We take up an example to make things easier. Then we look at the various Guvnor screens, and see that it can not only write rules (using both guided and advanced editors), but that it can also organize rules and other assets in packages, and also allow us to test and deploy those packages. Finally, we write our very first business rule—the traditional ‘Hello World’ message announcing to everyone that we are now business rule authors.

Chapter 4, Guided Rules with the Guvnor. This chapter shows how to use the Guvnor rule editor to write some more sophisticated rules. It also shows how to get information in and out of our rules, and demonstrates how to create the fact model needed to do this. We import our new fact model into the Guvnor and then build a guided rule around it. Finally we test our rule as a way of making sure that it runs correctly.

Chapter 5, From Guvnor to JBoss IDE. This chapter pushes the boundries of what we can do with the Guvnor rule editor, and then brings in the JBoss IDE as an even more powerful way of writing rules. We start by using variables in our rules example. Then we discuss rule attributes (such as salience) to stop our rules from making changes that cause them to fi re again and again. After testing this successfully, we look at text-based rules, in both the Guvnor and the JBoss IDE, for running ‘Hello World’ in the new environment.

Chapter 6, More Rules in the jBoss IDE. This chapter looks again at the structure of a rule fi le. At the end of this chapter, we look at some more advanced rules that we can write and run in the IDE.

Chapter 7, Testing your Rules. This chapter explains how testing is not a standalone activity, but part of an ongoing cycle. In this chapter we see how to test our rules, not only in the Guvnor, but also using FIT for rule testing against requirements documents. This chapter also explains Unit Testing using JUnit.

Chapter 8, Data in Excel, Rules in Excel. This chapter explains how to use Excel Spreadsheets (cells and ranges) as our fact model to hold information, instead of the write-your-own-JavaBean approach we took earlier. Then we use Excel spreadsheets to hold Decision tables, to make repetitive rules easier to write.

Chapter 9, Domain-Specific Languages [DSL] and rule flow. This chapter aims to make our rules both easier to use, and more powerful. We start with DSLs—Domain-Specifi c Languages. This chapter follows on from the ‘easy to write rules’ theme from the previous chapter and also discusses both ruleflow and workflow. It would be great to draw a workfl ow diagram to see/control what (groups of) rules should fi re and when. Rule flow gives us this sort of control.

Chapter 10, Deploying rules in real life. This chapter shows you how to deploy your business rules into the real world. We look at the pieces that make up an entire web application, and where rules fit into it. We see the various options to deploy rules as part of our application, and the team involved in doing so. Once they are deployed, we look at the code that would load and run the rules—both home-grown and using the standard RuleAgent. Finally we see how to combine this into a web project using the framework of your choice.

Chapter 11, Peeking under the covers. This chapter looks at what happens under the cover by opening up the internals of the Drools rule engine to understand concepts such as truth maintenance, confl ict resolution, pattern matching, and the rules agenda. In this chapter, we explore the Rete algorithm and discuss why it makes rules run faster than most comparable business logic. Finally we see the working memory audit log and the rules debug capabilities of the Drools IDE.

Chapter 12, Other Drools features. This chapter deals with the other advanced Drools features that have not yet been covered. This includes Smooks to bulk load data, Complex Event Processing, and Drools solver to provide solutions where traditional techniques would take too long.

Approach

This book takes a practical approach, with step-by-step instructions. It doesn’t hesitate to talk about the technologies, but takes time to explain them (to an Excel power-user level). There is a good use of graphics and code where necessary.

Who this book is written for

If you are a business analyst – somebody involved with enterprise IT but at a high level, understanding problems and planning solutions, rather than coding in-depth implementations – then this book is for you.

If you are a business user who needs to write rules, or a technical person who needs to support rules, this book is for you.

If you are looking for an introduction to rule engine technology, this book will satisfy your needs.

If you are a business user and want to write rules using Guvnor/JBoss IDE, this book will be suitable for you.

This book will also suit your need if you are a business user and want to understand what Drools can do and how it works, but would rather leave the implementation to a developer.


Author(s)

Paul Browne
Paul Browne’s first job was selling computers in France and things went steadily downhill from there. He spent millons on behalf of a UK telephone company’s procurement department and implemented direct marketing for a well-known Texan computer maker before joining the IT department of a company that builds bright red tractors and other seriously cool machines.

Paul then embraced his techie side (he was writing games in machine code from the age of 11) and started a consultancy that used IT to solve business problems for companies in the financial and public sectors in Ireland, UK , Belgium, and New Zealand. Eight years later, he now works with an Irish government agency that helps similar software companies to grow past their initial teething pains.

More formally, Paul has a bachelor’s degree in Business and French from the University of Ulster, a master’s degree in Advanced Software from UCD Dublin, a post-grad qualification in Procurement from the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply (UK), and will someday complete his ACCA financial exams.

Paul can be found on LinkedIn at http://www.linkedin.com/in/paulbrowne , and via the Red Piranha (Business knowledge) project at http://code.google.com/p/red-piranha/ .

Collective Intelligence in Action

Don’t you hate it when you spend months (or years) working on a pet project / book / mad take over the world idea, then somebody comes out with something even better?

Yep, it’s just happened to me. Years working on the idea of the ‘Wisdom of Crowds’ (even prior to web 2.0 in the shape of Red-Piranha). Month’s working on a Masters Dissertation on applying Web 2 techniques to the Finance industry (pdf link). And somebody comes out and does it even better.

Not just better. But much much better.  The sort of better as in ‘If I had this earlier, I’d have just copied it and changed the words around a bit’. The book is available from Manning as ‘Collective Intelligence in Action‘. A free, first chapter (Understanding Collective Intelligence) is available here (pdf).

Collective Intelligence in Action

So what’s it about? We’ve all heard about the Wisdom of Crowds idea. But what if you need to actually implement it on your website? This book shows you how to (using both concepts and practical code, as well as the theory behind all of it that I was missing). It includes

  • Intelligent, learning search, using Lucene.
  • Extracting data from blogs using web-crawling.
  • Executing Real time feedback on facebook-like sites.
  • Scalable data-mining techniques to manage the torrent of information
  • Making personalised recommendations based on all of the information.

Disclaimer:Manning provided me with a free review copy of the book – but no strings attached. And , maybe if I’m nice enough to the Author (Satnam), I can persuade him to talk about making millions using JBoss Drools and Complex Event processing in the book.

How to combine Workflow and Business Rules – in 5 easy steps

Tom has a good post on the jBPM (JBoss workflow) community day held at the Guinness brewery in Dublin. Warning – slides may contain pictures of people drinking beer.

Drools jPBM Business rules presentation

How to combine (jBPM) Workflow and (Drools) Business Rules – here’s the summary. Slideset is available on this blogpost.

  • Workflow (e.g. JBoss jBPM) is great – it allows you to take spaghetti code and draw it as a workflow diagram (flowchart) so that it can be reviewed by the business (the nice people who pay our wages). You then attach standard (Java) actions to these steps.
  • Only problem is when you come to a decision node (the one circled in red below): How do you decide to go left or right (in the workflow)? Normally this is coded in Java – good for us, but hidden from those nice business people (which means that this is more room for errors-in-translation).
  • Business Rules allow you to keep those decision making rules in Plain English: When something is true , then do this. That’s it. The rule engine does most of the hard work.
  • Integrating Workflow and Rules is easy. Use JBoss Seam (link) or do it by hand (link). And it works on non-JBoss web / app servers such as Websphere, Oracle Application Server, Tomcat and Weblogic.
  • Repeat x6 : Use workflow and rules. Use workflow and rules …

Simple Workflow

In a maybe related development, Tom Baeyens is now using strangely Rules-y like examples over on his workflow blog ….

Business Users Creating Rules – BRMS Guide Preview (JBoss Drools)

Just looking for the Drools BRMS – Business Rules Management System Guide? – click here (pdf)

The aim of JBoss Drools (or any other Business Rules Engine) is to get knowledge out of business user’s heads and into a format where it can be copied , edited and peer reviewed , then run 24/7. Ideally, business users should be able to write these rules directly (a) to save time and (b) to reduce errors caused by a 3rd party having to to ‘translate’ these rules into code..

Drools Brms Screenshot

Drools BRMS (Business Rules Management System) is such a tool. Easily deployed into almost any Java Web or App server, it allows users to write and validate business rules that you can then pull into your Enterprise Java Application.

Because it uses the Google Web Toolkit (GWT) , even though it is a web application (i.e. zero install on client machines) it behaves and performs as fast as a desktop one. And unlike some other (Commercial) Rules Engines, it’s free to Download and use (under the Apache licence) from the JBoss site.

And now there is a guide available online. Shortly to be integrated into the existing JBoss Drools documentation a preview of the JBoss Drools BRMS guide (pdf) is now available.

More Information

How to fix the CAO Website (aka scalable systems using Drools and JMS messaging)

Just looking for the whitepaper on Scalable , Multiple Deployments of JBoss Drools? Click here

If you’re 17 or 18, and about to finish 2nd level school, chances are that you want to apply to a 3rd Level College or University. Here in Ireland you get 100 points for each ‘A’ grade in your final school exams (Leaving certificate), 85 points for a ‘B’ grade and so on. You can then use these points to ‘bid’ for your preferred course, with Medical and Legal courses ‘costing’ the most. Think of it as EBay for education, managed by the CAO (Central Applications Office).

Cao Logo

Of course, this being a Business Rules post, things are not quite as simple as that. Many courses such as Art and Drama require that you submit a portfolio of work. A lot of courses with strong people skills (e.g. Psychology) require an interview. And from this year, high demand medical courses have additional exams scores (testing for common sense and a personality!). These rules tend to be modified slightly from year to year. All these rules make the process more complex to administer, given that tens of thousands of people apply annually.

17 year olds being 17 year olds, all these applications hit the website in a 2-3 days ‘spike’ before the February 1st deadline. A 2nd spike hits the system in mid August when the actual exam results are published and college places are distributed.

Given that we’re dealing with people’s futures here how would you build the system (a) to process the rules clearly and correctly and (b) to guarantee that every application will processed , no matter how big the spike in workload is?. The current system has legacy issues, and has a history of falling over at critical moments (see stories here and here).

Problem A – how to run the course rules clearly and accurately – is a known issue, and can easily be solved using JBoss Drools.

Problem B – how to ensure the website / system is always available can also be solved quite easily : Use JMS to ‘Queue’ requests. At busy times in some call centres, instead waiting ‘musak’ you may get the message ‘ please leave your details and we’ll call you back when you get the head of the queue. BT Ireland do this for their broadband support, and they call you back in the same order that you were waiting. This guarantees that even under large spikes all requests will be handled (eventually), but with no guarantee of when. This is better than the alternative of ‘I’ll hang around online until I get the complete reply’; if the web site falls over; no guarantee when or even if you’ll get a response.

So, how do you put all of these together, perhaps with multiple versions of JBoss Drools (for extra scalability). By complete co-incidence (!) a whitepaper on how to build scalable websites using Drools and JMS messaging is here.