IBM Case Manager 5.1 on the horizon

ICM 5.1 was announced to little fanfare a short while ago, but up until IOD 2011 there wasn’t an awful lot of detail about the slated new features.

The slides below discuss some of the new functionality in ICM 5,1, which is due to be released 25th November:

I’m looking forward to seeing the new Data Integration Framework. This sounds suspiciously like the introduction of techniques that are already available in FileNet BPM/BPF/eForms, but we shall see soon. This will also start supporting another IBM BPM product – WPS.

IBM Content Manager is now integrated into ICM 5.1, (without the need  to use CFS) which I’m anticipating will open up new opportunities for a lot of business partners.

FileNet eForms, and IBM Forms have also made an entrance, and not just in terms of attached content. It will also be possible to create more unique and more pleasant user interfaces within the Case or Task data widgets. Even without eForms, the Case Client has been enhanced by way of theming. Widgets also expose additional wiring events, providing better customisation.

Predictably, we switch back to IBM Business Space as a mashup environment for 5.1. No doubt we’ll be back to Lotus Mashup Center in 5.2.  Fortunately this does mean we’ll be able to install ICM into an existing WAS environment.

Finally, ICM will now support a wider range of platforms, MS SQL, and other LDAP directories.

Some information here about ICM download, and the CMPIT part numbers.

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IBM ECM Resources

Speaking with FileNet contemporaries in the ECM field, I often find myself suggesting the same old web sites to help them with their troubleshooting. So here’s a heads up of some useful-to-know websites that make great resources.

The first port of call has to be IBM DeveloperWorks:

ECM Zone is the landing pad for ECM links into articles and forums
ECM AppCenter is yet another portal that encompasses technical articles, news items, and a blog.
ECM Community Blog contains articles that are so far focused on ICM
ECM Forums [BPM / CM] is where you can discuss issues with other ECM experts
ECM Community Wiki includes Redbooks / Usernet / MustGather

ECMPlace is a forum that started life as filesite, and has been around for years.

ITToolbox also tends to have some useful troubleshooting topics.

This slide deck is taken from IOD 2011

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Using FileNet Records Manager with custom objects

IBM FileNet Records Manager is an excellent product for managing archival and retention of an organisation’s records. As you would expect, its most common application is in dealing with electronic documents. And it can also handle physical documents too.

A little while ago I was working on a customer assignment where both Records Manager and BPF is deployed. BPF cases comprise both a Process Engine work item, and a Content Engine custom object. At the end of the workflow, the work item is naturally terminated, however the Case’s custom object will continue to live on indefinitely. So this is rectified within the workflow design by incorporating an additional step at the end of the workflow that will delete the custom object.

However, this particular customer wanted to keep the case custom objects alive for a number of years after Case closure – this is because each Case possesses a useful historical audit trail (stored as Bp8AuditLogItem custom objects).

So you would think that since Records Manager is being used in this installation that it would be a simple means of managing the retention of these Case custom objects? Not so. Records Manager does not support custom objects, and it’s something I don’t understand. A custom object is nothing more than a document without content, so surely it would have been little effort to add this as a feature? Hopefully someone will leave a comment to explain this to me.

In the meantime, the obvious solution was to develop a custom event handler. The BPF case lifetime was tied into the document’s, so the event handler was triggered by documents getting deleted, and responded by clearing up all of BPF’s associated custom objects.

Posted in BPF, FileNet, P8 v4, Records Manager | Leave a comment

Using IBM FileNet with social media

It’s incredible how quickly the social media revolution has taken hold in just a few short years. With 750 million active accounts, if Facebook was a country, it would be the third largest country on our planet. Social media is not merely confined to Facebook – Twitter has made a similar impact in micro-blogging, while in the business world LinkedIn has become a big phenomenon in networking.

But big corporations have realised that this is not just a platform for keeping in touch with friends and colleagues – it’s recognised as a massively effective tool for marketing products and businesses. There are already numerous success stories that demonstrate this.

In the Financial services though, there was initially some resistance to adopting social media – this article from two years ago shows the skepticism that surrounded it, especially by certain banks. They eventually woke up to the fact that they had no choice but to embrace it – even if their strategy was to ignore it, their employees use it, recommendations for their products are spread virally, and conversely their reputation can be destroyed by defamatory posts.

Now that financial institutions have started to take it seriously, one barrier remains: regulatory compliance.  Using social media to promote financial products and engage with customers is a veritable pandora’s box. It’s vitally important to make sure that communications over this new channel do not mislead, mis-sell, or provide bad advice. Furthermore, employees must be accountable and stick to guidelines on how to engage with customers and prospective customers. So within these communications (or ‘Posts’) there is a clear focus on content and processes. This sounds like a job for… ECM!

Oceanus has developed a tool called SocialView that integrates IBM’s FileNet Content Manager product with the main social media platforms, and allows them to directly interface into a Company’s business processes, making it just another engagement channel. Not only that, but all interaction is logged into an audit trail so that there is a detailed history of conversations. Conversations that can be monitored and authorised. IBM’s Content Analytics is also a great way of reviewing the effectiveness of campaigns and return on investment.

There’s a great talk on social media in the financial services sector here:

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FileNet P8 5.1 released

For anyone who missed it over the summer, IBM released a new version of P8 – this is version 5.1.  Actually, I should correct myself, since IBM are steadily dropping references to “P8″ in favour of the IBM FileNet Content Manager – not to be confused with IBM Content Manager(!).  Details of the new release can be found at the Infocenter.

The v5.0 release was notable for porting the Process Engine to a native Java platform, so there has been a lot of anticipation this year that the next release would go the whole hog and transform it into a J2EE application. There are obvious scalability benefits associated with the adoption of J2EE, and in fact when the CE made the same transition with v4.0 it was similarly lauded.

v5.1 seems to include improvements to the whole P8 product line apart from the PE. For a summary of what’s new, click here.

Some useful information here about download part numbers:

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Advanced Case Management: The new kid on the block

As an ECM solution implementer, the concept of Case Management has become more and more prominent over the past few years. Within the FileNet community, Business Process Framework has been the application of choice for case management since 2005, however this has slowly been erased from IBM’s ECM offering since the turn of this year – you’ll do well to find any sales or product literature for it on the IBM website. The reason? BPF now has a successor: IBM Case Manager. Apparently, BPF will still be supported as a product for quite a few more years, but it’s obvious that as a proposition it’s been pushed to the side to make way for the new kid on the block.

Inspired by BPF, ICM was released last December. IBM have certainly learned from their customer experiences in case management. As well as replacing BPF, it’s also positioned to address the demand for a more natural approach to case management – ACM – Advanced Case Management (a.k.a. Adaptive Case Management / Dynamic Case Management).

So what is ACM? Well, it introduces a spectrum of business processing, in the context of structure, from one extreme of well-defined procedures, to the other extreme of unstructured processing. It’s targetted to knowledge workers, who are distinguished from typical BPM agents by their ability to handle unpredictable work, allowing a case worker to use their own knowledge and experience to determine the next steps to progress the case towards a successful outcome. The crux is that instead instead of each case type being associated with one process, multiple process fragments can be defined, with the knowledge worker being empowered to optionally add any of these ad hoc.

While getting to grips with ICM, it’s impossible to escape the conclusion that it bears some striking similarities to BPF’s case model. But unlike BPF, ICM extends from the core of P8 and is completely integrated, instead of being built on top of it; the case management objects are now native to the Content Engine, as opposed to being simple custom objects. FileNet P8 v4.5.1 introduced the idea of Roles and Inbaskets, and while it seemed this was aping BPF, it’s now apparent that this was merely paving the way for ICM. ICM is well abstracted, I guess to become more appealing to Business analysts, and does a great job of wrapping up the underlying storage within CE and PE.

A rich development environment is also provided – The Case Builder – a tabbed collection of wizards and widgets. All solutions are preserved withing a Design space, and when complete are easily deployed to the online target space, ready for testing in the Case client. A Case Deployment facility is also available to promote from the development environment to test and production.

Tasks are input using the Step Editor, which is based on a swimming lane model. Steps are very basic, however the more technically-orientated can refine these in the Workplace XT Process Designer, since the tasks are stored internally in XPDL format. Obviously, support for Process Designer provides the opportunity to enhance and customise the process definitions through the Java Component integrator interface. User Interface customisation takes place within the Mashup pages through iWidget – this is an open standard, and there have been plenty of tutorials available describing how to create bespoke widgets ever since ECM Widgets was released. The Javascript/AJAX library Dojo is also part of the make-up. For anyone unimpressed with widgets, preferring an alternative web front-end, the case management data model is exposed through three REST service APIs: Case REST, PE REST & CMIS REST.

The big worry for the existing BPF customer base is that there is presently no migration path to ICM. Despite being labelled as the next generation of BPF in some quarters, it’s an entirely different product line.

Posted in ACM, BPF, FileNet, ICM, P8 v5 | Leave a comment

Using Eclipse in FileNet P8 Development

I’ve recently been asked for advice on writing a FileNet application using the Content Java API. To be honest, I’d be surprised if there aren’t already a plethora of tutorials on this subject, and it’s not exactly rocket science.

I must confess that for some years I used the “classic” Java Development environment – Windows Notepad, DOS batch files, and the command console!  No excuse really. I have a background in Windows development, using VB6 and Visual, so I didn’t need anyone to persuade me as to the productivity boosts in using a professional IDE.

However a few years ago I finally bit the bullet, and decided to use Eclipse.  I wrote a few notes on this, and so have uploaded these – take a look here: Using Eclipse in FileNet P8 Development.

The official online help also gives enough information to get started: FileNet developer help.

Posted in Development, FileNet, P8 v4, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Records Manager – Bulk Declaration

The FileNet Records Manager product addresses an organisation’s need to manage archival and retention of paper and electronic documents. It also assists in the automation of a lot of the tasks required to meet regulatory compliance legislation. If you’ve never heard of it, that may be because more recently, IBM have renamed it InfoSphere Enterprise Records.

The very first step in creating a record is to declare it to Records Manager – effectively this is a reference to the original record. One of my previous customers was a Records Manager user, and had over a million recently migrated documents in one of their Object stores, so they had a requirement to declare all of these into Records Manager. In this situation there are three potential solutions:

  • AutoDeclare. This would have been the ideal facility to have in place before the migration, but unfortunately this did not happen. AutoDeclare is a downloadable component that is implemented as an Event Action handler within the object store, and can be configured to automatically declare specific classes of documents.
  • Workflow. As with the option above, there is a Component Integrator step that addresses record declaration, but again this would have been needed to be deployed in advance of the migration, along with a workflow subscription. Although there is an extraneous overhead of having to use the Process Engine, it has the advantage that sophisticated processing logic can be applied quickly. One would also have to question the suitability of using a workflow in dealing with large bulk volumes of documents.
  • Bespoke utility. The last resort was to create a custom Java application that searches for all migrated undeclared documents, and declares them, and this was the adopted solution.

Of course, the main Records Manager API contains appropriate methods for declaring documents, however, in this scenario this would entail going through each individual document within a results batch, and declaring it in turn. Taking such an approach would massively impact performance, so not recommended.

Step forward BDS, or Bulk Declaration Services. This uses a Batch approach, so when requesting an individual document be declared, the request is stored within an internal queue until the whole batch is executed. Compared to using the vanilla Records Manager API, performance is boosted dramatically.  There is scope for tuning this though – the key parameter being batch size – through trial and error.  And the API doesn’t just deal with electronic records, it can process physical records too.

Curiously, despite BDS being bundled with RM, it also supports the creation of new documents, meaning that it can be used to create high-performance bulk migration applications.

Posted in FileNet, P8 v4, Records Manager | 2 Comments

Linux profile raised in FileNet P8

For any Linux aficionados who work in the FileNet world, P8 version 5 now raises the possibility of building complete Linux implementations of P8.

The Content Engine and Application Engine have been built upon J2EE Application servers for a few years, so have supported different platforms, but up to this point, the Process Engine has only been supported by Unix and Windows. It’s not difficult to see why; although the PE is deployed as a Java application, this only serves as a wrapper around an executable written in ‘C’, presumably the two communicate over RPC. It actually originates from the legacy days of Image Services.

In v5, the PE has had a bit of an overhaul, and has been ported to a true native Java application – and with it, support for Linux. It hasn’t joined the CE & AE as a J2EE implementation, but maybe this will come in a future release.

I should state up front that as a solution implementer, I do tend to rely quite a lot on virtualised single-server systems, be it for Demonstrations, proofs of concept, or a straight forward development environment. So I have to rely on a single platform, which has so far been Windows. Now I feel there is an alternative.

As well as being industrial strength, Linux has the big advantage of being free. Yes, Novell SUSE and Red Hat Linux do charge a licence fee, but CentOS is free and uses the same binary code base as RHEL, and is indistinguishable.

Of course, there is a caveat – there always is. It would have been nice if all administrative tasks could have been carried out within the same server. FileNet have introduced the Administrative Console for Content Engine, and there was initial anticipation that this would be a web-based alternative to the FileNet Enterprise Manager. After closer scrutiny however, it’s pretty clear that quite a few features are still missing, so it’s not yet a contender, but maybe soon… Still, any admin can be performed from a remote machine.

Posted in FileNet, Linux, P8 v5 | 2 Comments

FileNet Content Interoperability

With version 5.0 of IBM FileNet P8, IBM have now given their backing to a new standard, designed to allow interoperability between different Content repositories. Content Management Interoperability Services (or CMIS) is an interface specification that means a Business application is able to support multiple Content Management systems – if you’re familiar with ODBC or JDBC you get the idea. It has the benefit of being platform independent, and programming language neutral.

The CMIS specification has actually been developed by the OASIS consortium, and defines access through either SOAP or REST. CMIS does not expose every feature of every Content provider, but it does define all the common functions, and there is a growing list of ECM vendors: IBM, Microsoft, EMC, Open Text, Alfresco, SAP, Oracle, etc.

Getting FileNet Content Manager to support CMIS is pretty straight forward, and involves installing IBM CMIS software in WebSphere – so far it only supports AIX (part CZP1AML), Windows (part CZP1BML), and Linux (part CZP1CML) platforms. There have been suggestions from other early adopters that this software can also be applied against version 4.5.1 of P8. CMIS client applications effectively connect to the Content repository by accessing this web service.

OK, so how do we get our custom applications to connect to our Content via CMIS? You could call the web service directly if you’re a hard-core developer, and there are some great tutorials that will take you through step-by-step how to interrogate CMIS at a low-level. But always better to let someone else do the donkey work, and use a pre-fabricated library, and I heartily recommend you take a look at OpenCMIS (a.k.a. Apache Chemistry). As you may have deduced, this is an open-source initiative, and it supports Java, .net, and PHP. I’ve actually written a sample Java application myself that uses OpenCMIS, and it’s pretty straight forward.

CMIS also opens up the possibility of accessing FileNet content without relying on P8 applications such as Workplace. Take a look at OpenWorkDesk, which connects to any CMIS-compliant repository.

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