November 13, 2007, 5:27 PM — Imagine having to vet, and vouch for, the potential hires of more than 6,000
companies across multiple industries, each with its own employment procedures
and compliance regulations from government agencies such as the DoT and OSHA.
Probably not the best endeavor to undertake with rigid systems and processes
For Sterling Testing Systems, a provider of employment and background screening
services, flexibility and agility are operational imperatives. And in the cutthroat
outsourcing game, where the firm that delivers the fastest results with the
fewest errors at the lowest cost wins, the best way Sterling saw to achieve
that meant a switch to SOA (service-oriented architecture).
"For us the SOA is ideal," says Sterling CTO Michael Richardson,
referring to his company's BPO (business process outsourcing) platform. "It's
the classic scenario where we're taking literally hundreds or thousands of data
sources, combining data from these sources into an intelligent network, and
then executing long-running and complicated business processes against those
Determining the solution is one thing; implementing it, however, is another
-- especially as Sterling's business model requires that its systems manage
a Gordian knot of processes that bend in many directions and hinge on countless
Richardson and his team addressed the challenge by stitching together a BPM
platform (Lombardi TeamWorks), a rules engine (ILOG JRules), and an enterprise
service bus (Apache ServiceMix). A Liferay portal framework provides the front
end to some 100,000 external users and the 800 Sterling employees who serve
While the BPM layer maps out all the steps for any given process, having a
rules management system in place allows those processes to be steered according
to client-specific, industry-specific, or jurisdiction-specific variables.
"As the regulations change, or as the clients change their minds, or as
the need arises to introduce new decision making into the model, we don't have
to go back and recompile hard code and regression-test many, many lines of code
and threaten the integrity of our repositories," Richardson explains. "It's
more a matter of configuration."
As such, flexibility was a key consideration when architecting the system,
Richardson notes. Here, tight collaboration with the business side was essential
to his team's success.
Adopting the Lean Six Sigma business improvement methodology also had a deep
impact on Sterling's SOA push, bringing more attention to BPM and the need to
measure business processes more finely, Richardson says.