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Technical Series: Business Performance


decision performanceIn our last two blog posts in this series we discussed decision engine performance and how performance is impacted by deployment architecture choices. In addition to those considerations, you should also focus on business decision performance, the topic of this post.

Central to SMARTS’s approach to decision design is the idea that you need to have a strong focus on the expected business performance of your decision. The business performance of the decision is measured by multiple KPIs defined by the different business stake holders and characterize how the decision is contributing to the business.

Decision Analytics for Simulations

SMARTS provides you with fully integrated decision analytics, including aggregates, reports and dashboards that you can configure to track those KPIs. As you are implementing and optimizing the decision logic, you can run simulations to assess the impact your change have on the decision, and take appropriate action.This allows you to ensure that the business performance of your decision is actually what you want before you deploy it in production.

Real-time Decision Metrics

SMARTS also provides you streaming decision analytics, allowing you to monitor the same KPIs on the live decisions as they are deployed, and to specify alerts that trigger if those KPIs deviate from limits you can set.This gives you the peace of mind that you are always kept up to date on how well the deployed decision is behaving and that you can take early action to update it should the situation need it.

Champion/Challenger Experiments

There are also cases where it is not possible to necessarily know in advance the impact of a change. You may be exploring with new decision options you had never attempted before. SMARTS allows you to deploy your decision in an experimental mode – where part of your invocations will be routed to the new “experimental” version, and the rest to the proven one, and where you will be monitoring the relative performance to identify whether your “experimental” version is doing better than the proven one. In many financial services areas, this is called Champion-Challenger, in marketing or design, this is called A/B testing. With this approach, you can gradually and safely introduce decision optimizations that lead to better and better business performance.

In summary, when considering performance of decision management systems it is critical to consider the topic from a business perspective as well as a technical perspective. We hope this series has helped clarify performance related issues pertaining to decision management.

Technical Series: Decision Management Platform Integrations


DMNDecision Management and Business Rules Management platforms cater to the needs of business oriented roles (business analysts, business owners, etc.) involved in operational decisions. But they also need to take into account the constraints of the enterprise and its technology environment.

Among those constraints are the ones that involve integrations. This is the first series of posts exploring the requirements, approaches and trade-offs for decision management platform integrations with the enterprise eco-system.

Why integrate?

Operational decisions do not exist in a vacuum. They

  • are embedded in other systems, applications or business processes
  • provide operational decisions that other systems carry out
  • are core contributors to the business performance of automated systems
  • are critical contributors to the business operations and must be under tight control
  • must remain compliant, traced and observed
  • yet must remain flexible for business-oriented roles to make frequent changes to them

Each and every one of these aspects involves more than just the decision management platform. Furthermore, more than one enterprise system provides across-application support for these. Enterprises want to use such systems because they reduce the cost and risk involved in managing applications.
For example, authentication across multiple applications is generally centralized to allow for a single point of control on who has access to them. Otherwise, each application implements its own and managing costs and risk skyrocket.

In particular, decision management platforms end up being a core part of the enterprise applications, frequently as core as databases. It may be easy and acceptable to use disconnected tools to generate reports, or write documents; but it rarely is acceptable to not manage part of core systems. In effect, there is little point in offering capabilities which cannot cleanly fit into the management processes for the enterprise; the gain made by giving business roles control of the logic is negated by the cost and risk in operating the platform.

In our customer base, most do pay attention to integrations. Which integrations are involved, and with which intensity, depends on the customer. However, it is important to realize that the success of a decision management platform for an enterprise also hinges on the quality of its integrations to its systems.

Which integrations matter?

We can group the usual integrations for decision management platforms in the following groups:

  • Authentication and Access Control
  • Implementation Support
  • Management Audit
  • Life-cycle management
  • Execution
  • Execution Audit
  • Business Performance Tracking

Authentication and access control integrations are about managing which user has access to the platform, and, beyond that, to which functionality within the platform.
Implementation support integrations are those that facilitate the identification, implementation, testing and optimization of decisions within the platform: import/export, access to data, etc.
Management audit integrations enable enterprise systems to track who has carried out which operations and when within the platform.
Life-cycle management integrations are those that support the automated or manual transitioning of decisions through their cycles: from inception to implementation and up to production and retirement.

Similarly, execution integrations enable the deployment of executable decisions within the context of the enterprise operational systems: business process platforms, micro-services platforms, event systems, etc. Frequently, these integrations also involve logging or audit systems.
Finally, performance tracking integrations are about using the enterprise reporting environment to get a business-level view of how well the decisions perform.

Typically, different types of integrations interest different roles within the enterprise. The security and risk management groups will worry about authentication, access control and audit. The IT organization will pay attention to life-cycle management and execution. Business groups will mostly focus on implementation support and performance tracking.

The upcoming series of blog posts will focus on these various integrations: their requirements, their scope, their challenges and how to approach them.

In the meantime, you can read the relevant posts in the “Best Practices” series:

Best Practices Series: Manage your decisions in Production


Managing your decisions in productionOur Best Practices Series has focused, so far, on authoring and lifecycle management aspects of managing decisions. This post will start introducing what you should consider when promoting your decision applications to Production.

Make sure you always use release management for your decision

Carole-Ann has already covered why you should always package your decisions in releases when you have reached important milestones in the lifecycle of your decisions: see Best practices: Use Release Management. This is so important that I will repeat her key points here stressing its importance in the production phase.

You want to be 100% certain that you have in production is exactly what you tested, and that it will not change by side effect. This happens more frequently than you would think: a user may decide to test variations of the decision logic in what she or he thinks is a sandbox and that may in fact be the production environment.
You also want to have complete traceability, and at any point in time, total visibility on what the state of the decision logic was for any decision rendered you may need to review.

Everything they contributes to the decision logic should be part of the release: flows, rules, predictive and lookup models, etc. If your decision logic also includes assets the decision management system does not manage, you open the door to potential execution and traceability issues. We, of course, recommend managing your decision logic fully within the decision management system.

Only use Decision Management Systems that allow you to manage releases, and always deploy decisions that are part of a release.

Make sure the decision application fits your technical environments and requirements

Now that you have the decision you will use in production in the form of a release, you still have a number of considerations to take into account.

It must fit into the overall architecture

Typically, you will encounter one or more of the following situations
• The decision application is provided as a SaaS and invoked through REST or similar protocols (loose coupling)
• The environment is message or event driven (loose coupling)
• It relies mostly on micro-services, using an orchestration tool and a loose coupling invocation mechanism.
• It requires tight coupling between one (or more) application components at the programmatic API level

Your decision application will need to simply fit within these architectural choices with a very low architectural impact.

One additional thing to be careful about is that organizations and applications evolve. We’ve seen many customers deploy the same decision application in multiple such environments, typically interactive and batch. You need to be able to do multi-environment deployments a low cost.

It must account for availability and scalability requirements

In a loosely coupled environments, your decision application service or micro-service with need to cope with your high availability and scalability requirements. In general, this means configuring micro-services in such a way that:
• There is no single point of failure
○ replicate your repositories
○ have more than one instance available for invocation transparently
• Scaling up and down is easy

Ideally, the Decision Management System product you use has support for this directly out of the box.

It must account for security requirements

Your decision application may need to be protected. This includes
• protection against unwanted access of the decision application in production (MIM attacks, etc.)
• protection against unwanted access to the artifacts used by the decision application in production (typically repository access)

Make sure the decision applications are deployed the most appropriate way given the technical environment and the corresponding requirements. Ideally you have strong support from your Decision Management System for achieving this.

Leverage the invocation mechanisms that make sense for your use case

You will need to figure out how your code invokes the decision application once in production. Typically, you may invoke the decision application
• separately for each “transaction” (interactive)
• for a group of “transactions” (batch)
• for stream of “transactions” (streaming or batch)

Choosing the right invocation mechanism for your case can have a significant impact on the performance of your decision application.

Manage the update of your decision application in production according to the requirements of the business

One key value of Decision Management Systems is that with them business analysts can implement, test and optimize the decision logic directly.

Ideally, this expands into the deployment of decision updates to the production. As the business analysts have updated, tested and optimized the decision, they will frequently request that it be deployed “immediately”.

Traditional products require going through IT phases, code conversion, code generation and uploads. With them, you deal with delays and the potential for new problems. Modern systems such as SMARTS do provide support for this kind of deployment.

There are some key aspects to take into account when dealing with old and new versions of the decision logic:
• updating should be a one-click atomic operation, and a one-API call atomic operation
• updating should be safe (if the newer one fails to work satisfactorily, it should not enter production or should be easily rolled back)
• the system should allow you to run old and new versions of the decision concurrently

In all cases, this remains an area where you want to strike the right balance between the business requirements and the IT constraints.
For example, it is possible that all changes are batched in one deployment a day because they are coordinated with other IT-centric system changes.

Make sure that you can update the decisions in Production in the most diligent way to satisfy the business requirement.

Track the business performance of your decision in production

Once you have your process to put decisions in the form of releases in production following the guidelines above, you still need to monitor its business performance.

Products like SMARTS let you characterize, analyze and optimize the business performance of the decision before it is put in production. It will important that you continue with the same analysis once the decision is in production. Conditions may change. Your decisions, while effective when they were first deployed, may no longer be as effective after the changes. By tracking the business performances of the decisions in production you can identify this situation early, analyze the reasons and adjust the decision.

In a later installment on this series, we’ll tackle how to approach the issue of decision execution performance as opposed to decision business performance.

When They’re Searching for the Next Big Thing


How to Keep and Delight Fickle Customers in a Competitive Insurance and Fintech Markets

Are your customers fickle? How well do you anticipate their needs, proactively offer packages at a competitive prices, react to regulatory and competitive changes before they leave you?

decision analytics toolsToday’s banks, insurance and financials firms operate in a fast moving, highly competitive and rapidly changing market. Disruption is everywhere and the customers have choices they can make in an instant from their smart phones. Losing a customer to a more nimble competitor can be as quick as a cup of coffee with a few finger swipes at a Starbucks patio.

Particularly in the insurance market, customer interactions are precious and few. An insurance company rep needs to not only delight their customer when an opportunity arises, but also upsell them by offering them a personalized product or service tailored to their need virtually instantly.

Doing the same thing as before is a certain way to lose business

Nimble competitors now use the latest AI and analytics technology to rapidly discover and deploy intelligent decision systems which can instantly predict customer needs and customize the offering and pricing relevant for the customer at the right time.

To achieve and sustain such flexibility, a financial organization needs to modernize its underlying systems. Best companies build a living decision intelligence into their systems, ready to be updated on a moments notice.

If a competitor offers a better deal, customer has an life event or data analysts discover a new pattern for risk or fraud, core systems need to be updated virtually instantly. By having an intelligent, AI-driven central decision management system as the heart of your core system, anyone in your organization can have the latest intelligence at their fingertips. Intelligent systems will help verify customer eligibility, provide custom product or a bundle offering at a competitive price, speed up and automate claim adjudication and automate loan origination across all sales and support channels.

The heart of this solution is a modern, AI-driven decision management and rule engines platforms that use the latest AI and analytics techniques, have sophisticated cloud offerings providing unparalleled flexibility and speed. Best systems are no longer just for the IT – they allow most business analysts to view, discover, test and deploy updated business logic in a real time.

A modern organization needs the latest decision analytics tools

These tools will allow you to discover new patterns from the historical data using machine learning, connect and cross correlate multiple sources of data and incorporate predictive models from company’s data analysts. Updating and deploying new logic is now as easy as publishing a web page and does not require changing the application itself, just the underlying business logic.

decision analytics tools

Sparkling Logic SMARTS AI Decision Management is the third and the newest generation of the decision management and rules engine offering using cloud, AI, decision analytics, predictive models and machine learning. We currently process millions of rules and billions of records for the most progressive companies. Find out how we succeeded in creating the ultimate sophisticated set of decision management and decision analytics tools that every modern financial institution should have in their competitive tool chest.

Analytics- Driven Automated Decisions

SMARTS Decision Manager White Paper

Automated decisions are at the heart of your processes and systems. These operational decisions provide the foundation for your digital business initiatives and are critical to the success and profitability of your business. Learn how SMARTS Decision Manager lets you define agile, targeted, and optimal decisions and deploy them to highly available, efficient, and scalable decision services.
Get the Whitepaper

The Convergence of Data Analysts and Business Analysts


ConnectionsDecision Management has been a discipline for Business Analysts for decades now.  Data Scientists have been historically avid users of Analytic Workbenches.  The divide between these two crowds has been crossed by sending predictive model specifications across, from the latter group to the former.  These specifications could be in the form of paper, stating the formula to implement, or in electronic format that could be seamlessly imported.  This is why PMML (Predictive Model Markup Language) has proven to be a useful standard in our industry.

The fact is that the divide that was artificially created between these two groups is not as deep as we originally thought.  There have been reasons to cross the divide, and both groups have seen significant benefits in doing so.

In this post, I will highlight a couple of use cases that illustrate my point.

Read More »

The Role of Data in Decision Management


AnalyticsIn the early days, we were very focused on knowledge.  Figuring out how to extract, capture and model knowledge biased our approach to business rules the same way that we can get obsessed with nails once we have a hammer in hand.

I am not saying that knowledge isn’t important or valuable of course.

The point I want to make is that knowledge in the abstract isn’t as valuable as it could be with data.  Data is the life blood of decision management.  I came to realize that a few years ago, once I finally took a step back to rethink where we were at in this industry.  It was ironic that we did not see that working for an analytics company back then.

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From Business Intelligence to Better Decisions


Last week we jointly hosted a webinar with our consulting and implementation partner, Mariner.  Shash Hedge, BI Solution Specialist from Mariner, described operational BI, its challenges, and some traditional and recent implementation approaches.  He concluded with a few cases studies of operational BI projects that were missing an important piece — the ability to make decisions based on the operational insight provided by the system.

Operational BI systems provide critical insight on business operations and enable your front-line workers to make more informed decisions.  But as Shash highlighted, insight delivered in the right format, to the right people, at the right time is often not enough, you need to make decisions based on that insight in order to take action…

I lead the second half of the webinar, introducing decision management and describing how it complements operational BI.  Watch the recorded webinar to learn more.

The recording is a bit rough when the video gets to my part; it sounds like I am presenting from another country!  We’re planning another joint webinar in May where we will cover the topic in more depth and demonstrate how these two technologies complement each other.  Stay tuned for dates and registration information.  I’m sure we’ll get the sound issues resolved next time!

Hot Tech Trends for Machine Learning


I joined the Churchill Club this morning for an exciting breakfast on Machine Learning.  In May 2013, Steve Jurvetson of DFJ said on the Churchill Club stage that he believes machine learning will be one of the most important tech trends over the next 3-5 years for innovation and economic growth.  I was eager to hear what Peter Norvig and the other guys would say about that.

No surprise

What might be surprising is that none of them painted an ‘unfathomable’ picture of the future.  It was all about more power, faster modeling, more data…

Star Trek InnovationVision?

I can’t say that they shared a vision…  I wonder if we have all been dreaming in our young years, watching Star Trek, and super-computers fueled our imagination.  Super smart machine able to assist the crew, and eventually perform medicine or look for their ‘humanity’, is the vision.  We are all working hard at figuring out ways we can make it real, ways we can build technology that achieve the ideals we grew up dreaming about.

It has been a rocky road for Artificial Intelligence, but in the past few years, Watson, the self driving car and other wonders have made us believe that machine learning could actually live up to our expectations, and more.

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