Three ways you can make sure your business rules projects succeed!
Finch, in the broadway musical “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying”, rises to the top of the World Wide Wicket Company by following the advice in the book. Perhaps you won’t rise to the top of your company by following the advice in this blog post, but a little guidance can go a long way in keeping your business rules projects on track!
The Cloud is one of the top priorities for most CIOs. They want to better understand the risk and the opportunities. This disruptive technology is forcing both technologists and business owners to think outside the box, to take real advantage of the “new way” of doing things.
Being Sparkling Logic, we have been thinking pretty hard about it for a couple of years. BPM has been an interesting case study for Decision Management on the Cloud, as it is a sister technology with a wider adoption in the Enterprise world, and, predictably, a wider mind-share in Cloud solutions. My objective here is to share some of the key benefits that the cloud certainly brings to Decision Management practitioners. This is a topic that I have seen popping up in some forums, and also the main theme this year for IntelliFest, the new name for the Rules Fest conference, to reflect its wider scope on Artificial Intelligence.
Why the Cloud?
Have not heard it a thousand times already? I am pretty sure I am not saying anything new here:
- It’s easy to get started: Software-as-a-Service is all about having the infrastructure ready for your usage. You get a login and password and you’re all set. No more IT to work with for procuring the equipment and software. No more internal delays.
- Opex versus Capex: this is indeed a financial argument but it plays a role in your budgeting decision. Cloud subscription means that you can pay as you go, based on your needs. You can start small and then, over time, add usage as you need it. This is a business model change that is not tied to the technology evidently, but it is expected that you can do that with Software-as-a-Service. Given the current economic situation, it is only fair that organizations want to be more cautious about the rate of adoption. What used to be “one project then expand” is becoming “one seat then expand”.
- Elasticity: it is the equivalent argument on the IT side. Many projects starts with a painful discussion on sizing… Sizing is hard because of the so-many unknowns. In the end, it often boils down to someone putting a stake in the ground and hoping for the best. Truth is usage is something that evolves through time, so having the flexibility to adjust to the added capacity by the click of a button, rather than IT having to upgrade equipment. That works for scaling up and down by the way.
- It is secure… yes, really! There has been tons of arguments about security in the Cloud. The reality is that the Cloud has to be secure. The media would make a mess for every instance of a security breach on those servers. In fact, it has been said that the Cloud was actually more secure than private facilities. For some reason, I believe I might get some push back on that one!
- It feeds off Big Data: Being on the Cloud, it is no surprise that Big Data is just a click away. SaaS products are so much more ready for harnessing Big Data.
What is driving the Cloud adoption for BPM?
As I see it, BPM mostly gained acceptance on the Cloud for its collaborative capabilities, albeit mostly for capture and modeling purposes. Being able to quickly get started with no IT intervention is highly valuable even with such a restriction.
In fact, many of the BPM vendors on the Cloud do not really focus on execution. The perceived value is on business process capture or authoring. Some refer to the “walk before you run” analogy.
Think about it, there are so many processes that are hardly documented. Visio only helps organizations so much in getting things well documented. Having the opportunity to collaborate with no or little set-up brings a bunch of value to the organization.
Running business processes on the Cloud is certainly doable technically but still limited to fewer projects. Why? My guess is that most businesses are either worried about outsourcing their operations on the Cloud, or simply are not ready to do so. It could also be because the data required to run on the cloud is not available there, for reasons ranging from practical to corporate policy-driven.
Why is Decision Management behind?
BPM has been much ahead of BRMS and Decision Management technologies. Though the arguments for BPM technically would equally apply to Decision Management, there is a key difference in the application of the technologies. I may not go as far as Boris in his BI-CRM comparison… I am actually very optimistic on the Cloud uptake for those technologies, but I think that he has a very good point, or maybe a couple.
First of all, and this is shared with BPM and other Enterprise tools technologies, there has been few efforts to create dedicated cloud-based Decision Management tools. Software-as-a-Service is much more complicated than putting “cloud” lipstick on a pig. Software that is not architectured to be horizontally scalable, elastic, multi-tenant, etc. can be thrown “out there”, but it won’t really work with the needs and expectations of those adopting the cloud. It’s not just administration and management that need to be made as simple as consumer applications. The awkward usability and necessary complex “set up” that many quickly put together cloud solutions require are, in my opinion, much bigger issues.
Second, decision management requirements are still hard to formulate for prospective users, and availability of the technology on the cloud does not change that fact. Partially, this is because Decision Management is new to many industries; and partially because the needed interactions are still new to the industry, that has been feeding of the idea that IT would be there for a big deal of customization.
Those are some of the “excuses” for Decision Management being new to the Cloud. I don’t think that they represent barriers that will limit its adoption going forward though, as the stakes are significant enough to make those initiatives appealing to the traditional consumers of those technologies, but also eventually to a much wider audience.
I think that Decision Management is following a similar trajectory as BPM in terms of cloud adoption. Though some users are already jumping on the Cloud for the execution of their Decisions, a great deal of opportunities lies in simply capturing and refining collaboratively the business rules in a “business-ready” environment which is greatly simplified by the Cloud.
To learn more, join us at IntelliFest.
Carole-Ann will address this very topic in more details.
Want to know how strongly I feel about it? Check my video:[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tuM7dQs9blM]
Did you guess right on the acquisition rumors that were spreading at BBC 2011 this year?
Corticon announced today its acquisition by Progress software. One more independent vendors ends up in the heart of a BPM and more platform. This is a great validation for BRMS technology. You can’t really fit all decisioning logic into process maps without crowding them. Another interesting conclusion is that CEP did not suffice either in the BPM platform. The quotes from the announcement were pretty telling:
Dr. John Bates, chief technology officer, Progress Software said: “Within modern responsive businesses, the need to make informed and accurate decisions ‘in the moment’ is critical. High quality real-time decisions are key to avoid fraudulent transactions, to comply with complex and evolving regulations and to generally make the right decision for the business at the right time. The acquisition of Corticon reinforces Progress’ commitment to deliver operational responsiveness by helping customers build highly agile, responsive business systems with models and tools that maximize simplicity and accelerate time-to-value.”
Dr. Mark Allen, founder and former chief executive officer of Corticon, now a member of the office of Progress’ CTO, added: “[…] rules alone are sometimes not enough; to meet the holistic needs of customers, a number of technology areas need to converge […]”
Effective Decision Management is all about Agility and Simplicity. I wholeheartedly agree with that!
Do you remember the buzz at Business Rules Forum 2008 when RulesBurst / Haley did not show up? We all suspected an acquisition and soon got confirmation of the suspicious absence of this “regular” at the show. They had been acquired by Oracle.
This year again, one of the usual suspects did not come and, since then, the industry has been buzzing quite a bit. Well, technically the company was there, but the leadership team was not. We have reasons to believe that our colleagues have been acquired by another platform vendor. Do not look for the big names though. It is quite interesting to see the growing presence of BPM / CEP vendors in the Decision Management space, fast acquiring business rules capabilities…
let’s wait and see how long it will take for the rumor to turn into a formal announcement!
On the BRMS side though, we are left with fewer and fewer independent vendors. This puts more pressure on the vendor locking issue. The standards are not nearly mature enough to allow for interplay between the rules vendors — which has not been a burning issue up to now. But as BRMS are becoming an integral part of the entire platform, the initiative of swapping them becomes less of a per-project decision… and as a result, the current investment in business rules assets might require a port from platform A to platform B, meaning from BRMS A to BRMS B, as companies standardize on those ecosystems…
What are the outlets? Investing on interoperability standards is the long road. My personal inclination would be to take a better look at decision modeling environments — but I am biased of course 😉
What challenges do organizations face today?
This morning, Ron Ross set the tone for the conference with a quote dear to me, from Darwin. He stresses the need for Business Agility. Our systems must adapt, adjust. He claims that the industry is finally getting it, and is finally getting that Business Rules is the solution. The maturity of this market is certainly evolving.
The second challenge he sees is Business Communication. His perspective is obviously about defining a common vocabulary that help clarify communication. I am glad that communication is getting more visibility at the conference. I would add though that Communication will be enabled by more social and collaborative interactions around the business. A lot of knowledge disappears in the black hole of emails, instant messages and coffee chats. Having more actionable conversations in context of business concepts will help reduce the ambiguity of conversations. I see both aspects contributing to improving communication: common understanding of business concepts and open social interactions.
Ron’s last point is about managing the business know-how. You may have seen the many retweets yesterday on his quote: “We live in a knowledge economy, we are just not acting like it”. His solution to managing this know-how requires that we capture it in a tangible way, aka Business Rules. How could I disagree with that statement? I think that Knowledge Management must become a standard discipline. It covers more than Business Rules though. Again, as I pointed out last week at Rules Fest, the capture of knowledge in the world out there includes the textual capture a-la wiki and social platforms. Some knowledge is not actionable. It may be provided at the fingertips of call center agents or in FAQ of self-service. That being said, there is also a clear need for a good part of this knowledge to become actionable and this is where decision management does help.
What are the emerging capabilities you need to be effective?
Ron thinks that nobody is talking about Enterprise-level Business Rules initiatives. He recommends using it for individual projects.
Ron has developed a rule-friendly methodology in his latest book. Interestingly, this has been an area of focus in our latest presentations and articles: Agile Knowledge Elicitation. I wonder how they compare…
The capabilities he is advocating is traceability -> transparency -> accountability. This is about Rules Management. I am looking forward to talking more about that. Rule execution is not any longer the core capability. It is about management.
Ron sees Rule Analysis as an emerging capability. His recommendation is to look at Decision Tables… I agree that it is a great representation of rules for very regular decisioning. My issue with unique representation is that it can’t handle very well exceptions, and business rules do end up with mushrooming exceptions. I remember a very large project in a past life for which decision tables had to evolve to handle this very issue. Understanding the interplay and navigating their ultra-segmented business became quickly limited by this representation. It fits on scenario and should definitely be used, but it can’t be the only one.
How do these capabilities relate to the other conference areas?
You need business rules and business processes. This should be clear by now.
Excellent emphasis on Business rather than technology. Alignment is not important between business and IT; but it is important to align business strategies. I could not agree more!
How can you get the most out of the conference?
“It’s not about working harder, it’s about working smarter”. You need to change how you go about your work. You need to change your approach.
Ron goes after Agile methodology. Chuckle from the room. Agile has been in the hot seat recently, but I do believe that some things are good about it and can help work smarter, focusing on Business. I assume that Ron was arguing about Agile applied to writing software code. But some aspects like transparency and communication, as well as incremental approach, actually fit very nicely into the rules approach!
A little while ago, I enjoyed reading the trip reports that both Jim Sinur and Elise Olding published on the Gartner blog about innovation at Kaiser Permanente. Institutionalizing innovation? This is just the kind of thing that picks my interest. I could not pass on the opportunity to do that tour as well. I signed Carlos and I up for a visit of the Sidney R. Garfield Health Care Innovation Center.
I also recommend the tour if you happen to be in California but plan ahead as they fill up very quickly. Our guide was very knowledgeable as well and could give us some “techie” nuggets knowing we were on the IT side. They combine 3 main aspects: Facilities, Patient Care and IT. So you could request a guide with any of those specialties. Isn’t that cool?
Jim described the process innovation that Kaiser implemented very successfully to reduce drug administration errors. It is so ridiculously simple it is impressive. It is often the case that the best solutions are actually very simple. It was interesting that the environment allowed them to think outside the box and focus on the key issues to address. With the in-situ brainstorming involving all stakeholders, they have been able to come up with an innovative solution to the problem and to test it. They literally tested out several sashes once they settled on the idea.
I was intrigued by their robotic initiatives. Having robots deliver bedding throughout the hospital feels a like Start-Trek-ish and cool. The future is being tested over there though. They finish the tour with the room of the future. The trend to simplification continues there of course, bringing tablet-like devices at reach in replacement for many devices they use today. With the Cloud and all the modern technology, it becomes less of a stretch to consider digital information exchange ver seamlessly from iPad to television to support interactive discussions between the healthcare provider and the patient. Information will have to flow seamlessly to the home too, for better support and integration of wellness programs that lower “Back to the ER” statistics.
We only talked about Gamification in the context of nurse training, to simulate birth delivery, but you can tell from their website that Gamification is one important focus they experiment with.
My personal take-away was the impressive results they achieved by testing out their new processes or solutions in “reality”. They have rooms that are designed exactly as real hospital rooms (although they felt much bigger than the room I was in for my son’s delivery). They try, try and try again. They iterate in the context of a real-life situation. They observe; they measure; they assess. With this use-case-driven approach, they have been able to correct or abandon ideas that looked perfect on paper — they call them their “successful failures”. It saved them millions of dollars or more. Our guide pointed out to a few architecture issues that may have been overlooked without the simulation.
That is an interesting parallel with the use-case-driven approach we are evangelizing. In Decision Management, eliciting and refining business rules in the context of data leads to similar outcomes:
- Detection of “successful failures”: decisioning that sounds good on paper but that leads to poor business results
- Collaborative refinement: talking in the abstract can lead to misunderstanding and misalignment; when the discussion is concrete about a specific case, stakeholders can be more precise on their comments and contributions, accelerating the path to the “best” solution
This is a big moment for all of us at Sparkling Logic. After a few months of work with customers and prospects, of intense design and implementation work, we are finally announcing the company’s first product: Sparkling Logic SMARTS™. We had the privilege of launching the product at Gartner’s BPM Summit in Baltimore last week, and the satisfaction of a great reception and significant customer and partner interest. Having lived through a number of product launches in this space, this is the one that I am the proudest of – please apologize that I use this post to convey our enthusiasm with this new approach and product.
Sparkling Logic SMARTS is a new kind of Decision Management product. One that, we believe, represents a radical shift from the current way of thinking about Decision Management – something even more momentous than the introduction of the Business Rules Management Systems that we were responsible for with Blaze Advisor circa 1997, bringing the AI rules engines and the Business Rules methodologies together.
The current Decision Management industry is stuck in a no-man’s land. On one hand, Decision Management remains at the core of many mission critical systems, with large implementations that impact our daily lives in many different ways – from what we get marketed to how we get sued. On the other hand, it has not grown up to the expectations we had, and that the value it brings to the table should justify. Even more worrisome, the number of Decision Management projects that fail to deliver on the promised ROI – regardless of the stated reasons – is much higher than it should be: too many projects fail before delivery, or take too long or too much effort to get completed. At Business Rules Forum last year, I did ask the vendors panel the question on why this is the case in their opinion, and what the industry should do to overcome the issue. To their credit, the representatives from Pega Systems and InRule did provide some constructive insight on the issue, but in general terms, very little introspection has effectively taken place lately. The industry remains in that no-man’s land.
Having stated this is just part of the journey to the solution. The next step is to identify the root causes for the situation so that we can envision a way out of it. After leaving our former employer, Carole-Ann and I invested a significant amount of time discussing with industry leaders and enterprise application technical and business leaders, collecting our vision and ideas, and identifying what we believe are the key attributes of a decision management solution that will deliver on its promise to have control of the automated and hybrid decisions with the decision makers.
In a few words: empower all decision maker in whatever role they have – from decision area specialist to case worker – to work on their decisions in the context that they naturally evolve in, using the paradigms that they naturally use.
What does that mean?
First, it’s important to recognize that most complex decisions in enterprise applications end up involving both an automated part and a manual part. In general terms, the automated part deals with most of the cases presented to it, and the manual case deals with the business exceptions mostly, where the flexibility of a human is necessary. For example, the decision to accept or not an electronic payment – the automated system may idenfty that a particular payment presents a level of risk for a customer that needs to be well treated: instead of rejecting the transaction, decision control will be passed to a human which will complete the decision. The human, what he or she does with the information received, the process he/she follows to get to a conclusion, the decision taken: all these are part of the actual business decision. Case workers are part of the decision management system, and they are an essential part of it, dealing with the complex cases, those who in the end may represent where most of the actual risk is taken and/or the most opportunity is possible.
There are thus at least two key roles involved in making, codifying, operationalizing decisions: the traditional business user who knows enough of the business and problem that he/she can work in automating and improving decisions and the case worker whose role on a permanent basis is to participate to the decisions as part of the enterprise application eco-system.
This simple fact has enormous implications on what an effective Decision Management system must be. It must take into account all the roles in the decision, it cannot simply ignore part of then. Traditional BRMS-based Decision Management systems stay away from considering case management as part of the decision, the same way Case Management-based decision support systems stay away from automated decisions. As a result, most large enterprise decision management applications include both BRMS-based and Case Management-based decision systems, and these do not communicate nor share anything but routing logic and operational data schemas at best.
We created Sparkling Logic SMARTS with an approach that allows for decisions to be managed consistently by all roles involved, and thus, achieve full visibility on the decisions and their management through their real complete lifecycle, and not just the part that is automated or the part that is manual.
The challenge for such a product is to create an environment which enable these different roles to be all effective on the same decision logic. This is not simple… Technically savvy business experts convey their view on the decisions in particular forms, frequently resorting to graphical representations such as flows or tree. Business domain experts tend to think in terms of policies. Case workers tend to think in terms of cases.
But they all view their decisions in the context of both data, and objectives supported by metrics. In the process of harvesting rules, it’s typical that time will be spent trying to come up with all the “prototypical cases” to categorize them and create the corresponding abstraction (decision tree, rule template, etc…) to represent the way the cases corresponding to those “prototypical cases” should be treated. The process starts with data – the prototypical cases. It also starts with objectives identified – in the example above we want to reduce the number of fraudulent payments we authorize while minimizing the number of situations in which we do not authorize a legitimate payment, in particular between a good customer and a good network partner… It also starts with metrics supporting these objectives: the number and total amount of fraudulent payments non blocked, the number of legitimate payments denied and the impact on the retention of customers. All business users and case workers will have present both data and objectives supported by metrics concretely as part of their daily decision-making work.
Taking them out of their context in order to put them through a methodology which has nothing to do with the way they do their daily work is actually dangerous. They are being asked to think about all the fine details of their decisions and the way they do it, at the same time as they are being asked to change their vocabulary, adopt new tools, learn new approaches. And they are asked to do that at specific points in time, putting aside the evolving nature of the environment decision-making – more than any other part of the enterprise application – is part of. It is not a surprise that we’ve seen a number of times the disconnect between what the business user thought communicated through the process and what they got back through a traditional implementation. Even metaphor-based (for example rule-tables) or template-based systems face the problem – the approach does give flexibility, but only to the extent it does actually capture the reality of how the business user decides, and only to the extent they continue to do so as the way the way the business user decides evolves.
Sparkling Logic SMARTS is the first Decision Management System that enables the business user to design the decisions by actually making them. Design by doing – a very powerful concept, one that is starting to see the light in the BPM world under names such as Dynamic BPM or Adaptive Case Management. The business user continues working manipulating the concepts they usually manipulate, dealing with business data and with the objectives and the metrics always present and contextually available, focusing on making decisions and capturing the decision logic in the process. Sparkling Logic SMARTS uses patent-pending technology to let business users manipulate the decisions by actually doing them – and in the process enabling the collaboration between all different roles and stakeholders in the management of the decisions through the lifecycle. We have invented a very pragmatic approach to solve one of the key problems in the adoption of Decision Management Systems, and we have implemented it in Sparkling Logic SMARTS.
Furthermore, we recognize the fact that decisions are social
They involve multiple stakeholders – even at the objectives level, different stakeholders have different objectives for a single decision, yet the decision taken is in general only one. In the previous example, accepting or denying the internet payment. So, by nature, the making of the decisions and its codification for repeated making will represent a compromise among multiple stakeholders – a compromise that will not be perfect at any point in time and that will need to evolve.
Similarly, making or improving a single good decision may involve deep expertise which is available within the organization but not directly to each and every one of the decision makers, rule designer or codifiers. The roles cooperate. And they do it today in ad-hoc semi-formal manner – discussions in meetings, email exchanges, and, more and more, ephemeral instant messages.
Enabling that collaboration and gathering information on how the decision is managed in the process extends the reach of the individual business user to the collective, and increases the quality of the decision codification and improvement processes. The Enterprise 2.0 movement has seen it clearly – companies like Moxie Software are the new alternative to the old Knowledge Management systems, and one that is far more effective and adaptive. It’s not a surprise that one of the most popular Salesforce products is Chatter, for the same reasons.
We built Sparkling Logic SMARTS around a social collaboration platform, implementing effective collaborative decision management through a number of social techniques, including some patent-pending ones. Sparkling Logic SMARTS is the first Social Decision Management system that covers the full lifecycle of decisions and their operationalization through both systems and humans.
We call that Social Logic!
Sparkling Logic SMARTS represents a pragmatic revolution in the way Decision Management is approached, and enables business users to design and manage operationalized decisions by making them, making the system accessible to all roles involved in decision-making, resilient to changes in objectives and environment, and adaptive to new conditions, risks and/or opportunities.
Stay tuned for further announcements and discussions. We’ll talk more about the details on how the product delivers on its promises.
And in the mean time, tell us what you think!
The “Outside the Box: approach
I have seen, in several occasions, companies get together to share information. The format and level of information is certainly different from the first 2 approaches since these forums are taking place outside of the corporate boundaries and often without Non Disclosure Agreement.
Trade shows offer very formal sessions on the topic of interest, Decision Management or Business Rules in our case. What is missing though from those events is the opportunity to brainstorm on problems faced by the group of practitioners. Bird-of-a-feather breakfasts are good for tips sharing, but they are definitely not sufficient for white-boarding solutions or exchanging best practices.
The gatherings I am talking about now for this Competency Center series is a hybrid of a public user group and an internal Center of Excellence.
The most typical format is location-based for the convenience of gathering while controlling expenses.
Open User Group
Companies in a given region host presentations from various vendors and on various topics. Connecticut and Texas were some of the early states to host such meetings as far as I know. I have not seen much activity recently from Connecticut though. The Dallas Rules Group, led by our friend James Owen, is still quite active.
Those events usually resemble the formal trade shows without the formality and the expense. They might meet monthly or so for arranged presentations and Q&A.
Vendor-Specific User Group
Given my background, I have mostly attended Blaze Advisor user groups of course. Besides the formal events we (the company) used to organize, there were customer-led initiatives in the field. One of the most impressive initiatives was the Insurance corridor in the NorthEast. It was amazing to see two dozen or so marquee names willing to share with each other a lot of information and dirty details on their implementations. Competitive details on their products and rules governing them were not shared of course, but how-to experience on the technology or adoption of the technology was freely discussed.
The dynamics were not that different from a traditional in-house Center of Excellence. Being the resident expert on the technology I represented, I could accelerate my requirement gathering activities and test some of my hypothesis while adding value to the conversation, dispelling myths or confirming product limitations.
I want to emphasize here the opportunity to brainstorm on best practices. For some reason, it is still hard to come up with best practices across technologies — too many product-specific features, different approaches to business user empowerment (which is where best practices are mostly needed), etc. The fact is, once the technology is common across the group, there is no limit to the depth of the discussions.
Despite the exciting format and great start of this group, it seems like it is running out of steam. I have not kept abreast of the reasons for lack of meetings after I left. It coud be due to the typical “too busy / not enough time” excuse. I believe there was value in having those meetings so I would not go there. Time tends to go by much faster than we think. Project Managing such local events does require dedication. I question whether those self-organizing group can work out without a formal responsibility / skin in the game…
This format may or may not remove the need for an internal Center of Excellence. I would argue that it depends on the maturity of the external pool as well as your company. If the technology is critical to your systems, you will have a CoE anyway and will not want to rely on an external effort that might run out of steam. If you are starting though, and the ecosystem is strong, you can learn from your peers and build your own expertise in no time.
The progress made by Enterprise 2.0 technology and the reduced cost associated — if any — has made it much easier for people to gather and discuss best practices from the comfort of their office. There are several initiatives yet again that allow practitioners to meet around topics of interest.
LinkedIn and Google have question/answer forums that have developed over time. Personally I participate mostly in LinkedIn groups since Google groups tends to be too easily spammed by inappropriate content. The discussions can be lively in some groups although I find mostly vendors and consultants interacting there.
Vendors now all have their own community in which customers can help each other.
Carlos and I also started one community across vendors. I like the depth of the discussions there but, very much like LinkedIn, I must admit that vendors are the most active. I know from personal messages that end-users have been very appreciative of the content even if they do not yet feel bold enough to dive into the heat of the arguments.
The community I have found the most interesting in terms of interactions and content has been the Forrester communities. There is no thread on Business Rules or Decision Management per se but there are se some very interesting related topics in Application Development or Business Process.
I expect those virtual communities to grow over time, as the technology keeps maturing. Like the local groups we discussed earlier, communities can complement an internal CoE initiative, or replace it in the early days before in-house expertise has been built.