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Performance

SMARTS Real-Time Decision Analytics


Real-time decision analytics
In this post, I briefly introduce SMARTS Real-Time Decision Analytics capability to manage the quality and performance of operational decisions from development, to testing, to production.

Decision performance

H. James Harrington, one of the pioneers of decision performance measurement, once said, “Measurement is the first step that leads to control and eventually to improvement. If you can’t measure something, you can’t understand it. If you can’t understand it, you can’t control it. If you can’t control it, you can’t improve it.” This statement is also true for decision performance.

Measuring decision performance is essential in any industry where a small improvement in a single decision can make a big difference, especially in risk-driven industries such as banking, insurance, and healthcare. Improving decisions in these sectors means continuously adjusting policies, rules, prices, etc. to keep them consistent with business strategy and compliant with regulations.

Decision performance management in SMARTS

SMARTS helps organizations make their operational decisions explicit, so that they can be tested and simulated before implementation —- thereby reducing errors and bias. To this end, we added a real-time decision analytics capability to the core decision management platform.

Currently used in financial and insurance services, it helps both business analysts and business users to define dashboards, assess alternative decision strategies, and measure the quality of performance at all stages of the lifecycle of decision management — all with the same interface without switching from one tool to another.

Development. From the start, SMARTS focuses the decision automation effort on tangible business objectives, measured by Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). Analysts and users can define multiple KPIs through graphical interactions and simple, yet powerful formulas. As they capture their decision logic, simply dragging and dropping any attribute into the dashboard pane automatically creates reports. They can customize these distributions, aggregations, and/or rule metrics, as well as the charts to view the results in the dashboard.

Testing and validation. During the testing phase, analysts and users have access to SMARTS’ built-in map-reduce-based simulation environment to measure these metrics against large samples of data. Doing so, they can estimate the KPIs for impact analysis before the actual deployment. And all of this testing work does not require IT to code these metrics, because they are transparently translated by SMARTS.

Execution. By defining a time window for these metrics, business analysts can deploy them seamlessly against production traffic. Real-time decision analytics charts display the measurements and trigger notifications and alerts when certain thresholds are crossed or certain patterns are detected. Notifications can be pushed by email, or generate a ticket in a corporate management system. Also, real-time monitoring allows organizations to react quickly when conditions suddenly change. For example, under-performing strategies can be eliminated and replaced when running a Champion/Challenger experiment.

Uses cases

Insurance underwriting. Using insurance underwriting as an example, a risk analyst can look at the applicants that were approved by the rules in production and compare them to the applicants that would be approved using the rules under development. Analyzing the differences between the two sets of results drive the discovery of which rules are missing or need to be adjusted to produce better results or mitigate certain risks.

For example, he or she might discover that 25% of the differences in approval status are due to differences in risk level. This insight leads the risk analyst to focus on adding and/or modifying your risk related rules. Repeating this analyze-improve cycle reduces the time to consider and test different rules until he or she gets the best tradeoff between results and risks.

Fraud detection. An other example from a real customer case is flash fraud where decisions had to be changed and new ones rolled out in real time. In this case, the real-time decision analysis capability of SMARTS was essential so that the customer could spot deviation trends from normal situation directly in the dashboard and overcome the flood in the same user interface, all in real time.

Without this built-in capability, the time lag between the identification of fraud and the implementation of corrective actions would have been long, resulting in significant financial losses. In fact, with SMARTS Real-Time Decision Analytics, the fraud management for this client has gone from 15 days to 1 day.

Marketing campaign. The two above examples are taken from financial services but SMARTS real-time decision analytics helps in any context where decision performance could be immediately affected by a change in data, models, or business rules, such as in loan origination, product pricing, or marketing promotion.

In the latter case, SMARTS can help optimize promotion in real-time. Let’s say you construct a series of rules for a marketing couponing using SMARTS Champion/Challenger capability. Based on rules you determine, certain customers will get a discount. Some get 15% off (the current offering — the champion), while others get 20% (a test offering — the challenger). And you wonder if the extra 5% discount leads to more coupons used and more sales generated. With SMARTS real-time decision analytics environment, you find out the answer as the day progresses. By testing alternatives, you converge to the best coupon strategy with real data and on the fly.

Conclusion

As part of the decision lifecycle, business analysts obviously start by authoring their decision logic. As they progress, testing rapidly comes to the forefront. To this end, SMARTS integrates predictive data analytics with real-time decision analytics, enabling business analysts and business users to define dashboards and seamlessly associate metrics with the execution environment — using the same tool, the same interface, and just point and click.

Takeaways

  • SMARTS comes with built-in decision analytics — no additional or third-party tool is required
  • You can define metrics on decision results so you can measure and understand how each decision contributes to your organization’s business objectives
  • Decision metrics enable you to assess alternative decision strategies to see which should be kept and which rejected
  • SMARTS add-on for real-time decision analytics lets you monitor the decisions being made and make adjustments on the fly
  • SMARTS’ real-time decision analytics helps in any context where decision performance could be immediately affected by a change in data, models, or business rules

About

Sparkling Logic is a decision management company founded in the San Francisco Bay Area to accelerate how companies leverage data, machine learning, and business rules to automate and improve the quality of enterprise-level decisions.

Sparkling Logic SMARTS is an end-to-end, low-code no-code decision management platform that spans the entire business decision lifecycle, from data import to decision modeling to application production.

Carlos Serrano is Co-Founder, Chief Technology Officer at Sparkling Logic. You can reach him at cserrano@sparklinglogic.com.

Technical Series: Decision Engine Performance


Decision Engine Performance TestingOne of the subjects that frequently comes up when considering decision engines is performance, and, more broadly, the performance characterization of decisions: how do decision engines cope with high throughput, low response, high concurrency scenarios?

In fact, the whole world of forward-chaining business rules engines (based on the RETE algorithm) was able to develop largely because of the capability of that algorithm to cope with some of the scalability challenges that were seen. If you want to know more about the principles of RETE, see here.

However, there is significantly more to decision engine performance than the RETE algorithm.

A modern decision engine, such as SMARTS;, will be exercised in a variety of modes:

  • Interactive invocations where the caller sends data or documents to be decided on, and waits for the decision results
  • Batch invocations where the caller streams large data or sets of documents through the decision engine to get the results
  • Simulation invocations where the caller streams large data and sets of documents through the decision to get both the decision results and decision analytics computations made on them

Let’s first look at performance as purely execution performance at the decision engine level.

The SMARTS; decision engine allows business users to implement decisions using a combination of decision logic representations:

  • Decision flows
  • Rules groups in rule sets
  • Lookup models
  • Predictive models

These different representations provide different perspectives of the logic, and the most optimal representation for implementing, reviewing, and optimizing the decision. For example, SMARTS allows you to cleanly separate the flow of control within your decision from your smaller decision steps – check the document data is valid first, then apply knock out rules, then etc.

However, SMARTS does also something special for these representations: it executes them with dedicated engines tuned for high performance for their specific task. For example, if you were to implement a predictive model on top of a rules engine, your result will typically be sub-par. However, in SMARTS, each predictive model is executed by a dedicated and optimized execution engine.

Focusing on what is traditionally called business rules, SMARTS provides:

  • A compiled sequential rules engine
  • A compiled Rete-NT inference rules engine
  • A fully indexed lookup model engine

These are different engines, and apply to different use cases, and they are optimized for their specific application.

Compiled Sequential Rules Engine

This engine simply takes the rules in the rule set, orders them by explicit or implicit priority, and evaluates the rule guards and premises in the resulting order. Once a rule has its guard and premise evaluated to true, it fires. If the rule set is exclusive, the rule set evaluation is over, and if not, the next rule in the ordered list is evaluated.
There is a little bit more than that to it, but that’s the gist.

The important point is that there is no interpreter involved – this is executed in code compiled to the bytecode of the chosen architecture (Java or .NET or .NET Core). So, this executes at bytecode speed and gets optimized by the same JITs as any code in the same architecture.

This yields great performance when the number of transactions is very large, and the average number of rules evaluated (i.e. having their guards and premises evaluated) is not very large. For example, we’ve implemented batch fraud systems processing over 1 billion records for fraud in less than 45 minutes on 4 core laptops.

When the number of rules becomes very large, in the 100K+ in a single rule set, then the cost of evaluating premises that do not match starts getting too high. Our experience is that is very likely that with that number of rules your problem is in fact a lookup problem and would be better served by a lookup model(As an aside, lookup models also provide superior management for large numbers of rules). If that is not the case, then a Rete-NT execution would be better.

Compiled Rete-NT Inference Rules Engine

This engine takes the rules within the rule set and converts them to a network following the approach described in this blog post. What this approach does is revert the paradigm – in RETE, the data is propagated through the network, and the rules ready to fire are more optimally found and put in an agenda. The highest priority rule in the agenda is retrieved, and executed. The corresponding changes get propagated into the network, the agenda updated, etc., until there is nothing left in the agenda.

One important distinction with respect to the sequential engine is that in the case of the Rete-NT engine, a rule that already fired may well be put back in the agenda. This capability is sometimes required by the problem being solved.
Again, there is much more to it, but this is the principle.

SMARTS implements the Rete-NT algorithm – which is the latest optimized version of the algorithm provided by its inventor, Charles Forgy, who serves on the Sparking Logic Advisory Board. RETE-NT has been benchmarked to be between 10 and 100 times faster than previous versions of the algorithm in inference engine tests. In addition, SMARTS compiles to the bytecode of the chosen architecture everything that is not purely the algorithm, allowing all expressions to be evaluated at bytecode speed.

In the case where your number of rules per rule set is very large, in the 100K+ range, and you are not dealing with a lookup model, the RETE-NT engine yields increasingly better performance compared to the sequential engine. SMARTS has been used with 200k+ rules in rule sets – these rules end up exercising 100s of fields in your object model, and the Rete-NT advantages make these rule sets perform better than the pure sequential engine.

Fully Indexed Lookup Model Engine

There are numerous cases where what a rule set with a large number of rules is doing is selecting out of a large number of possibilities. For example, going through a list of medication codes to find those matching parametrized conditions.

In many systems, that is done outside a decision engine, but in some cases, it makes sense to make it part of the decision. For example, when it is managed by the same people and at the same time, it is intimately tied to the rest of the decision logic, and it needs to go through its lifecycle exactly like the rules.

SMARTS provides a Lookup Model specifically for those cases: you specify the various possibilities as data, and then a query that is used to filter from the data the subset that matches the parameters being used. At a simplified level, this engine works by essentially doing what database engines do: indexing the data as much as possible and convert the query into a search through indexes. Because the search is fully indexed, scalability with the number of possibilities is great, and superior to what you can get with the Sequential or Rete-NT engine.

The SMARTS decision engine can also run concurrent branches of the decision logic, implemented in any combination of the engines above. That allows a single invocation to the decision engine to execute on more than 1 core of your system. There are heavy computation cases in which such an approach yields performance benefits.

Of course, performance is also impacted by deployment architecture choices. We’ll explore that topic in the next post in this series.


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