Is Decision Management having a Sputnik Moment?

on February 11, 2011
SMARTS™ Data-Powered Decision Management Platform

President Obama presented in his State of the Union address “our generation’s Sputnik moment” as the wake-up call that should put innovation at the forefront of the Country’s priorities.

It resonated with us mostly because we are entrepreneurs and, as such, love to create and innovate.  How could we not enjoy this request for our ideas to help the Country?  Whether it appealed to our egos or our patriotism, it was a gratifying moment for all entrepreneurs.

But after that, we had a chance to step back and think about what it meant for the industry we are passionate about: Decision Management.

What is Decision Management’s Sputnik?

Let’s not try to be too literal here.  This is not about competition with China (or even USSR for the super-literal).

The Sputnik question here is:
Is there a threat to the Decision Management industry?

I would actually claim that Decision Management is its own major threat.  By making the technology so complex, we are also preventing its adoption by many companies that would benefits greatly but cannot afford to do it:

  • They may not have the skills in-house
  • They may be too small to afford the current licensing costs

The funny thing with Open Source is that it takes the expense way down, but it also adds more requirements on resources.  A Small Business in most verticals is quite unlikely to have Java or .NET programmers!

So what happens next?  Small and Medium Businesses ignore Decision Management technology most of the time.  In large corporations, the problem is slightly different since the company can typically afford the licensing expense but the skills may be in the way.

  • Early adopters tend to have personnel with greater skills on those advanced technologies or are willing to invest in getting them (hiring or training)
  • Early Majority might wait to see multiple successes in projects that are close enough and leverage consultants to help on their very own project
  • Late Majority and Laggards leverage different (older) technologies to address the problem

I have heard over and over of projects that had to be re-done because the Business User interface did not allow the Business User to do what they had to do.  In the vast majority of the projects, authoring remained in IT although the intent was to empower the Business User.  The few that could get it done saw tremendous ROI.

The value rarely outweighs the fear — that is real — that the goal is out of reach.  Why try if you don’t think you can succeed?

This paralysis effect plays, in my opinion, the same wake-up role as the Sputnik launch created in the late 50s.

So what do we need now?

We need anew vision for Decision Management…  and of course we need the Innovation that comes from following a new vision!  You may or not agree with President Obama’s policies and positions (this is not the proper forum for discussing political views), but he has a point regarding the need for Innovation.

So let’s focus on Innovation, since I strongly believe we need it.  If you’ve not heard yet my rant on the lack of innovation, check it out!

The vision to do what most thought could not be done was the real solution to the Sputnik fright back then.  A new vision and the courage to follow it led to phenomenal innovation: scratch resistant lenses, CAT and MRI technology, light-weight firefighter’s air tanks, etc.  Vision and innovation is yet again what was needed to accelerate progress back then and what we need to accelerate progress in our industry today.

The problem with the current paralysis in the Decision Management space is that it prevents Innovation from taking place. There is little incentive to invest in innovative approaches if the market remains under the perception that Decision Management is just too difficult to succeed in. The wake-up call of our industry’s Sputnik moment leads us to focus our mission in removing the core reason for this paralysis – remove the complexity of the technologies involved in Decision Management implementations…  Our mission is to make Decision Management accessible to all who can benefit from it.

I read on a Blog response to the Sputnik address that “Success will require that we recognize the challenges and adapt to the demands.”.  I really like that quote that fits very well with the Pattern-Based Strategy vision we support.  In addition, it emphasizes the fact that the first step in our mission is to recognize the level of complexity we have reached, and adopt a perspective with respect to how to address it.

Does it mean that making the technology easier is synonymous to removing capabilities? I doubt it.   I do not see many features in the leading BRMS products that are totally superfluous. We introduced them for a reason — and I take personal responsibility for quite a few of them.   The challenge (that will require a ton of creativity) is how we can make this authoring experience much easier so that it can truly reside in the hands of those it must enable: the Business Users.  I have nothing against IT of course but I do not think that the current model translates into a good use of their skills.

How do we transform that experience and keep it simple?  It is challenging of course.  Going to the Moon and back was not trivial either, but it got done.  We need to get out of our comfort zone, think outside the box and believe we can do better!

It is interesting how, starting with the State of the Union address, we arrive at the same conclusion we reached after a few of our brainstorming hikes on what is needed in the Decision Management space.  We either are onto something essential…  or we are just stubborn. We will let you be the judge of that!

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