In 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.
Why is data fundamentally valuable to Decision Management?
First of all, data is critical to understanding knowledge. This is why so many textbooks illustrate their points with practical example. Once you can see a policy in action with a concrete example, you automatically gain a better understand of what it is about. Not only can you understand it, but your brain will start bubbling with ways to stretch the new concept, to challenge it. Well, mine definitely does. As I see a policy, I immediately wonder if it is also applicable in this or that situation. What are the limits? What if?
Data allows us to make sure that we have captured the essence of the policy too. By challenging it against test cases, it becomes much easier to verify that it produces the proper outcome consistently. This is clearly why we have quality assurance teams that keep exercising our products.
Data plays a much bigger role in Decision Management though. The technology was born initially to help automate decisions made in business processes, but it truly realizes it potential in improving them. Making consistently and efficiently a sub-optimal decision won’t make your business excel. But measuring how well you do, and experimenting to adapt to ever changing business conditions might. The only way to measure it is with data of course. All sorts of analytics can be plugged into business rules to help improve them through data:
- Predictive models that capture intangible knowledge hiding in numbers
- Dashboards revealing patterns and opportunities
- Champion / Challenger experiments that confirm which strategy is working best right now
- Map-Reduce simulations that crunch massive amounts of data to compute eye-opening statistics
What if you do not have data?
Ouch… Learning that data is so valuable and not having any could seem like a cruel joke. The reality is that you do have data even if you don’t. There is no need to worry.
Historical transactions are golden. They show your business the way it really is. In some cases it might be quickly becoming stale, when trends change extremely rapidly, but this is obviously the best kind we can get today. That does not mean that it is the only kind though.
A team of great product managers can make up data that is close enough to reality to be useful. Whether you are shaping your target market, randomly assigning values, or documenting test cases to verify your existing policies, it does not take that much efforts to create that first data sample. You can’t really use it for predictive analytics of course, but you can use it to understand, capture and challenge your business rules, which is already a huge benefit!
Once your decision services are deployed, you can start capturing data. I must admit that it takes some infrastructure work to put it in place, but it is definitely worth it in the longer term. In the past 4-5 years, I have seen more and more companies of all sizes, from start-ups to Fortune 500, invest in data collection platforms. Smart move.
One way street?
A lot of these efforts to constitute a data platform are made originally for the benefit of analytics departments. The objective is to measure the business and uncover trends and opportunities.
This is wonderful because it enables these organizations to make better decisions. Whether they knew about Decision Management or not when they started, they suddenly sit on a gold mine to improve their operational decisions.
Knowing what to do, and doing it is really what this is all about. Both aspects are invaluable. They feed each other.
Learn more about Decision management and Sparkling Logic’s SMARTS™ Data-Powered Decision Manager