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 identify 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!
Learn more about Decision Management and Sparkling Logic’s SMARTS™ Data-Powered Decision Manager