The Decision Model: Business Rules Grow Up
Blog: Lux Magi – Decision Management for Finance Blog
The world of business rules and business rule management has grown up. Welcome to the world of business decisions – a much more compelling offering for companies that want to master their business logic.
Hitherto the field of business decision analysis and maintenance – the means by which business logic (often expressed as rules) is identified within current business practices, mined from existing IT systems and placed under the control of business SMEs – has been rather propriety and lacking in rigour and scalability. Many methods were available (e.g., EDM, ABRD and BRS), but were either a lacking in formal structure, subjective and/or poorly supported by tools. Developments of the past year have changed this.
With the advent of The Decision Model (TDM) and tools (like BiZZDesign, Sapiens DECISION and OpenRules) that support it, an era of new rigour and effectiveness has dawned within enterprise decision management. TDM, a rigourous method and framework for expressing business decisions, has addressed many of the flaws of rules and prompted a slow evolution from business rules to business decisions. We examine these issues, what TDM can do for you and the promise and power of this approach.
So what are business decisions and how can you benefit from them? In this article we’re going to cover the potential benefits of the evolution from business rule management to business decisions management using an approach like TDM. If you are new to business rules, you want to understand their many benefits or you want to know the difference between business rules and business decisions, please follow these links. If you interested in understanding what the evolution from rules to decisions can offer, read on…
Drawbacks of Business Rules
For those companies far-sighted enough to see the value of cleanly separating their living business logic from the source code of their systems, the definition of their business processes and their (potentially stale) requirements documents (and there are many reasons why you should), business rules and business rules management have quickly became a fact of life. For all their considerable strengths however, business rules can have some drawbacks. This, coupled with some poorly designed tools, has given some companies a bad initial experience of business rule management.
Much of the evolution of rule management systems in the last three years has been driven by the difficulties experienced by rule adopters. Typically these include:
- Growing Pains: there is real difficulty in safely growing rule repositories in excess of 2,000 rules without descending into chaos. Although they physically support large rule repositories, BRMS lack any higher level structure to coordinate the relationships between rules and to consolidate these large repositories.
- Lack of Coordinated Validation: although many systems can validate individual rules, they frequently cannot validate the mutual consistency of rules in the case that they are used collectively to reach a coordinated conclusion. For this, extensive testing facilities must be manually developed by adopters of business rules.
- IT Focus: many business rule management systems (BRMS), despite their best intentions, invariably tend to move the focus from the business to the technical user. For example, they provide a technical rule language which users need to learn, they support rules with a strong technical flavour or they ensure that only development tools can be used to maintain artefacts like the business terms, rule flow or fact types. This creates an early (and unnecessary) dependency on IT teams. Furthermore, the tools frequently divorce rules from their business rationale and process context, making it harder to judge their on-going effectiveness.
- Lack of Agility: partially as a result of above, BRMS don’t empower business SMEs and analysts to own the business vocabulary (the names of the terms, the business words, used to build rules), process and form of their rules. This control rests with IT and this means they have to be involved in every significant change. This is an important barrier to agility and undesirable for many other reasons.
- Lack of Business Testing Facilities: a vital part of developing business rules is testing them, an activity in which business SMEs and analysts should have centre stage. I’m not referring to systems integration testing which should be controlled by IT, rather the initial unit and regression testing that occurs as decisions are initially defined and refined. Business SMEs should be actively involved in the testing of their decisions. Testing in many BRMS is very hard to configure and requires extensive IT support to use.
Business decision approaches, like the Decision Model and the tools that support them – business decision management systems (BDMSs) – overcome many of these problems.
Overcoming These Issues with Business Decisions
The Decision Model (and the tools that support it) offers three essential ingredients that ‘change the game’:
- A set of structural and semantic principles which establish a rigorous integrity of a business decision and allow it to retain its coherence regardless of size and be validated;
- A focus on business ownership of decisions, rather than IT;
- A defined and distinct ‘place’ for decisions within the set of business artefacts. A well defined integration of decisions with, but separation from: business processes, organisations, events and data
- A standards based approach (in this case DMN) which opens the door to multiple tool support.
These work together to provide the following advantages:
- A rigorous structure that binds sets of business rules into a cohesive whole. Just as databases provide referential integrity to enforce consistency, decision modelling supplies inferential integrity to keep decisions totally consistent. Many tools that support the approach offer extensive validation functionality ensuring high levels of decision quality and cohesiveness. This facility also enhances ease of understanding of business decisions, essential for their effective review.
- Enterprise Scalability. This cohesiveness radically decreases the entropy associated with large rule sets and facilitates much bigger repositories.
- A means of establishing traceability between decisions and key business KPIs. The approach recognizes that decisions are not defined in a vacuum, there is a clear and documented association between decisions and: their business motivation, business organisational structures, business process, business events and business data. By explicitly recording which decisions support which business policies (in which process, for which organisation, triggered by which events), we can: record the rationale of each decision, quickly assess the decision impact when policies have to change and build a foundation for measuring the on-going effectiveness of decisions.
- A mechanism to support the business ownership of decision mining, definition, vocabulary, testing and evolution. Many tools support vocabulary management directly by the business. TDM has enabled, for the first time, mainstream tools that support business vocabulary definition, maintenance and decision execution. Many TDM tools also support business analyst creation of test data, some even automate it. Together these facilities offer unprecedented independence on the part of owners of decision logic to mine, develop and test their decisions without IT involvement (until deployment).
- A strong business focus, so that decisions can be understood without any technical knowledge. The best decision tools can be used to promulgate business decisions across an enterprise because of their use of English business terms and decision table format, rather than a technical decision language. This removes the need for specialised technical training and allows more staff to benefit from an explicit statement of company policy.
These benefits allow BDMS to provide greatly enhanced safe agility which allows much a faster time to market for new decisions and less latency for existing ones. This is strengthened further by allowing businesses to quickly determine which decisions are impacted by an incipient change of business policy – so team knows the impact of any proposed changes more quickly. Tools allow business SME teams to achieve much more (from initial requirements mining and building ‘play’ systems to test ideas, through to development of a complex network of decisions), without the constant need for IT support. The process of business and IT cooperation is greatly streamlined as a result. Lastly they serve as a vehicle for communicating business decisions throughout the enterprise.
This is an exciting time to be in decision management. With the additional facilities offered by the toolset and the increased rigour of the underlying approach, there is much more we can offer customers who need to take control of their business decisions. The benefits are more accessible than ever before.
Already tried using business decisions? Why not judge your business decision maturity with our informal quiz?