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First Look – IBM’s Next Step in Decision Management

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IBM is announcing a new product and product positioning today. With the tag line “Turning Automated Decision Management into Real-time Operational Advantage” they have announced WebSphere Operational Decision Management.

This new product is an evolution of the market-leading business rules management system, WebSphere ILOG JRules BRMS, united with IBM’s WebSphere Business Events. It brings business rules and events together to automate and govern frequently changing operational decisions. It is focused on improving collaboration and unifying rules-based contextual decisions with time-based situational awareness. The product has two elements:

  • WebSphere Decision Center
    Manage business rules and events using the Decision Center Console, Rule Solutions for Office and Decision Center for Business Space (to support mashups of rule editors with other elements).Decision Center supports decision definitions and associated metadata, versioning, access and control through a unified repository. It is focused throughout on business user tooling and governance.
  • WebSphere Decision Server
    Execute business rules and events on a range of distributed and mainframe runtimes.  Decision Server also has integrated business rule and event application designers in Eclipse, aimed squarely at developers, as well specific tools for managing business rule and event deployment and execution performance.

Decision Server

Within Decision Server there is a set of Eclipse-based tools. Business rules, events and Java objects can all be managed in the same environment in Eclipse using the available plugins. Even in this more technical environment, the business rules are easy to read and can use the Business Action Language to match the way business users think and talk. Events and event processing can be defined similarly with a business friendly syntax that shares many of the same elements.

Though aimed at technical developers, the Eclipse-based tools still support collaboration by using accessible syntax and visual metaphors such as decision trees, decision tables and predictive analytic scorecards. All the rules and metaphors can use a defined business-friendly vocabulary based on the object model being manipulated.

With this release the definition of events and rules is done entirely in Eclipse, with the previous WebSphere Business Events tool being replaced by Eclipse-based functionality.

Decision Center

Decision Center is a web-based environment for non-technical users to manage their decision-making and event-processing rules. The home page has a list of projects (and branches) that a user can easily navigate. Projects within the environment are either business rule projects or event projects. The web-based environment is similar to previous ILOG BRMS implementations, but now adds the capability for event rule editing and management.

Objects and vocabulary use common constructs both for business decision-making and event handling. Business rule services are exposed at a design level as actions that can be triggered by the events. Business rules, filters, events, actions and objects are all available in the same management interface, optionally stored in various folders that show how many items are included in each.

  • Rules defining events and event patterns use the same Business Action Language vocabulary approach used in the business rules and also have a business user-friendly syntax for readability. Event rules support the same kind of type-ahead selection and drop-down syntax/object lists used in sophisticated business rules environments.
  • Events are defined and managed both in business terms and in terms of attached objects, tags and the necessary system properties that allow them to be detected or generated.
  • Actions that can be taken by the event system can be defined also. These can trigger external services and pass objects, invoke methods on objects etc. In particular they can trigger entry points in rules-based services defined in rules projects.
  • Filters also allow you to define patterns like “desirable customer” similar to the rule patterns familiar to ILOG users.

As in the Decision Server Eclipse-based tools, business users can check business rules for consistency and completeness, detecting conflicts, redundancy, gaps in logic etc. Unit, functional and regression testing can all be carried out in the web-based interface (the same tests can be shared with a JUnit-based test facility in the Eclipse tools). When testing is not enough business users can also simulate the impact of a proposed change. Simulation runs inside the web interface with this release, allowing business users to simulate the impact of the changes they are making without leaving the environment. Branches can be used in simulations also, allowing the comparison of different branches and champion/challenger testing for instance.

Rule Solutions for Office is a long standing part of the business rules editing environment for business users and is part of Decision Center. Business rules and ruleflows can be integrated into Microsoft Word documents while decision tables can be edited in Microsoft Excel. In each case a plugin ensures that users get the full editor capability they need (complete with type-ahead, syntax checking and defined vocabulary) while also being able to use Microsoft Office to record additional free-form notes and information. The documents can be managed and versioned while the rules embedded are synchronized with the business rule repository.

Repository

As in previous releases, the repository manages business rules from across multiple decision management projects. Business rules can be grouped by high level content area and then by decision for instance. The repository can be searched (rule content and metadata) to make it easy to manage and explore large numbers of business rules. Metadata can be captured about rules and rule sets and this metadata can be extended to fit the repository into your governance and release management processes.

Release Management

Release management is sophisticated in the new release. The option for “Branch in use” allows multiple versions of rules or events to be worked on at the same time by business or technical users. For instance fall and summer pricing rules, or production and development versions, could be edited. A business user could, for instance, rapidly change the price of a surcharge running in production while also making edits to the next “official” release of the pricing rules in a different branch. Rule changes made in one branch can be merged into another branch with the product identifying the differences. Users can move changes in one direction or make changes bi-directionally.

 

There is a great deal of evidence that the faster an organization can decide on the right response to changing circumstances, the more valuable that response is likely to be. The value of a combined business rules and event platform, especially one focused on managing decisions, is in allowing the effective definition and management of everything you need to respond quickly and accurately as events flow into and through your organization’s systems. Being able to enhance this rules-centric view of decisions with an analytics-centric approach, using IBM SPSS Decision Management for example, allows for complete Decision Management Systems to be developed, deployed and managed.

More information can be found at ibm.com/decision-management

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  • Pratik Pathak June 14, 2012, 6:31 am

    WODM surely makes it more streamlined with Rules and Events capabilities in one tool. But frankly I’m more curious how IBM can come up with an integrated decisioning platform with both Analytical and Rule based decision management. Already other vendors are offering decisioning capabilities upon integrated BPM-BRMS platform. As a developer I am really hungry to get that great buffet in place where we can relish on adaptive-predictive decisioning along with BRMS offerings.

    • James Taylor June 14, 2012, 10:50 am

      Well IBM is making some progress on this and has a new release of their analytical decision management product (SPSS Decision Management) coming out in mid June 2012. It will be interesting to see how fast the ILOG and SPSS Decision Management products converge/integrate but I am confident they will – the folks at IBM certainly “get it”.