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Can the business use decision management technology without IT help?


Inspired by a post of Jim Sinur’s – Can the Business Really Use BPM Technologies Without Help? – I started thinking about the decision management corollary: Can the business use decision management technology without help?

Regular readers will know that I often refer to the dirty secret of business rules:

Business users don’t want to “maintain rules” any more than they want to “write code”

What they want to do is run their business better.  This means making sure that what you want them to do (maintain the business rules in critical decisions) looks to them like changing their risk exposure, promoting a slow moving product or allowing representatives to spend more to retain more customers. Of course these are all ways of describing business users managing decisions (by controlling certain rules or analytic models in the decision services within their systems), but that’s not how business users (mostly) think.

There are going to be some key characteristics if this is going to work:

  • Decision maintenance must be presented as a business function and with a business context
    It cannot look like maintaining code or that it was designed for IT people. It should feel like part of running the business, use the terminology the business uses etc.
  • The process of decision maintenance must be integrated with other systems used by the business people
    They should be able to look at a KPI and their performance against it, decide it is unacceptable and go immediately to the decisions that impact that KPI so that those decisions can be changed to have a positive impact on the KPI. They should be able to go from a process environment to maintaining the decisions that the process needs. It should seem seamless.
  • Impact analysis and simulation are critical
    Before any change is made the business user should be able to tell what it is going to do – what the impact will be. They should be able to try various alternatives out, see which are most appropriate or profitable and easily put those into production.
  • The whole thing must be secure & controlled
    Audit trails, management, security, built-in verification and validation, error prevention etc.
  • The environment for decision maintenance must be familiar
    Same kind of browser-based, point-and-click UIs they are increasingly used to.

With these caveats, business users can use decision management technology without IT help. They can’t and don’t want to use the same technology IT does but they can and should be brought into the process. To deliver this requires thought and effort but it will pay off in increased agility, decreased costs and improved precision in decision-making.


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Timo Elliott December 17, 2008, 11:51 am

    Ideally, the system itself would work out the business rules by observing behaviour… since everything we do these days is in some system or other, it’s not unimaginable that we could eventually deliver on this promise…

  • Gagan Saxena December 31, 2008, 8:30 am

    The underlying assumption here is that business users do have a reasonably well-defined and agreed-upon decision-making criteria. So when ‘business rules’ need to be built into the ‘business logic’ of a system, the IT team should be able to pick up the binder listing all the rules and start implementing the system. In an Orwellian parallel universe maybe. Not in the real world.

    IT can develop and procure Web Services that enable individual business processes – and provide ‘switches’ to configure the process and its interaction with other processes. The Business Rules Engine that brings the full value chain together is then the ultimate responsibility for business domain experts within the business.

    No matter how dirty, techie, complex or ridiculous the Business Rules Engine is, the business needs to know where the switches are and how to drive. Can the business visualize a Ferrari dashboard or is a Model-T ‘dashboard’ sufficient?