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First Look – Be Informed 4


Be Informed recently gave me an update on their progress. Based in the Netherlands, they were founded back in 2002 and they released 4.0 last year and have been focused on building a large number of projects across Europe, especially in the Netherlands. Focus areas are public sector and financial services. They are over 200 people now with offices in the UK, US and Turkey as well as a distributor in Scandinavia and the Caribbean. Recent projects included helping a number of former Dutch colonies create their own tax, pensions and benefits systems in less than a year; the Dutch health benefits organization for chronic disease benefits where 20M transactions annually are now handled 99.2% straight through; the Dutch public prosecution service who built an advisory system for 131 offenses to determine pleas (a digital district attorney if you will); a small (Dutch) environmental organization developed a portal for helping consumers make decisions about the savings they can make from changing behavior or appliances; and the European Patent Office where Be Informed will process all patent cases.

Be Informed likes to focus on

  • Being model-driven with (conceptually) a single model handling everything as well as the capability for non programmers to build and maintain the models.
  • Being adaptive with goal-oriented processing thanks to a stateless approach. Dynamic activities are related through pre- and post-conditions. Simulation and analysis are built in and everything is traced for later analysis.
  • Semantics with an approach based on a strict separation of concerns, taxonomies, ontologies, and meaningful relationships between concepts.

Be Informed 4 is focused on giving business people full control over business logic. The product has four domains – Case Management; Registration; Products and Decisions; Interaction (the Interaction domain links the other three together into an interface). Each domain has a meta model that is used to drive development. For instance, Case Management’s meta model is focused on Cases, on Activities that involve Roles, create Artifacts, handle Objects and require Decisions, Calculations or Classifications. The Products and Decisions domain is fed with Products (such as a benefit, permit etc that is being actioned) as well as constraints on these Products defined as Decisions, Classifications or Calculations. Everything in the product is defined in terms of these standard, or custom, meta models.

Be Informed 4 still uses the core studio as the development environment. New models are created based on the four domains or on a custom domain. Each model is represented as a diagram or in near natural language and a palette allows the concepts from the relevant meta model to be added to the diagram. For instance a model based on Products and Decisions would allow elements such as Calculations, Facts (what Be Informed call Grounds) etc. to be added to the diagram. Existing elements can be reused and new ones defined. Relationships between these things are added using drag and drop and the editor understands what kinds of relationships make sense between different concepts. For instance a Calculation can only depend on Grounds while a Decision can depend on or be implied by or be excluded by a Calculation. If multiple relationships are allowed the user can specify which one is relevant as well as any additional information required. The editor interactively displays flags and warnings for incomplete or invalid models as the user works, providing immediate but unobtrusive feedback.

Custom meta models can be developed and sub-types of the standard elements defined. For instance, a Permit product could be defined as a subtype of Product and its relationships specified. New models can then be developed using Permit and its model instead of the more generic Product. Completeness checks will then check that any new instance of this is complete given the meta model defined for it. If a Permit must have certain kinds of Grounds defined, for instance, then any model based on the Permit model will flag itself as incomplete until these are specified.

One of the challenges with any graphic tool is that diagrams can get very large so the tool allows easy navigation. These models can be structured by including references to other models and to concepts on those models while a where used function will show all the models that reference a concept and will allow access to those models.

Be Informed takes a very decision-centric or knowledge-centric approach to defining systems. As a result “Processes” are modeled in terms of the Activities that take place, the pre-conditions for those Activities, the post-conditions of the Activities and the Roles involved in performing them. Each Activity is a stand-alone component of a process and they are dynamically assembled into an executing process as data is created and updated. There is no “happy path” flow diagram, everything is driven in a very goal-oriented way. This allows for very dynamic assembly of processes to handle complex cases. It also has a nice side effect in that the engine continually monitors objects to see what needs to be done next and this allows processes to stop involving humans whenever the system is able to handle the case for itself. Instead of handing a case over to people and then forgetting about it the system simply engages a human decision maker when it needs one.

Be Informed like to say that they are mad – that is that the “Model is Application is Documentation”. The model is the application and the behavior of the application is completely determined by the model. As the model can also be expressed in near natural language, the documentation is created automatically while the model is being developed and maintained. The interaction part of the model also drives user interfaces for capturing data as well as a portal for interacting with case processes and activities etc.

I am very partial to meta-model driven approaches and Be Informed continue to deliver something that takes both a decision-centric and a model-driven approach to its logical conclusion.

You can get more information on Be Informed here and Be Informed is one of the vendors in our Decision Management Systems Platform Technology report.