Some of our old friends at Gartner have just published some great research on Decision Management. Specifically they have extended their work on Decision Management Suites (blogged about here) and focused on How to Choose Your Best-Fit Decision Management Suite Vendor [Gartner subscription or modest fee]. As they say in the intro:
Decision management suites go beyond business rule management systems by providing more features for designing, deploying, maintaining and auditing decision-making software. This report describes the steps data and analytics leaders should take to identify the best vendor for their business needs.Gartner
Selecting a decision management vendor or business rules management system is something we here at Decision Management Solutions do a lot so I was excited to see what the Gartner team had come up with.
They suggest that you identify potential providers by considering their support for both business rules and analytics. As I have described in my books (most recently Digital Decisioning: Using Decision Management to Deliver Business Impact from AI ), the decision services you build are going to need business rules, are likely to need machine learning or predictive analytics and may need optimization (though much less often). Streaming analytics and event processing are included in this list by the Gartner team but I see this more as a niche market – generally not relevant but occasionally critical.
Building decision services with a mix of these elements requires decision modeling – specifically decision requirements modeling. You can build a decision requirements model that pulls together business rules, machine learning and optimization to give you an effective, graphical blueprint. Don’t leave home without one. We build a lot of decision services and we would never do so without a decision model. You shouldn’t either.
Below is the list of topic areas they considered and they have some great content in the paper. Based on our experience developing decision services and modeling more than 4,000 decisions, I have a few additional comments:
- Ease of Authoring
Our experience is that this is all about decision requirements models and associated decision tables. People often evaluate other authoring elements but they don’t really matter – business users like decision tables and decision requirements models are essential for getting decision tables right..
- Application Solutions and Templates
- Operating Environment
- Build, Version and Deploy
Always consider this as two separate threads – one focused on how non-technical users do versioning and deployment, one on integrating with IT’s processes like CI/CD. Don’t mix them and don’t assume that being good at one makes a platform good at the other. Some platforms are very programmer-friendly but baffle business users.
- Scalability and Latency
- Logging, Monitoring and Evaluating
Remember that the data you capture to track how you made decisions and how that worked out for you will drive continuous improvement. This is much more important than the logging or monitoring of rule execution which is interesting only sometimes.
- Process Orchestration/Workflow
Meh. Build stateless, side-effect free decision services and leave the workflow somewhere else.
This is REALLY important. Don’t miss this. And don’t confuse it with testing, which it is not. Testing is to see if something is broken. Simulation shows the impact of a change. Business users make lots of changes that should not result in test failures. Make sure they can simulate the impact of a change before they commit it.
- Rule Validation
- Microsoft Excel Support
Not a fan. Excel is super flexible but that’s not necessarily a good thing. Either commit to a product that does everything inside Excel or one that provides decent editors. Don’t get stuck in the middle.
- Rule Harvesting
Never harvest rules until you have a decision model in place. Ever. Really, just don’t. Please.
Supporting this paper is a Toolkit: Decision Management Suite Vendor Profiles [Gartner subscription required]. While I don’t think some of these are really Decision Management Suites – a couple are really workflow or streaming engines with some rules support thrown in – its mostly a good list and a reasonable framework to use. Just remember, as the authors point out, to weight the factors that matter to your project.
If you’d like our help selecting a vendor or platform, contact us and we’d be happy to talk you through what we do. If you want more background on decision requirements modeling, check out this paper.