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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.


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:

  1. 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..
  2. Application Solutions and Templates
  3. Operating Environment
  4. 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.
  5. Scalability and Latency
  6. 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.
  7. Process Orchestration/Workflow
    Meh. Build stateless, side-effect free decision services and leave the workflow somewhere else.
  8. Simulation
    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.
  9. Rule Validation
  10. 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.
  11. 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.

Balancing multiple profit drivers is essential in many high volume, transactional decisions targeted with Decision Management. Being able to execute decisions, monitor their effectiveness, learn what works, and systematically improve your decision-making results in significant business benefit. Mathematical optimization let’s you go even further.

White Paper Cover

We recently published a new white paper – The Customer Journey to Decision Optimization. Sponsored by FICO, this is available on their website.

This paper lays out the proven steps to adopting decision optimization, walking through how to codify your current practice, systematically improve your decision strategy and apply mathematical optimization.

We’ve published a couple of follow-up blog posts over on the company blog too:

Why not download the paper and start your own “Journey to Decision Optimization”?

If you’re stuck sheltering in place or bored working from home, we have a great opportunity for you. You can learn a vital new skill – Decision Requirements Modeling – from the comfort of your home FOR FREE!

We are going to take some of our popular online training materials and provide a FREE 2-hour introduction to modeling decision requirements. This session will focus on the most valuable feature of decision modeling, its power to accurate capture how business people want a decision to be made.

Decision requirements modeling captures business decision-making using a graphical representation – a decision requirements model using the Decision Model and Notation (DMN) standard. This powerful visual analogy is used place of technical requirements and  enables practical, creative design of solutions to your decision-making problems.

The class is 2 hours, it’s FREE and its on April 3rd, 2020 10am-Noon Pacific (1pm-3pm Eastern)

We’ll introduce decision requirements modeling and the DMN notation, teach you how to define decision requirements using the DMN standard, show you how to drive decision-centric design sessions and help you get started using decision requirements modeling on your projects.

It’s 100% online, 100% FREE and interactive – you’ll be building a model in the class. Sign up now!

I recently got together with Irene Lyakovetsky of Saugatuck Worldwide and well known independent analyst Jim Sinur to talk Digital Decisioning. Irene released our talk on her Saugatalk channel as a great series of snippets:

The full episode – all 31 minutes – is here. for more, why not check out my new book on #digitaldecisioning https://amzn.to/2qgt39F

Balancing key profit drivers such as revenue, risk, & costs is central to success in lending and many other high volume, transactional decisions targeted with Decision Management. The decision improvement lifecycle is central to delivering the full value of decision management. Being able to rapidly and effectively execute decisions, monitor their effectiveness, learn what works (and what does not), and iteratively improve your decision-making results in significant business benefit. Add mathematical optimization and you can go even further.

White Paper Cover

We have just published a new white paper – The Customer Journey to Decision Optimization. Sponsored by FICO, this is available on their website.

Designed to help you optimize your decisions and aimed at rules and business analysts, this paper lays out the proven steps to adopting decision optimization. It walks through how you can codify your current practice, systematically improve your decision strategy and apply mathematical optimization to make better decisions. It will show you the value of decision optimization and identify the critical success factors.

Decision Optimization can accelerate your success by helping you develop decision-making approaches that better meet your goals and objectives. This paper will show you how.

Over the next few months we are going to publish some supporting blog posts, focusing in on some key aspects from the paper. Next week is the first, discussing the importance of continuous improvement, and the others will follow every other week.

Meanwhile, don’t forget to download the paper and start your own “Journey to Decision Optimization”.

At Decision Management Solutions we do a lot of work with IBM and an old friend of ours – Harley Davis – just published a nice blog post “How do you best operationalize AI?” We’ve had many conversations on this topic with Harley and his team and it’s no surprise we’re completely aligned on this.

Harley outlines three steps:

  1. Reimagine your process
    Specifically by identifying and modeling your decisions
  2. Assemble a decisions team
    One that has all three legs – business operations, IT and data science/ML
  3. Map the data
    Make sure the ML/AI algorithms can use the data available to make the decision where it is in the process

We have a whole approach for these kinds of projects – what we call DecisionsFirst™. We have successfully applied this with multiple clients, helping them operationalize their machine learning (ML) and AI investments and deliver more effective decision-making. We see three critical success factors:

  • DecisionsFirst Design Thinking
    Always begin by identifying your decisions, modeling them directly with the business owner and using design thinking approaches to ideate ML and AI opportunities
  • Mix and Match Technology
    Use ML and AI technology for sure but mix it with business rules technology (using a Business Rules Management System like IBM’s ODM) and use a decision model to coordinate all the pieces.
  • Continuous Improvement
    It’s not about the first version you deploy, it’s all about how regularly and effectively you can improve it. Invest in business enablement and continuous testing, experimentation and improvement.
Book Cover

For more on digital decisoning, check out this recorded webinar on our YourTube Channel and our resources page. You might also enjoy my new book, Digital Decisioning: Using Decision Management to Deliver Business Impact from AI. Harley had a nice quote about it:

Historically, organizations have codified their best practices in rules. Now they are hungry to take advantage of the possibilities of AI to leverage the wealth of information in their historical data and take even better decisions. They are struggling to do so. James Taylor makes it clear how to succeed: By combining business rules and machine learning in a single digital decisioning framework. With clear explanations and examples based on years of practice, this book lays out what can be accomplished with digital decisioning platforms – and how to go about it successfully.

Harley Davis

Craig Bedell – an insurance industry luminary and old friend – published a great article last week on Carrier Management – The Insanity of Analytics in Insurance (NOW FREE – no membership required).

Despite an abundance of optimism over analytics, AI and more, the insurance industry still has challenges realizing the potential benefits of these new insights. Upon simple examination, the reasons are rather straightforward. “Actionable insights” are only valuable when applied to the day-to-day business of insurance and its processes and decision-making.

Craig’s perspective matches our experience in Insurance too – it’s easy to apply analytics to your data, and spend a lot of money doing so, without getting much of a return. It’s just too easy to get fixated on the cleverness of the analysis, the power of the analytic tools, even the accuracy of the prediction, while loosing sight of the business value – better decision-making. As Mike Gualtieri of Forrester once said:

if analytics does not lead to more informed decisions and more effective actions, then why do it at all?

Mike Gualtieri, Forrester Research

This sounds simple to solve. Once I have analytic insight, surely I can just use it to improve my decision-making? Well no. It turns out that this is nearly impossible to do. Insurance companies, like most large, established companies, are hard to change. A piece of analytic insight, no matter how powerful or predictive, is not generally enough to turn the ship.

The traditional approach, which does not work well, is:

  • Assemble data
  • Do analysis
  • Deliver insight
  • Get better decision-making

This leads to the insanity Craig talks about because it is to hard to change the decision-making. To succeed, you have to approach the problem backwards:

  • What decision do I need to improve?
  • What analytic insight would help me improve?
  • What data do I need to produce that insight

This approach – DecisionsFirst™ as we call it – is the core of our approach to Digital Decisioning. Only by focusing explicitly on the operational decisions that matter to your business can you avoid the insanity of unactionable (or at least unactioned) analytics.

As the team at Forrester put it so nicely:

Enterprises waste time and money on unactionable analytics and rigid applications. Digital decisioning can stop this insanity.

John Rymer and Mike Gualtieri, Forrester Research

According to IDC, 85% of enterprise decision-makers say they have two years to make significant inroads into digital transformation or they will fall behind their competitors and suffer financially.

While many Digital Transformation initiatives are focused on improving the customer experience, often too little attention is paid to the customer-facing operational decisions that impact customers every day. To get the most from your Digital Transformation efforts, your customers’ experience and the decisions that impact it cannot be ignored.

That’s why experts recommend incorporating Digital Decisioning into your Digital Transformation strategy. Digital Decisioning is a proven approach to operational decision-making that radically improves performance. Digital Decisioning is also the key to delivering real value from AI and machine learning.

In this webinar, hear Digital Decisioning pioneer, James Taylor, explain how this approach is a key component to achieving your objectives with your Digital Transformation initiatives. He will discuss several valuable use cases and show you the path to the winning side of Digital Transformation.

Register Today!

Wednesday, January 29th, 2020
10 am PT/1 pm ET

The Machine Learning Times (previously Predictive Analytics Times) is the only full-scale content portal devoted exclusively to predictive analytics. It has become a standard must-read and machine learning professionals’ premier resource, delivering timely, relevant industry-leading articles, videos, events, white papers, and community.

In this month’s featured article, Eric Siegel, Ph.D., executive editor of The Machine Learning Times and founder of the Predictive Analytics World and Deep Learning World conference series, discusses the pitfalls of predictive analytics in his article, “Why Operationalizing Machine Learning Requires a Shrewd Business Perspective.”

In his article, Eric warns, “Predictive models often fail to launch. They’re never deployed to drive decisions. This is ultimately a management error. We must pursue the business of machine learning only so that it delivers the business value of machine learning.” and goes on to illustrate how “the analytics and number crunching alone do not determine what to actually do with a model’s predictions – only business acumen can dictate how to best deploy a model.” 

Eric also mentions my new book, “Digital Decisioning: Using Decision Management to Deliver Business Impact from AI,” stating “This comprehensive book guides you to leverage the potential of machine learning. It delivers the business-level finesse needed to ensure predictive models are operationalization-ready. It lays the groundwork and sets the standard. It’s a great place to start… and to finish.”

I encourage you to check out Eric’s article and order your copy of “Digital Decisioning: Using Decision Management to Deliver Business Impact from AI” from Amazon today.

It’s been a while since I posted a job but  BenjaminBaer@fico.com has an open spot if you are interested in marketing decision management technology.

– James

Director, Portfolio Marketing (Decision Management – Decision Technologies)

The Opportunity

Are you looking for a career where you can orchestrate, execute and support the go-to-market strategies for FICO’s platform, products, and solutions? Then look no further – the Portfolio Marketing role is for you.

FICO’s Decision Management practice represents our core set of cloud-ready, platform technologies for FICO’s B2B offerings for financial services, and insurance, as well as other industries across the globe. As Director of Portfolio Marketing, you’ll be responsible for the messaging, positioning, and enablement of FICO’s products and solutions, and for driving the strategy for integrated campaign management. This position focuses on FICO’s core decision technologies including FICO Blaze Advisor/Decision Modeler, Strategy Director, and Decision Central, which are all essential to businesses seeking to transform through centralized decisioning, operationalizing AI, and other decision-centric strategies.

What You’ll Contribute

  • Design and validate the business plan for bringing FICO’s portfolio, capabilities, and product/solutions to market. Articulate FICO’s decision technology value proposition in the context of broader FICO initiatives, as well as contextually within specific customer industries or solutions (working collaborative with Risk and other teams as appropriate).
  • Craft positioning, messaging and value propositions that resonate with specific audiences. Understand influencer and buyer personas and how they buy, to inform campaigns, content, and innovation. Prioritize and localize messaging for specific regions and industry impact. Create content that is reflective of positioning and messaging, and that maps to stages of the buyer journey – and that also helps accelerate deals.
  • Engage with multiple constituents – field marketing, digital, analyst relations, sales and pre-sales, product management, public relations, community, customer advocacy and partners – to help validate, review, and deploy content for those specific uses.
  • Continually validate personas and build out customer journeys for the decision technology product areas, and work with other portfolio marketers to collaborate on efforts that also leverage decision technology (e.g., Platform, Decision Optimization, Auto Finance, Telco, etc.).
  • Manage competitive analysis, both at the core product level, as well as FICO’s overall DMS/Platform level (working closely with other DMS portfolio marketers).
  • Drive marketing new product introductions and define strategy for content distribution and adoption of our decision technology offerings. Help manage product naming initiatives, track analyst reports that correlate with emerging decision technology and related topics and collect and share market data as it becomes available.
  • Working closely with the FICO DMS Community Manager, oversee the ongoing development and expansion of the Decision Technology group in the FICO Community, including developing blogs/vlogs, release content, product and industry pages, and other specific content as it adds value for our extended user and prospect community.
  • Develop and execute a plan for developing and delivering product demos, leveraging SMEs such as product managers, pre-sales consultants, and others.
  • Grow and defend market share of offerings via knowledge transfer, content, and programs for internal stakeholders – in particular, sales partners.

What We’re Seeking

  • BA, BS or MBA in a related field, with at least 10 years of relevant product, solution, and/or portfolio marketing experience.
  • Demonstrated ability to effectively collaborate with a variety of stakeholders, from technical resources to C-level executive management.
  • Solid understanding of and experience within any or all of decision management, analytics, data science, and platform technologies.
  • Ability to serve as an ambassador and evangelist for decision technologies with both internal and external stakeholders.
  • Ability to rapidly brainstorm and develop content, often under tight time constraints, for a variety of uses.
  • Proven ability to rapidly shift directions when business priorities change, and also consistently rebalance work priorities to ensure tight alignment with other constituents.
  • Software skills: Word, PowerPoint, Excel, Camtasia and Salesforce.

Cassie Kozyrkov – Head of Decision Intelligence at Google- has a great piece on 12 Steps to Applied AI. As usual she’s got lots of great tips. I don’t have anything to add to her more technical steps but I want to add some commentary on Step 0 and Step 1.

Let’s start with her Step 0 thoughts:

Check that you actually need ML/AI. Can you identify many small decisions you need help with? Has the non-ML/AI approach already been shown to be worthless? Do you have data to learn from? Do you have access to hardware? If not, don’t pass GO.

Great focus here on operational decisions (small, transaction-level decisions you make many times) not on big, one-off decisions. Also good to make sure you don’t have a non-ML/AI approach that will work. I would say it differently – “Has the non-ML/AI approach already been shown to be sub-optimal (rather than “worthless)” – as we see a lot of clients where adding some ML/AI boost results without the need to replace the old approach completely.

…leaders who try to shove AI approaches where they don’t belong usually end up with solutions which are too costly to maintain in production. … If you can do it without AI, so much the better. ML/AI is for those situations where the other approaches don’t get you the performance you need.

Yup. Nothing to add.

The right first step is to focus on outputs and objectives.
Imagine that this ML/AI system is already operating perfectly. Ask yourself what you would like it to produce when it does the next task. Don’t worry how it does it. Imagine that it works already and it is solving some need your business has.

We have a game we play to do this. We call it the “if only” game. We ask business owners to fill in the blank in the following sentence “if only we knew BLANK we would decide differently”. This let’s them imagine that some ML/AI algorithm can magically produce the insight they need. Exactly as Cassie suggests, focusing on your objectives and what outputs from ML/AI would help.

Moving on to Step 1: Define your objectives she says

Clearly express what success means for your project. …
How promising does it need to be in order to be worth productionizing? What’s the minimum acceptable performance for it to be worth launching?

Pro tip: make sure this part is done by whoever knows the business best and has the sharpest decision-making skills, not the best equation nerdery. Skipping this step or doing it out of sequence is the leading cause of data science project failure. Don’t. Even. Think. About. Skipping. It.

Critical to this step for us is building a decision model. With a model of the decision making – the current approach for sure and perhaps also a model of your intentions – it is much easier to identify specific ML/AI opportunities and to define how promising it has to be – how predictive – and to capture the minimum acceptable performance. We have had some real-world problems were very low levels of accuracy were good enough (“better than 50/50”) and others where it had to be pretty accurate (“if it’s not better than 95% accurate we won’t use it at all”). Don’t guess, build a model and know.

And how do we build these decision models? Well we ask the person who “knows the business best” how they decide. And, as Cassie says, not doing this is the leading cause of failures so don’t skip it! I wrote this post on analytic failures – some are acceptable, even inevitable given the nature of analytics. But many are avoidable just as Cassie says.

For more on this why not check out our brief on Succeeding with AI?

The Decision Management team at Gartner (Rob Dunie , Roy Schulte, Derek Miers , Pieter den Hamer , Paul Vincent , Marc Kerremans and Erick Brethenoux ) have recently published a new paper entitled “Should Your Project Use a Decision Management Suite?” [Gartner subscription required].

It’s a great paper and I strongly recommend it if you have access. The quotes below are from the public page with a few additional notes from me. If this is a topic that interests you, check out the Decision Management Systems Platform Technology Report.

Decision management suites are very useful for implementing software that makes business decisions, although other products are sometimes better — depending on your business requirements. Data and analytics leaders should consider the issues highlighted when selecting tools for decision making.

Key here is the focus on data and analytics leaders – Decision Management and Digital Decisioning are essential components in an analytics strategy.

Use Decision Management Suites to Automate or Augment Operational Decisions

The focus on operational decisions – decisions about a single transaction – are central. There’s a whole set of use cases in the Report.

Use ML, Stream Analytics, Optimization or Other AI Techniques for Decisions That Require Runtime Analytics

I would note here, as I do in my new book on Digital Decisioning, that these advanced analytic techniques are best injected into real-time or runtime environments using decision management tools and techniques.

Book Cover

Decision Management is a proven approach for delivering Digital Decisioning and injecting machine learning and other AI techniques into your operational systems. Check out the new book for more details and a set of best practices and advice on how to get Decision Management done.

Digital Decisioning: Using Decision Management to Deliver Business Value from AI

Book Cover

There is an artificial intelligence (AI) revolution underway in enterprises across the globe as companies continue to adopt predictive analytics, machine learning and other AI across their businesses. This revolution puts managers and executives under enormous pressure to use AI to run their businesses more effectively. How do they do this? Will people lose their jobs?  Most importantly, how will they become beneficiaries rather than victims of this new AI economy?

[continue reading…]

The speed, volume and complexity of decisions – as well as the impact they have on customer experience – demand automated, real-time decision making. Digital decisioning is an emerging best practice for delivering business impact from AI, machine learning, and analytics. Digital decisioning is an approach that ensures your systems act intelligently on your behalf, making precise, consistent, real-time decisions at every customer touchpoint.

Visit our YourTube Channel to view the webinar.

Next Session November 18-20, 2019
Three 2-hour sessions with homework.
12:30 pm – 2:30 pm ET

Decision modeling with the Decision Model and Notation (DMN) standard is fast becoming the definitive approach for sustained business engagement, improved traceability and flexible and analytic enterprise applications.

With decision modeling, you can:

  • Re-use, evolve, and manage business rules.
  • Effectively frame the requirements for analytic projects.
  • Streamline reporting requests.
  • Define analytically driven performance dashboards.
  • Optimize and simplify business processes.

This 3-part online live training class taught by leading expert James Taylor, CEO of Decision Management Solutions, will prepare you to be immediately effective in a modern, collaborative, and standards-based approach to decision modeling.

You will learn how to identify and prioritize the decisions that drive your success, see how to analyze and model these decisions, and understand the role these decisions play in delivering more powerful information systems.

Each step is supported by interactive decision modeling work sessions focused on problems that reinforce key points. All the decision modeling and notation in the class is based on the DMN standard, future-proofing your investment in decision modeling. Decision modeling is also a Technique in V3 of the BABOK® Guide by the International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA).

Click here for more information and to register.

Course Details

  1. Decision Modeling Basics
    1. Introduction to Decision Model and Notation
    2. Core elements of decision models
    3. Essential Decision Properties
  2. Decision Requirements Modeling
    1. Modeling Decision Requirements
    2. Elicitation, Verification and Completion
    3. Additional Decision Properties
  3. Applying Decision Modeling
    1. Business Rules and Decision Modeling
    2. Analytics and Decision Modeling
    3. Driving the Requirements Process with Decision Modeling
  4. Getting started and next steps

McKinsey recently reported that “Most carriers are struggling to meet their cost of capital, and productivity has barely moved over the past decade” and that “The insurance industry is facing a serious structural challenge … the majority of carriers are not making their cost of capital.” Growing productivity by improving operations is an essential ingredient in insurance carriers’ business strategy. Digital technologies in insurance have been focused on digitizing data and processes. They have made little impact on productivity because insurance is a decision-centric industry. Without digital decisions, productivity will remain flat.

Watch the recording of this webinar with me and insurance industry expert Craig Bedell as we discuss the importance of digital decisioning to improving insurance productivity. Learn digital decisioning integrates your existing technology investments with machine learning and AI to drive increased productivity in everything from underwriting to claims handling, and pricing to next best offer.

In January of this year, Wired Magazine published an article about a collaboration between The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)  and Google parent Alphabet’s DeepMind unit to create software powered by artificial intelligence that attempts to predict which patients in the intensive care unit (ICU) are likely to develop acute kidney injury (AKI). The article stated that more than 50% of adults admitted to an ICU end up getting AKI, which is life-threatening.

According to the article, the Department of Veterans Affairs contributed 700,000 medical records to the project. The goal of the project was to test whether artificial intelligence could be developed to help doctors better predict which patients were at risk for developing AKI so preventative measures could be taken sooner.

Fast forward to the August Volume of the journal Nature and the article “A clinically applicable approach to continuous prediction of future acute kidney injury”. It looks like artificial intelligence may in fact be able to help doctors identify which patients in the ICU are at serious risk of AKI. This study shows that artificial intelligence can predict kidney failure up to two days before it occurs. During the research study, the software was able to predict nearly 56% of all serious kidney problems and approximately 90% of those problems serious enough to require dialysis.

The work is still in the early stages — there were two false positives for every true positive — but it certainly advances what’s known about how deep learning may be helpful in clinical healthcare practice.

According to Dr. Dominic King, DeepMind’s health lead and coauthor of the research paper, kidney issues are particularly tricky to identify in advance. Today, doctors and nurses are alerted to acute kidney injury via a patient’s blood test, but by the time that information comes through, the organ may already be damaged; making him hopeful for the long-term value of these types of predictive solutions. The team hopes a similar model can be developed to identify other major causes of disease and deterioration, including life-threatening infection sepsis.

I live in Palo Alto – within walking distance of Google and the home of the VA hospital that an article in the Financial Times identified as the planned location for a clinical trial of this algorithm. I also have a particular interest in how to develop effective clinical decisioning systems. At Decision Management Solutions we have done a couple of interesting prototypes and recently written a paper for the Department of Health and Human Services on this topic.

The value of a prediction like this is that it could help medical professionals better triage patients and get those who require intervention on a treatment plan right away. Doing so could potentially save hundreds of thousands of lives each year and lessen the need for invasive, uncomfortable treatments such as dialysis or kidney transplant. The prediction itself cannot do this – it’s just a prediction – but acting on the prediction can. Making the prediction readily available to medical professionals MIGHT change their behavior. If they understand the prediction, if the prediction is clearly explained, if there is nothing about the patient that triggers their own personal experience, if their first few cases aren’t false positives… if, if, if.

To take advantage of this kind of prediction, it needs to be embedded into a clinical decision support framework. Working with clinicians, you can develop a model of how they do triage for patients today and how they select appropriate treatments for a patient. This model will be different in each clinical setting – the VA is likely to do this differently from your local hospital network, for instance. The availability of facilities, distance to them, organization of specialties and much more go into this decision. And if the decision about triage requires medical judgment that can’t be automated, this too can be input to the system.

With a clear understanding of the decision, you can improve it using the prediction. The medical professionals can see how they would change the decision given the prediction, its accuracy and its false positives. Instead of simply showing them the prediction and hoping they will change their decision, the system can change its recommendation in alignment with their approach.

Remember, AI, Machine Learning and predictive models don’t DO anything – they just make predictions. If you want to save lives (or engage customers, prevent fraud, manage risk or anything else), then you have to make decisions with those predictions.

Maybe I should drop by the VA and tell them…

In May, 2019 the analytics community lost a true pioneer. I met Robert Hecht-Nielsen in 2001 when the company he co-founded, HNC Software, purchased the Blaze Advisor business unit of Brokat Technology, where I worked. The following year, HNC Software was acquired by the company now known as FICO. He was well known to all for his red suspenders, bald head, and beaming smile.

Robert was a pioneer in the field of neural networks. He wrote the first textbook on the subject, Neurocomputing, in 1989. In 1986, he co-founded HNC Software, a neural networking startup in San Diego, based on his breakthrough work in predictive algorithms. HNC was perhaps the first start-up in the neural network/machine learning space to be significantly financially successful. The company’s flagship product, Falcon® is used all over the world to detect fraudulent debit and credit card transactions. Falcon was, I think, the earliest example of automated decisioning as a service for fraud detection using neural networks and in-memory profiles.  I believe it was first commercially available in 1994 and based on its success, the company went public in 1995.

In July, many of my former colleagues attended a celebration of Robert’s life. I was unable to attend, due to a trip to Asia, but was touched by some of the stories and wanted to share a summary here. In addition to his many years at HNC, Robert was also an adjunct professor of electrical engineering at the University of California San Diego. The memorial was a mix of family, HNC alumni, and former graduate student advisees. All of the stories from Robert’s oldest granddaughter to his students and his former employees shared these common words of advice:

  1. Study a hard science like math or physics; you’ll learn business when you’re doing it
  2. Learn how things work; don’t just put gas in your car, learn how thermal dynamics works
  3. Read the economist (he quizzed his students on it regularly)
  4. If you have the option to take the easy path or the hard path, take the hard path because you’ll learn so much more.

Everyone spoke about how generous Robert was with his time. There was one story in particular that summed Robert up for me. A gentleman got up to speak at the celebration. Here’s what he said.

Hi. My name is Quinton. Most of you don’t know me. I met Robert in 1998 when I was an air conditioning technician at the HNC office. I had just gotten out of the Marines and I was thinking about going back to school. I was up in the vents when Robert came back into his office. I shouted down an apology that I was just finishing up. When I got down out of the vent, he invited me to sit down. We talked for two hours (everyone in attendance laughed). He passed along all of the advice everyone has mentioned today. He literally changed the trajectory of my life. I didn’t speak to him again until 2012. I saw an article about him and sent him an email at his UCSD address to thank him for that day in his office. He emailed me back and invited me to his home in Del Mar. Since that day in Del Mar we met at least once a quarter for the rest of his life. I am now an entrepreneur, something else that Robert was very passionate about. I own a medical device company. I have no idea what my life would look like today if I hadn’t met Robert.

One of the key benefits of decision management is its focus on operational decisions. Diving into these operational decisions further, you can typically identify several micro-decisions that, when improved, will dramatically affect business performance.

“Micro-decisions” are the decisions made transaction by transaction, customer by customer. Companies often fail to recognize these as individual decisions, instead lumping them into bigger ones. For instance, instead of identifying that each price offered to each customer is a micro-decision, they consider “pricing” as one big, strategic decision. Failing to consider these micro-decisions as separate decision-making opportunities means you are unable to fully leverage the personalization or targeting of these micro-decisions to individual customers. This in turn means you cannot take advantage of all that lovely data you have about customers, or reward customers based on loyalty metrics, or….

Even if you don’t want to completely automate a micro-decision, it would be wise to think about using Decision Management to reduce the range of options available to a human decision-maker, or at least rank the available options by likely effectiveness. A decision service can be used to either fully automate a micro-decision or provide support for human decision-making, as described. It is also important to match these micro-decisions to objectives and to measure them so they can be improved over time.

Micro decisions are made often, typically thousands of times a day. This means that any improvement in the effectiveness of these decisions has an outsized impact. Even a small increase in profitability, customer retention or net promotor score resulting from a micro decision scales up -its value is multiplied by the thousands of such decisions you make. The total impact often exceeds much more “strategic” decisions.

Decision Management and micro-decisions are a great way to gain a macro impact.

Like many of you I am awash in digital photos and have been trying to find a good way to manage them. For various reasons I picked Amazon Photos. One of the key benefits was the family vault – a way to let several people upload photos to a shared space. Of course, another reason is to take advantage of Amazon’s facial recognition AI.

So the good news is that both of these seem to work. The shared files are managed nicely on AWS (no surprise that Amazon can do this) and the AI does a pretty good job of recognizing faces and letting you edit this when it makes mistakes. So far so good.

But the facial recognition is account by account and there’s no way to use it in the family vault:

I can look at my photos and identify faces in them. The other members of my family can look at their photos and do the same.

But we can’t say that these two people are the same. I can’t even use the faces they have identified when looking at a family member’s photos – only they can.

Plus there’s no way to see all the photos the family has of a particular person. Which was kind of the point of the family vault.

So why do AI programmers smart enough to do facial recognition fail to realize that they should make this work across a family vault? I suspect because like far too many AI programmers they are focused on the technology. Their success criteria is to make the technology solve a technical problem – identifying faces – not solve a business problem – managing a photo collection.

If you want your AI programmers to focus on the business problem and not the technical problem, check out this paper on our DecisionsFirst™ approach for success with AI.