Software Tools for The Decision Model - Part 2

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This article assumes knowledge of the Decision Model. You can order the book including a kindle version at amazon.com here.

“As one who always embraces a new modeling technique with an open mind - only to toss most aside when they can't be applied effectively in the real world - I immediately saw that something was different about this technique.........It almost seemed too simple to be true…it sure paid off!” – Omaha BA, Amazon.com Review, March 2010

Many readers of this column are much like the reviewer above. You are experiencing success with decision models even without the assistance of decision modeling software. Imagine the possibilities with proper software support!

In Part one, we defined the ten basic functions of such software as the following:

  • Graphical modeling for decision model notation
  • Rule family table development
  • Robust glossary function
  • Integrity analysis of business logic
  • Testing and test case generation
  • Traceability
  • Connectivity
  • Governance
  • Enterprise support and Analytics.

In Part two, we look at decision model software today and in the near future. However, we first point out two important distinctions between previous business rules approaches and the Decision Model Approach because these distinctions are relevant to software.

The Limitation of the Business Rules Legacy

There are two important distinctions to note: managing a model versus lists and automating a model versus lists.

The Importance of Managing a Model Instead of Lists

Previous business rules approaches deal with individual business rules, one at a time, not a holistic rigorous model of them. This means that software for

business management

of a technology-independent model of business logic is significantly different from (and more advanced than) software for business management of lists of business rules.

The Importance of Automating a Model Instead of Lists

Software for

automating

a technology-independent universal model of business logic is also significantly different from (and more advanced than) software for automating lists of business rules.

With these two distinctions, the line between business and technology management of business logic starts to disappear.

Therefore, for starters, when considering software support for The Decision Model, it is important to consider the implications of such a model in the enterprise and how it changes everything. As discussed in Part 1, a Decision Model is NOT just a design, or technical artifact, as some industry commentators maintain This narrow viewpoint generally derives from equating The Decision Model with a diagramming notation such as UML, used almost purely in the technical realm.

The Decision Model is different. Adopters of it realize that it is the ideal vehicle for sharing logic among business and technical audiences. The Decision Model diagram is useful to business experts as a graphical representation of the logic structure. In practice, high-level executives review decision model diagrams to understand their key logic elements. Some executives even sketch the logic they believe will lead to the optimum conclusion for a decision model.

On the other hand, Rule Families are useful to business and technical experts who need to see the logic in its detailed and atomic format. Technical designers and business analysts study populated Rule Families to ensure that the logic is atomic and rigorous.

The continuum from business to automation becomes possible. In fact, one vendor has demonstrated that their business rule engine can execute Rule Families without the need for program code (go to http://openrules.com/index.htm).

So The Decision Model is used in practice to manage logic throughout the continuum (“Manager-Expert-Designer-Programmer”) described in the blog of the footnote. If this were not so, you would need additional techniques, beyond The Decision Model, to achieve any level in the Business Decision Maturity Model (BDMM). Happily, this is not the case. Unfortunately, the legacy of the business rules practice (prior to The Decision Model) promotes an unnecessary and costly divide between the business management of logic – for which there are very few tools in the world today – and the technical management of logic as provided for in Business Rule Management Systems (BRMS.)

Because of this awkward divide, Section One below addresses software tools that provide for the business management of decision models while Section Two addresses software tools providing technical management of them. Section Three addresses the anticipated emergence of a new kind of software, called a Business Decision Management System (BDMS). It covers comprehensive decision model and decision management support up to the highest levels of the BDMM.

Section One: Software for the Business Management of Decision Models

Admittedly, the market for Decision Model software is in the early stages of development and adoption. In 2010, many organizations worldwide created decision models in office automation software as the low cost low risk easy option (e.g., MS/Visio and MS/Word templates).

Other organizations stretched or extended Enterprise Architecture tools (e.g., IBM System Architect, Metastorm PROvision, Software AG Aris), Business Rules Repositories, and Requirements tools (e.g., IBM Doors, IBM Requisite Pro). In general, these tools, even with extensions, have not been successful for business management of business logic, but serve as repositories managed by IT.

The good news is that shortly after the announcement of The Decision Model, several software vendors adapted existing tools to provide for the business management of The Decision Model. We cover two vendor products in this Section: NewWisdom Software’s RuleGuide and eDev Technology’s inteGREAT. Each has interesting features and provides different aspects and capabilities for business management of decision models.

Business Rules Management Tool: RuleGuide

(http://www.newwisdomsoftware.com)RuleGuide is a business rules capture and management tool offered by New Wisdom Software. Built on a relational database, it supports business decision, rule, and glossary authoring and management. It is a web server based tool, sporting a comfortable user interface and a well thought out approach to classical business rule management.

Lee Lambert, founder of the long-time business rule consulting firm Lambert Consultants, formed New Wisdom Software specifically to build RuleGuide to address clients’ burgeoning growth of business rule catalogs. Lee obtained an early copy of The Decision Model book and easily adapted features in RuleGuide to support The Decision Model and KPI STEP.

Early in 2009, we used an early beta release of RuleGuide with its preliminary support for The Decision Model. The results were very gratifying, enabling a significant savings in time and effort over the default approach of MS/Excel and MS/Visio. The integration of the glossary with Rule Family authoring was critical to improving productivity.

We have reviewed New Wisdom’s continued advancements and believe that the RuleGuide decision approach to rule capture and management provides increasing support for The Decision Model. For example, as the RuleGuide analyst enters decisions and rule families, RuleGuide automatically links dependent and supporting rule families within the decision family structure.

In terms of decision model functionality, RuleGuide provides:

  • Decision capture
  • Rule Family authoring within a Decision structure
  • Web-based tree modeling of the decision rule family
  • Glossary as a base for the RuleGuide rule repository
  • Messaging capture at the rule family row level

RuleGuide features a visual decision rule family tree, displaying supporting families to the condition fact type level, with structural similarities to our graphical decision models. RuleGuide shares the DM Rule Family structural principles.

Decision model views and messaging are advancements in The Decision Model not described in the book. It is understandable that Views are not yet supported in such tools. RuleGuide near term advancements include Decision Views and API’s for related products such as BPMN/BDMN tools and BRE’s. We are excited with the continued commitment by New Wisdom to support The Decision Model.

Requirements Tool: inteGREAT

(http://www.edevtech.com)inteGREAT is a full-featured requirements tool offered by eDev Technologies of Toronto, Canada. It is part of a new wave of collaborative, knowledge-based tools made possible by advancement in semantic modeling. It provides automated definition, validation, simulation, documentation and collaboration of requirements in projects. It has a highly functional graphical modeling interface and a unique ability to create traceability between and across all the objects and artifacts in its very rich repository of business models. InteGREAT now supports The Decision Model and connects it to all the other models in the manner prescribed by our book.

In terms of its decision model functionality, inteGREAT provides:

  • Full-featured glossary with links to object and data models
  • Rule family population
  • Graphic decision model structures
  • Connections from decision models to process models, business motivations

The Rule Family manipulation in inteGREAT is unique because of its integration into Microsoft’s Excel, and using Excel as the means of maintaining the Rule Families. This is typical of inteGREAT, as it uses a blend of Microsoft tools to provide much of its functionality, such as imbedded Visio for graphical diagrams, Expression Blend with Sketchflow for simulations, and SharePoint for collaboration.

It does not currently support decision model views and decision model messaging.

Other requirements tools, to our knowledge, have not added support for The Decision Model at the time of this writing.

Section Two: Software for Technical Management of Decision Models

There exists a wide range of technology that supports the execution environment for Decision Management solutions. This includes traditional business rule management systems, or BRMS (E.g., IBM/ILOG, Fico Blaze Advisor, Corticon BRMS, Drools, OpenRules and others) in addition to business intelligence and analytics tools. These technologies focus on the execution environment and provide little if any support for business management of decisions. KPI has actively worked with OpenRules and ILOG to create a straight through processing capability for The Decision Model.

Section Three: New Generation Software, BDMS

Comprehensive commercially available software designed specifically for The Decision Model and Decision Management throughout the full life cycle does not yet exist. Further, no tool, adapted from existing software, currently supports higher than level 2 of the Business Decision Maturity Model (BDMM), and most support only level 1. (See Part 1 of this article at (http://modernanalyst.com/Resources/Articles/tabid/115/ArticleType/ArticleView/ArticleID/1667/Default.aspx)

In Part 1, we mentioned John Semel’s Chapter 8 in our book Business Rules Revolution (von Halle and Goldberg, HappyAbout, 2006) called “Better Rules through Rules Authoring Software”. The software in that chapter does address the full life cycle and serves as an outstanding example of what is possible. The limitations are that it is a proprietary development, aimed at a target testing and automation environment, for a single project, achieving BDMM Level 2. The new generation of software would be commercially available, support enterprise considerations, apply to multiple target execution environments, and aim for higher BDMM levels.

Summary

The Decision Model, in its first year of publication, has proven its value even without sophisticated software support. At the low end, many people are simply using office automation software.

However, software from early visionary vendors is now available and so the race is on. Some decision model software is now in, or will become part of, requirements tools, business rules repositories, and Enterprise Architecture tools. An organization may wish also to select a BRMS execution engine.

Regardless, as the market matures, we recommend you refer the BDMM in selecting such software. The BDMM gives you a tool for assessing your current and target decision model and decision management maturity level to achieve business objectives. Your organization can then select the decision model software that is most likely to help you achieve business goals.

There is no doubt that the most sophisticated software will enable large, enterprise-wide adoption of The Decision Model and Decision Management. Yet, even less sophisticated software support that is comfortable for business and business analyst audiences, accelerates business rule or business process management projects by reducing time and money.

On the Horizon

If you are interested in learning more about the products referenced above as well as upcoming press releases, please visit our website www.kpiusa.com. We also invite readers to join The Decision Model on LinkedIN to hear what practitioners are doing and to ask questions about tools in use.

(1)See the blog http://alcedocoenen.wordpress.com/2011/01/18/bedrijfsregels-en-wendbaarheid-66/ as an example. This is in Dutch, but claims The Decision Model to be an artifact used by the “Designer” in the continuum of “Manager-Expert-Designer-Programmer.”

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