The Consequences of BPM without BDM

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Faculty Member, and CEO and Principal Consultant, Decision Management Solutions
James is a Faculty Member of and the CEO and a Principal Consultant of Decision Management Solutions. He is the leading expert in how to use business rules and analytic technology to build Decision Management Systems. James is passionate about using Decision Management Systems to help companies improve decision making and develop an agile, analytic and adaptive business. He provides strategic consulting to companies of all sizes, working with clients in all sectors to adopt decision making technology. James has spent the last 20 years developing approaches, tools, and platforms that others can use to build more effective information systems. He has led Decision Management efforts for leading companies in insurance, banking, health management, manufacturing, travel and telecommunications. James is the author of “Decision Management Systems: A practical guide to using business rules and predictive analytics” (IBM Press, 2011). He previously wrote Smart (Enough) Systems: How to Deliver Competitive Advantage by Automating Hidden Decisions (Prentice Hall) with Neil Raden, and has contributed chapters on Decision Management to multiple books as well as many articles to magazines. He is currently working on a book projects related to decision modeling. Decision Management Solutions work with clients to improve their business by applying analytics and analytic technology to automate and improve decisions. Decision Management Solutions is a submitter of the Decision Model and Notation standard.

When BPM is pursued without pursing Business Decision Management—BDM—in parallel the direct consequence is that decisions become an afterthought in the processes that need them. In contrast, applying BDM techniques and technologies in parallel means that decisions are identified, managed and improved distinct from processes resulting in increased agility, simpler processes and improved consistency.

The risks of failing to manage processes and decisions are:

  • Buried Decisions
    The first risk of a BPM-only approach is that decisions are buried in process. The complexity of a decision gets merged with the complexity of the process. The management of the decision gets merged with the management of the process. But most importantly the decision cannot be evaluated, measured and improved as a distinct element of our overall system. In contrast, applying BDM as well as BPM means that decisions are linked to the processes that use them but not buried in them. The decisions can then be improved independently.
  • Process becomes complex
    Failing to keep a decision separate but linked from a process that uses means that that process will become more complex. The steps of the decisions, the rules that must be applied will now be steps or details within a process. Instead of a simple process with a single decision-making activity our process will have many activities and paths that are managing the relationship. With BDM your process is simplified because the complexity of the decision is externalized.
  • Inconsistency is likely
    Many decisions are reused between processes and many decisions reuse decision logic, business rules. With decisions mixed into your processes it will be hard to ensure that these decisions are made consistently across processes, hard to reuse the rules that drive those decisions. With BDM you get one version of rules and you know which decisions use which rules.
  • Decisions only evolve with process
    If the rules and decisions are mixed with processes then any change to the rules, to the decision, means a change to the process. If how you determine which price to use with a customer is embedded in the process then any pricing change must change the process. Yet decision changes like new pricing rules, new eligibility rules and more are not the same as a “real” process change and often come much more often. Managing decisions means you can make independent process & decision changes so that the decision used is always current and that processes don’t need to be redeployed every time decision making must be updated.

The combination of BPM and BDM is a very strong one. Because the steps in your process are clear and the rules in your decision are equally clear you can ensure compliance. You can make workflow and process changes easily but also let business users change the decision making inside the process to maximize agility. Finally you can cut costs, using BPM to avoid coding changes across multiple applications for instance and BDM to lower maintenance costs for logic changes and reducing the number of manual reviews.

To make sure you manage processes and decisions:

  1. Identify your decisions
    Step one is to find and name and manage the decisions that matter to your processes. Finding decisions is not always that easy, though it gets easier as you practice. For a BPM initiative, try these specific ways to find decisions:
    • Hidden decisions, transactional decisions, customer decisions
      Hidden decisions are those points in the process where you make a decision without realizing it. Where you treat every transaction, every customer the same. These are the hardest but often the most interesting to find. Transactional and customer decisions are where transaction or customer information is used to change data or handle routing – price this order, cross-sell this customer etc.
    • Decisions buried in complex processes
      Any time you have a really complex process, especially one with gateways leading to gateways then you should review it and hunt for decisions buried within it. Identifying and managing these decisions separately reduces the complexity of the process by managing the complexity of decision-making outside the process.
    • Decisions that are the difference between two processes
      A surprising number of organizations think they have multiple processes when they really have a single process with decisioning embedded. Thus a government agency I spoke to found it did not have 30 processes but one process with a single, complex decision about permit approval. Externalizing the decision resulted in a single, simpler process where they had thought they had one process for each permit. Look for similar, related processes and see if they are really different once you externalize the decision.
  2. Adopt BDM technology
    Having started to document and manage the decisions within your processes you need to adopt some technology to manage them in your automated processes.
    • Adopt business rules management systems
      The best way to manage the logic in decisions is to use a business rules management system or BRMS.
    • Investigate data mining and predictive analytics
      Many decisions rely on data or, more precisely, on analytic insight derived from data. Some tools to develop this kind of insight will be useful.
    • Think about decision analysis
      Experimentation, simulation, impact analysis and other elements of what is known as adaptive control will need to be part of your plan. This approaches/tools allow you to manage the fact that what is a good decision today will not always be a good decision and to evolve and change decisions over time.
  3. Think about Decisions and Processes
    A successful BPM initiative needs both decisions and processes to be managed.
    • Learn, understand and teach the difference
      Don’t let the awareness of decisions and decisioning be siloed – make sure the whole BPM team is educated.
    • Think about their independent lifecycles
      Understand the update and deployment timeframes for each decision and each process. How often do they change, why and at whose authority? Separation of concerns (process separate from decision but linked) enables a separation of these lifecycles which can increase agility and reduce the cost of change.
    • Manage them both equally
      Treat them as equals, manage them both, include them both in your methodology, project plans etc.

Focusing only on processes, ignoring decisions, can result in processes that over complex, hard to manage and difficult to change. Managing decisions and processes as peers results in simpler, more agile, more consistent processes and better business results. BDM and BPM should be used together.

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