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EDM Outta Sight: Invisible Employees and Transparent Decision Services

(By guest Blogger, Gib Bassett)

As a guest Blogger on the EDMBlog, I am obviously a proponent of Enterprise Decision Management and the impact it can have on a company’s operational decisions; you could say I think EDM is “outta sight.”   By that, I mean really effective, specifically how EDM can optimize the many, often hidden, decisions underlying an organization’s day to day operations.  “For example, decisions may be hidden, because they are not automated, but instead made on an almost unconscious basis by employees at the front line of interactions with clients: think about tellers at banks or ticket agents at airport gates.”

This is the essence of a July 2007 McKinsey report titled “Improving field service productivity: Real-time information can help companies manage “invisible” employees” (registration required).  Just as hidden decisions have little management oversight, “invisible employees” are those whom management has little influence over as they go about their jobs.  Instead, oversight happens after the fact, which the report points out results in “detailed productivity metrics and reports that tell executives only what happened in the past, thereby missing the opportunity to make improvements.”

This problem sounds exactly like traditional backward looking business intelligence and is in part what operational analytics is intended to address.  However, whereas operational analytics is intended to provide insights to front line staff, what the McKinsey report is talking about is the use of sophisticated, real time, and analytically aware systems that keep employee downtime to a minimum by optimizing the use of their time.  EDM-capable systems are ideally suited to managing the complexity inherent in highly fluid field service operations as well as providing integrated intelligence to anticipate disruptive events and suggest alternatives, all in real time.

As an approach, not a specific set of technologies or products, EDM also shares adoption challenges with McKinsey’s recommendations.  The separation of hard coded rules and policies from operational systems – such that they can be centrally managed and shared – is at the heart of EDM and can be a barrier to adoption for less progressive IT organizations.  Similarly, McKinsey points out that “Field technicians too will have to adapt, learning to be more flexible in their daily schedules and accepting limits on the autonomy they value.  In a recent survey of field technicians at one security company, 92 percent said that independence was their favorite aspect of the job.”  No one ever said change was easy, but fortunately there are logical and proven approaches to implementing EDM.

This leads me to what one Business Rules Management System (BRMS) vendor refers to as “Transparent Decision Services”.  Skeptical IT buyers could scoff at this label as another term for vaporware or a “decision service that does nothing,” but it refers to what we call simply Decision Services, or “services in your Service Oriented Architecture that automate and manage highly targeted decisions that are part of your organization’s day-to-day operations.”   This BRMS vendor confuses things by referring to hard-coded business rules as decision services while those built with business rules are "transparent decision services". In fact, transparency is inherent to Decision Services, and stems from both the fact they are easily implemented alongside legacy systems and from their use of business rules to ensure the logic is declarative and developed collaboratively with the business.

So remember, hidden decisions -- even those involving the scheduling of "invisible employee" time -- can be optimized via tangible (not transparent) Decision Services that are not hard coded business rules, but rather an SOA construct for wrapping rules and analytics into coherent, reusable services.

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Alain Gendre

One note on your comment about Transparent Decision Service: after checking your definition of Decision Service, I still feel you are missing the concept of business logic being actually managed or manageable by the business.
SOA is a strategy to build an agile IT infrastructure better aligned with business goals. It’s one thing to map business logic into different buckets (services), or for the business to understand what a black box (service) is doing in terms of behavior or business service rendered. And good IT organizations have not waited for SOA to achieve this.
It’s another one to get the business to actually control or being involved in the management of such business logic exposed as decision services. Hence the concept of transparence, meaning accessibility by the business, in a collaborative way with IT.

Gib Bassett

Thanks for the comments Alain. It could just be an issue of semantics, but we believe that all Decision Services must be "transparent" as you say, as decisions are too central to a business not to be. We therefore don't see any need to call a Decision Service "transparent." Our viewpoint of Decision Services also reaches beyond the boundaries of rules to include analytics, which can both inform decisions rendered as rules as well as be directly deployed as a Decision Service itself.

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