First and Last – A Tale of Two Enterprises

Enterprises can take very different approaches to get to the same place in terms of corporate agility with Business Decision Management. While Allegiance Advisory Group (AAG) strongly believes in the importance of setting a strong Enterprise foundation before moving forward with these methodologies and technologies, it is important to note that it is never too late to reap the benefits of these powerful techniques.

How Did We Get Here? 

Far too often these essays are motivated by an observation of, or conversation with, an organization that has gotten itself into some trouble. Their pain becomes a springboard to discuss how things should be done in the world of decision management and provides an unfortunately steady stream of topics for forums like this. That said, AAG is quite pleased to be able to report some generally positive recent experiences with Enterprises that are making great strides as they embrace business rules and decision management. We will use these as exemplars that other similar organizations might look to as they plot their decision management.

The organizations discussed here represent extreme cases – one is a long-time user of business rules; the other is just getting ready to kick things off. The former (let’s call them Company First), although very experienced and adept with rules, became quite siloed with multiple projects independently conceived and implemented. Although all were on the same platform, there was little consistency or uniformity in the approach – either in terms of methodology or implementation. The latter (we’ll call them Company Last) has contemplated employing business rules for quite some time and now has multiple projects in their immediate future. To that end they are intent on getting things right from the start. There is much to learn from each.

Taking a Step Back in Order to Move Forward

While pleased with the results achieved by virtue of moving to a business rule and decision management approach, Company First realized that continuing down the path of launching new projects without an enterprise approach was not sustainable. They took on the daunting task of creating a central rule service and repository and then migrated existing projects to it. This went hand-in-hand with formalizing a business rule Center of Excellence (COE) for governance. This rule COE established criteria for best practices and used them as a template to establish the centralized operations. They then facilitated the migration. Although this required each individual project to devote time and resources to the migration, the benefits realized far outweighed the costs. There is now a dedicated group handling business rule operations from maintenance through deployment.

The details of this effort are worthy of a dedicated paper far longer than this forum permits. The ‘big picture’ point here is simply this: it’s never too late! AAG has seen far too many organizations that simply shrug their shoulders and say “it is what it is – I wish we’d done something sooner”. There are ways to methodically approach pulling seemingly disparate projects together under an enterprise umbrella – even if they are on multiple platforms. It requires time and effort but the the results are well worth it.

Making the First Step Count

Company Last has AAG very excited for different reasons. The old adage “look before you leap” is clearly paramount in their thinking as they are committed to a business rule and decision management approach for numerous upcoming projects. They want to ensure that there is consistent and intelligent use of this approach both from a methodology and technology perspective. More importantly, they have buy-in from stakeholders across the Enterprise to support this endeavor. Sadly, this is a rare case in today’s world. Hopefully achieving great success by operating in this fashion will open some eyes by others in similar situations.

This organization is pursuing their grand plan by putting together best practices and standards for business rules. They will also take the opportunity to introduce decision management so it is recognized across the life cycle of their projects. The organizing principle for the work is to consider the life cycle of a rule – everything that happens in a project from discovery, through documentation and analysis, to implementation, testing and deployment, and ultimately a management process. Within this framework, sets of guidelines or best practices can be delineated for the various processes that occur at each step. More importantly, the stakeholders and relevant segments of the software development life cycle (SDLC) can also be identified and tied back to these processes. As we saw with Company First, a full description of the approach and results in establishing a governing set of guidelines is worthy of a much longer discussion.

Although Company Last has selected an enterprise platform for decision management, the best practices being detailed at this point are all platform agnostic. It is assumed that later iterations will include more specific platform guidelines (e.g., technical architecture blueprints for rule services). This reflects another crucial point of emphasis when governance of this type is established: it must be flexible to live and change as the Enterprise evolves. There will be a baseline set when the first projects employing business rules are initiated. However, it is fully assumed that they will bring innovations, recommendations, and modifications forward that will shape the best practices going forward. This will benefit all future efforts.

It is indeed rare to have not one but two wonderful examples of modern Enterprises taking great steps in becoming leaders in decision management. They’re doing it by taking on the dirty tasks – the foundation that simply must be in place to realize all the benefits of business rules and decision management. It is my hope that understanding projects like this are even being considered is ample motivation for others to find ways to effectively move forward in their respective organization.

For additional details on how to analyze the current state, and define a best fit future state for Decision Management at your Enterprise, contact Brian Stucky at AAG – bstucky@allegianceag.com or 703-624-4877.