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Posts Tagged ‘business rules’

Cognitive Corporation™ Innovation Lab Kickoff!

Friday, August 10th, 2012

I am excited to share the news that Blue Slate Solutions has kicked off a formal innovation program, creating a lab environment which will leverage the Cognitive Corporation™ framework and apply it to a suite of processes, tools and techniques.  The lab will use a broad set of enterprise technologies, applying the learning organization concepts implicit in the Cognitive Corporation’s™ feedback loop.

I’ve blogged a couple of times (see references at the end of this blog entry) about the Cognitive Corporation™.  The depiction has changed slightly but the fundamentals of the framework are unchanged.

Cognitive Corporation DepictionThe focus is to create a learning enterprise, where the learning is built into the system integrations and interactions. Enterprises have been investing in these individual components for several years; however they have not truly been integrating them in a way to promote learning.

By “integrating” I mean allowing the system to understand the meaning of the data being passed between them.  Creating a screen in a workflow (BPM) system that presents data from a database to a user is not “integration” in my opinion.  It is simply passing data around.  This prevents the enterprise ecosystem (all the components) from working together and collectively learning.

I liken such connections to my taking a hand-written note in a foreign language, which I don’t understand, and typing the text into an email for someone who does understand the original language.  Sure, the recipient can read it, but I, representing the workflow tool passing the information from database (note) to screen (email) in this case, have no idea what the data means and cannot possibly participate in learning from it.  Integration requires understanding.  Understanding requires defined and agreed-upon semantics.

This is just one of the Cognitive Corporation™ concepts that we will be exploring in the lab environment.  We will also be looking at the value of these technologies within different horizontal and vertical domains.  Given our expertise in healthcare, finance and insurance, our team is well positioned to use the lab to explore the use of learning BPM in many contexts.


The Cognitive Corporation™ – Effective BPM Requires Data Analytics

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

The Cognitive Corporation is a framework introduced in an earlier posting.  The framework is meant to outline a set of general capabilities that work together in order to support a growing and thinking organization.  For this post I will drill into one of the least mature of those capabilities in terms of enterprise solution adoption – Learn.

Business rules, decision engines, BPM, complex event processing (CEP), these all invoke images of computers making speedy decisions to the benefit of our businesses.  The infrastructure, technologies and software that provide these solutions (SOA, XML schemas, rule engines, workflow engines, etc.) support the decision automation process.  However, they don’t know what decisions to make.

The BPM-related components we acquire provide the how of decision making (send an email, route a claim, suggest an offer).  Learning, supported by data analytics, provides a powerful path to the what and why of automated decisions (send this email to that person because they are at risk of defecting, route this claim to that underwriter because it looks suspicious, suggest this product to that customer because they appear to be buying these types of items).

I’ll start by outlining the high level journey from data to rules and the cyclic nature of that journey.  Data leads to rules, rules beget responses, responses manifest as more data, new data leads to new rules, and so on.  Therefore, the journey does not end with the definition of a set of processes and rules.  This link between updated data and the determination of new processes and rules is the essence of any learning process, providing a key function for the cognitive corporation.


JavaOne and Oracle’s OpenWorld 2010 Conference, Initial Thoughts

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010

I’ve been at Oracle’s combined JavaOne and OpenWorld events for two days.  I am here as both an attendee, learning from a variety of experts, and as a speaker.  Of course this is the first JavaOne since Oracle acquired Sun.  I have been to several JavaOne conferences over the years so I was curious how the event might be different.

One of the first changes that I’ve noticed is that due to the co-location of these two large conferences the venue is very different than when Sun ran JavaOne as a standalone event.  The time between sessions is a full half hour, probably due to the fact that you may find yourself going between venues that are several blocks apart.  I used to think that having getting from Moscone North the Moscone South took a while.   Now I’m walking from the Moscone center to a variety of hotels and back again.  Perhaps this is actually a health regime for programmers!

The new session pre-registration system is interesting. I don’t know if this system has been routine with Oracle’s other conferences but it is new to JavaOne.  Attendees go on-line and pre-register for the sessions they want to attend.  When you show up at the session your badge is scanned.  If you had registered you are allowed in.  If you didn’t preregister and the session is full you have to wait outside the room to see if anyone who registered fails to show up.

I think I like the system, with the assumption that they would stop people from entering when the room was full.  At previous conferences it seemed like popular sessions would just be standing room only, but that was probably a violation of fire codes.  The big advantage of this approach is that it reduces the likelihood of your investing the time to walk to the venue only to find out you can’t get in.  As long as you arranged your schedule on-line and you show up on-time, you’re guaranteed a seat.

Enough about new processes.  After all, I came here to co-present a session and to learn from a variety of others.

Paul Evans and I spoke on the topic of web services and their use with a rules engine. Specifically we were using JAX-WS and Drools.  We also threw in jUDDI to show the value of service location decoupling.  The session was well attended (essentially the room was full) and seemed to keep the attendees’ attention.  We had some good follow-up conversations regarding aspects of the presentation that caught people’s interest, which is always rewarding. The source code for the demonstration program is located at http://bit.ly/blueslate-javaone2010.

Since I am a speaker I have access to both JavaOne and OpenWorld sessions.  I took advantage of that by attending several OpenWorld sessions in addition to a bunch of JavaOne talks.


Successful Process Automation: A Summary

Monday, July 26th, 2010

InformationWeek Analytics (http://analytics.informationweek.com/index) invited me to write about the subject of process automation.  The article, part of their series covering application architectures, was released in July of this year.  It provided an opportunity for me to articulate the key components that are required to succeed in the automation of business processes.

Both the business and IT are positioned to make-or-break the use of process automation tools and techniques. The business must redefine its processes and operational rules so that work may be automated.  IT must provide the infrastructure and expertise to leverage the tools of the process automation trade.

Starting with the business there must be clearly defined processes by which work gets done.  Each process must be documented, including the points where decisions are made.  The rules for those decisions must then be documented.  Repetitive, low-value and low-risk decisions are immediate candidates for automation.

A key value point that must be reached in order to extract sustainable and meaningful value from process automation is measured in Straight Through Processing (STP).  STP requires that work arrive from a third-party and be automatically processed; returning a final decision and necessary output (letter, claim payment, etc.) without a person being involved in handling the work.

Most businesses begin using process automation tools without achieving any significant STP rate.  This is fine as a starting point so long as the business reviews the manual work, identifies groupings of work, focuses on the largest groupings (large may be based on manual effort, cost or simple volume) and looks to automate the decisions surrounding that group of work.  As STP is achieved for some work, the review process continues as more and more types of work are targeted for automation.

The end goal of process automation is to have people involved in truly exceptional, high-value, high-risk, business decisions.  The business benefits by having people attend to items that truly matter rather than dealing with a large amount background noise that lowers productivity, morale and client satisfaction.

All of this is great in theory but requires an information technology infrastructure that can meet these business objectives.


Business Rules Forum 2009 Winds Down

Friday, November 6th, 2009

With the vendors gone the main hall seemed spacious during the morning keynote and lunch time presentations.  James Taylor [of "Smart (Enough) Systems" fame] delivered the keynote address.  He always has interesting insights regarding the state of affairs for agile systems design, both leveraging automated decisioning and workflow processes. 

James made the point that systems need to be more agile given higher levels of uncertainty with which our businesses deal.  The need to adjust and react is more critical as our business strategies and goals flex to the changing environment.  Essentially he seemed to be saying that businesses should not reduce their efforts to be agile during this economic downturn.  Rather, it is more important to increase agility in order to respond quickly to shifting opportunities.

Following the keynote I attended Brian Dickinson’s session titled, “Business Event Driven Enterprises Rule!”  The description of the session in the conference guide had caught my attention since it mentioned “event partitioning” which was a phrase I had not heard used in terms of designing automated solutions for businesses.

I was glad that I went.  Brian was an energetic speaker!  It was clear that he was deeply committed and passionate about focusing on events rather than functionality when considering process automation.  The hour-long session flew by and it was apparent that we hadn’t made a dent in what he really wanted to communicate.

Brian was kind enough to give attendees a copy of his book, “Creating Customer Focused Organizations” which I hope expands on the premise of his presentation today.  Although quite natural as a design paradigm when building event-driven UI’s and multi-threaded applications, I have not spent time focused on events when designing the business and database tiers of applications.  For me, the first step of working with his central tenants will be to try applying them, at least in a small way, on my next architecture project. (more…)

Business Rules Forum: In the Groove

Thursday, November 5th, 2009

The second day of the BRF is typically the most active.  People are arriving throughout day 1 and start heading out on day 3.  I’m attending RuleML, which follows on the heels of the BRF, so I’ll be here for all if it.

The morning keynote was delivered by Stephen Hendrick (IDC).  His presentation was titled, “BRMS at a Cross Roads: the Next Five Years.”  It was interesting hearing his vision of how BRMS vendors will need to position their offerings in order to be relevant for the future needs of businesses.

I did find myself wondering whether his vision was somewhat off in terms of timing.  The move to offer unified (or at least integrated) solutions based on traditional BRMS, Complex Event Processing, Data Transformation and Analytics seemed well beyond where I find many clients are in terms of leveraging the existing BRMS capabilities.

Between discussions with attendees and work on projects for which Blue Slate’s  customers hire us, the current state of affairs seems to be more about understanding how to begin using a BRMS.  I find many clients are just getting effective governance, rules harvesting and infrastructure support for BRMS integration started.  Discussions surrounding more complex functionality are premature for these organizations.

As usual, there were many competing sessions throughout the day that I wanted to attend.  I had to choose between these and spending some in-depth time with a few of the vendors.  One product that I really wanted to get a look at was JBoss Rules (Red Hat).

Similar to most Red Hat offerings there are free and fee-based versions of the product.  Also, as is typical between the two versions, the fee-based version is aimed at enterprises that do not want to deal with experimental or beta aspects of the product, instead preferring a more formal process of periodic production-worthy upgrades.  The fee-based offering also gets you support, beyond the user groups available to users of the free version.

The naming of the two versions is not clear to me.  I believe that the fee-based version is called JBoss Rules while the free download is called JBoss Drools, owning to the fact that Red Hat used drools as the basis for its rule engine offering.  The Drools suite includes BPM, BRM and Event Processing components.  My principle focus was the BRMS to start.

The premier open source rules offering (my opinion) has come a long way since I last tried it over a year ago.  The feature set includes a version control repository for the rules, somewhat user-friendly rule editing forms and a test harness.  Work is underway to support templating for rules, which is vital for creating rules that can be maintained easily by business users.  I will be downloading and working with this rule engine again shortly! (more…)

Business Rules Forum: Full Fledged Kickoff!

Wednesday, November 4th, 2009

Today the Business Rules Forum (BRF) kicked off for its 12th year.  Gladys Lam welcomed us and set the stage for an enlightening and engaging three days.  Jim Sinur (Gartner) gave the keynote address.  His expertise surrounding the entire field of Business Process Management (BPM), Business Rules Management (BRM) and Complex Event Processing (CEP) gives him significant insight into the industry and trends.

Jim’s talk was a call to action for product vendors and practitioners that the world has changed fundamentally and being able to leverage what he called “weak signals” and myriad events from many sources was becoming a requirement for successful business operations.  As always his talk was accompanied with a little humor and a lot of excellent supporting material.

During the day I attended three sessions and two of the vendor “Fun Labs”.  For me, the most interesting session of the ones I attended was given by Graham Witt (Ajlion).  He discussed his success with creating an approach of allowing business users to document rules using a structured natural language.  His basis was SBVR, but he reduced the complexity to create a practical solution.

Graham did a great job of walking us through a set of definitions for fact model, term, fact types and so forth. Using our understanding of the basic components of a structured rule he explored how one can take ambiguous statements, leverage the structure inherent in the fact model, and create an unambiguous statement that was still completely understandable to the business user.

His approach of creating templates for each type of rule made sense as a very effective method to give the business user the flexibility of expressing different types of rules while staying within a structured syntax.  This certainly seems like an approach to be explored for getting us closer to a DRY (Don’t Repeat Yourself) process that moves rules from the requirements into the design and implementation phases of a rules-based project.

The vendor labs were also interesting.  I attended one run by Innovations Software Technology and another by RuleArts. (more…)

Business Rules Forum Tutorials: Analytics and Events

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009

This was the second of two pre-conference days offering a set of interesting tutorial sessions.  Although the choices were tough, I decided on Eric Siegel’s and David Luckham’s sessions.  Both were thought provoking.

Eric’s session, “Driving Decisions with Predictive Analytics: The Top Seven Business Applications” caught my attention due to its focus on analytics.  I have taken two data analysis courses as part of the Master’s program at Union Graduate College.  The courses, “Systems Modeling and Optimization” and “Data Mining” really piqued my interest in this field.

What was different about Eric’s presentation was its focus on real-world use of these techniques.  Understandably, he could not delve into the detail of a semester-long course.  He did a great job of introducing the basic concepts of data mining and then explored how these can be leveraged to build models that can then be used to drive business decisions.

Beyond explaining the basics around creating models (formatting data, algorithm choices, training, testing) he discussed how the resulting model isn’t a magic bullet that will generate business rules.  Rather from the model comes the ability to make decision, but those decisions must be created by the business.

I believe that leveraging predictive analytics will continue to grow as a key differentiator for businesses and a key feature leveraged in business rule engines.  Having a keen interest in this area, I look forward to assisting businesses derive value from the growing set of analytical tools and techniques.

My afternoon session choice, delivered by David Luckham, was titled, “Complex Event Processing in An Event-Driven, Information World.”  Complex Event Processing (CEP) is not an area with which I am familiar and David’s presentation covered a broad cross-section of the field.

Professor Luckham (Emeritus) at Stanford has an amazing amount of knowledge regarding CEP.  He discussed its market, history, technology and his predictions for its future.  He flew through several presentations that make up a CEP course he teaches.  Given the amount of material he has on the topic, he allowed us to help tune his presentation based on our particular interests.

It is clear that he has a passion around CEP and a strong belief that it will grow into a core, hence transparent, feature of all service-based networks.  He refers to this end state as “Holistic Event Processing”(HEP).

The power of the platform he describes would be amazing.  Although he did not compare the vision to Mashups and environments such as Yahoo Pipes, the power of HEP would seem to extend and go well beyond the operation of those tools.

It will be interesting to see how this field and the products being created become part of our standard enterprise infrastructure.  There is a long way to go before we reach David’s vision.

Tomorrow the Business Rules Forum launches in earnest with lots of presentations and vendor demonstrations.  I’m looking forward to a variety of interesting discussions as the week goes on.


Business Rules Forum Tutorial: Smart Use of Rules in Process

Monday, November 2nd, 2009

I was fortunate to be able to attend Kathy Long’s (Innovative Process Consulting, Inc) presentation centered on the importance of working with business rules in the context of process.  This was a preconference tutorial for the 12th Annual International Business Rules Forum.  She did an excellent job of walking us through her experiences and thinking concerning process modeling and business rules.  The three hour session flew by!

Kathy spent a fair amount of time discussing four ways we typically model processes.  The four were Process Decomposition, Swim lanes (e.g. BPMN light), Full BPMN and IGOE (both and a high-level and as full flow models).  The IGOE (Inputs, Output, Guides and Enablers) was new to me and I think she anticipated that the majority of the attendees would not be familiar with their use.

We took some time using the IGOE approach with a couple of exercises.  This allowed us to understand the way these diagrams are used.  She pointed out some interesting strengths of using IGOEs versus swim lane-based flow diagrams.  I would recommend that people who document processes take a look at IGOEs.  They would seem to be a useful tool in the analyst’s arsenal.

Beyond the exploration of process documentation, Kathy discussed the need to consider business rules within the context of process.  She pointed out that we often embed decisions within our process flows as if they are separate from the processes themselves.  Of course this is wrong, the decisions occur as part of the process.

She showed us how the simplification of the flows, through the removal of the decision, makes the diagram clearer and more useful as documentation.  Rather than being tied to low level business rules, the process stands on its own.

I cannot do justice in describing everything Kathy walked us through in the course of the three hour session.  You should check out her articles, published in the Business Rules Journal (http://www.brcommunity.com/).

I am looking forward to more preconference tutorial sessions tomorrow!

Anticipating the 2009 Business Rules Forum

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009

The annual Business Rules Forum is right around the corner… starting on November 1.  For the third year Blue Slate has been invited to share our insights with the attendees.  I will have an opportunity to speak about the importance of viewing all data through the lens of  a company’s business rules.  The title of my talk is, ‘Business Rules in the Integration Tier: The System of Record‘.  It is scheduled for Wednesday, November 4 at 2pm (moved from 3:05pm).

I am excited and honored to be given another opportunity to speak at the preeminent conference for business rules.  Beyond sharing my thoughts I am looking forward to learning from the many practitioners that will be discussing their insights as well.  The variety of experts, topics and industries creates a valuable opportunity for anyone looking to begin or expand the use of rule-based approaches within his or her business.

In addition to the sessions, I highly recommend attending one or more of the “Fun Labs”.  They provide an opportunity to use the vendors’ products and get your questions answered.  The chance to explore these tools and see the entire process of creating, editing and running rules is powerful.

Read on for details about how this conference provides many great opportunities for learning about the techniques, tools and products that support effective application of rule-centric approaches.

About the Business Rules Forum Conference

**The only conference world-wide with all the vendors under one roof at one time!**

** Special 10% Conference Discount Courtesy of Blue Slate Solutions **

Use code “9SPDR” when you register

See details below

Have a look at this year’s program. Find out what the excitement is all about!

Download a copy of our new Conference Brochure featuring highlights of this year’s unparalleled event.