The need to cope with ever increasing rates of change in business policies has made agile decision/rule management a vital topic for enterprise architects – particularly where regulators or legal compliance are concerned – we need to involve business SMEs directly in the capture and stewardship of decisions to improve agility and accountability. Regular readers of this blog already know the significant benefits the Decision Model (TDM) offers in this area. But, until now, we’ve been hampered by the absence of cost-effective tools that support TDM and that would encourage mass adoption of the technique.
Our wait appears to be at an end.
The week before last saw the release of another tool to support decision modelling and management: BiZZDesign Decision Modeller. This offering not only boasts cost effective, fully-featured support for The Decision Model framework (including list fact types and messages), but its combination of four other features excites us, as TDM practitioners, rather more than existing TDM tools. In this article we discuss: our experiences of this product, what’s genuinely new about it and how it might change the way enterprises use TDM and existing BRMS/BDMS technologies.
Teaching clients how to harness the Decision Model (TDM) as a disciplined means to capture and represent operational decisions (or rules) is straightforward conceptually. It is evident to them that TDM makes business logic easier to comprehend, validate, communicate and manage. They see how elegantly the technique ensures that dependencies between different elements of business logic are minimized, allowing one element to be changed without effecting another. They easily grasp how TDM, with its structural and declarative principles, introduces a much needed degree of rigour and business-focus into business logic management. Indeed such is the enthusiasm of many business analysts, after their initial ‘ah-ha’ moment, that the technique virtually sells itself.
However the hurdle has always been how to overcome the dearth of tools that support TDM. Thus far, it’s been a stark choice between the ‘Rolls-Royce’ solution (the excellent, but expensive Sapiens DECISION), or a mixture of Visio, Excel and Word templates for modelling coupled with (the superb) OpenRules BDMS (or a BRMS) as an execution and testing platform.
None of the projects we’ve worked on have had the budget for DECISION and, when using the Visio/Excel/Word approach, we’ve been concerned by the lack of cohesion and traceability. The approach can be made to work, but it’s manually intensive, error prone and rather undisciplined. Then there is the additional overhead, if the client has mandated the use of a BRMS (rather than a BDMS like OpenRules), of faithfully translating the decisions to rules in the implementation platform. So many moving parts and manual procedures stifle agility.
Now there is a new tool available, announced two weeks ago – BiZZDesign Decision Modeller – and it appears to offer, not only a more cost effective means of supporting TDM (a means of encouraging its use within more moderate budgets), but a genuinely unique combination of features that we feel will have a big impact on how TDM is used in projects.
From our first experience of the product, Decision Modeller seems to provide four new features, unique in combination, which amplify each other and collude to make adoption of TDM by business SMEs easier and more effective than ever before. These features are:
- The ability to create relationships between business decisions and artefacts of other architectural models. Uniquely Decision Modeller doesn’t encourage the development of decision models in a vacuum. Quite the contrary, it supports a host of other models (process, information, actor, business motivation, etc) and provides facilities to associate decisions with artefacts in all these other models. For example, decisions can be associated with: the decision processes that invoke them (within the context of a process model), the objects that support fact types from which rule families derive (in the context of a UML model), the actors and systems that make decisions (in the content of an actor diagram) and artefacts from ArchiMate views (e.g., business motivations and requirements). All this provides a very rich modelling environment supporting tight integration between business logic, process and information views. It helps to establish a firm context for decisions.
- Business SME Driven Vocabulary Management. BizzDesign offers a glossary
(business vocabulary) management system, like OpenRules and DECISION. This allows business users to enter new business terms and fact types with a choice of linear data types (including numerical, date, Boolean and money), list types and enumerated types without the help of IT. It also supports the relationships and navigation between a glossary and other TDM artefacts (e.g., rule families). Glossaries can be partitioned to help them scale to very large business scopes.
- Business SME Driven Testing Facility. Unlike some other decision modelling tools, Decision Modeller allows you to execute decision models. Execution is either interactive, prompting you automatically for missing facts, or non-interactive, taking input from a designated Excel spreadsheet of test cases. The facility also supports a simple form of regression testing in which actual results can be compared to expected results.
- Direct deployment to BDMS/BRMS. Once ready for release, decision models and related artefacts can be directly exported to OpenRules. We understand that support for commercial and open source BRMSs is in the pipeline. This enables model driven development and further strengthens the role of the business SME who, freed from the need to interact with IT-centric tools (like most BRMSs), can focus instead on honing the veracity of the business logic.
These four features together make this product more than just a competent TDM modelling tool. The is because, more than any other product we’ve used, it opens the door to business SMEs modelling, developing and testing their own, fully integrated, decision models without habitual IT involvement hampering their agility. DECISION and OpenRules have paved the way, but it’s Decision Modeller’s superior support for process, architectural and data integration of decision models into a complete solution and it’s pricing policy that has made this possible.
Benefit for TDM Practitioners
The main advantages to existing TDM practitioners, as we have said, are: cost effectiveness, the integration of TDM into a complete process/information/logic context and execution of decisions. The first of these is the most significant. Using Decision Modeller (combined with Architect) it is possible to interrelate decisions with a wide variety of BPMN, UML and ArchiMate artefacts.
But how does this integration help? The main benefit is that it allows the linkage of:
- Decisions with the BPMN decision activities that require it –
by explicit definition of the process context of decisions, one is adding clarity to the definition of both decisions and processes.
- Glossary fact types with the UML classes (and attributes) that underlie them – this allows the business to see the explicit relationships between fact types (i.e., the fact model). These would otherwise need to be inferred from the glossary wording and use. This is vital if the underlying fact model is complex (e.g., has high cardinality relationships) or hierarchical. TDM glossaries still need the support of a fact model and the tool supports this.
- Fact types with the columns in rule families which require them – a standard relation in TDM and good for assessing the change impact to a decision model if the way in which input information is obtained changes.
- Decisions with the business requirements and motivations that necessitate them – this is vital to: understand the business motivation of each decision; support impact analysis should business motivations change; define effectiveness goals for a decision and orchestrate automated measurement of that decision’s performance against these goals.
- Decisions with the decision services (in the architecture) that host them – this is important to map the functional business logic of decisions onto the technical architecture that implements them.
Other advantages of this integration, and how it enables business logic to take it’s rightful place as a first class asset within an enterprise architecture, are explained in Suleiman Shehu’s excellent article on this subject.
Benefit for BRMS Users
The benefits for business SMEs using business rule management systems (BRMS) to manage their business decisions is even more pronounced. BRMSs have demonstrated considerable success at decoupling business logic from technical infrastructure, but they have never quite achieved their ultimate goal: to decouple the analysis, development and testing of business logic from IT in order to achieve safe agility. Many BRMS have significant limitations when it comes to modelling business logic – mainly to do with: being IT-centric; having poor, built in vocabulary management and being unable to scale rule repositories because they lack a unifying concept above the level of simple rules (i.e., explicit inferential dependencies). Although these limitations are overcome by TDM, if your ultimate implementation platform is a BRMS, it’s still necessary to translate decisions back into rules at some point, thereby losing many of TDM’s advantages.
Decision Modeller (like DECISION) can be used to develop decision models that are then
‘deployed’ automatically to a BRMS by the tool – hence avoiding the manual translation step. This has the potential to relegate the BRMS to little more than an implementation vehicle—just one of many choices for production execution of decisions. BRMS will become another ‘deployment target’ into which decisions are injected for performance testing and ultimately made part of a production system. But SMEs will use Decision Modeller to build their business vocabulary, business motivations, processes, create and test decisions, and devise fact models with virtually no IT input. IT’s involvement is in the specification of the technical architecture (which can also be modeled in the tool) and in the deployment of decisions to a production BDMS/BRMS.
It’s true that Sapiens DECISION can already do much of this, but it occupies the other end of the market and lacks many of the integration features discussed earlier.
Benefit for Enterprise Architects
This level of integration, combined with the ability to execute business decisions, is a boon for enterprise architects too. They can work in concert with business SMEs to build ArchiMate compliant models of a system, inclusive of decisions, that can actually be tested and measured against business objectives. This can be done without the overhead of liaising with IT to procure and configure an implementation environment. SMEs can ensure that decisions are firmly rooted within an architecture model and development can be driven from this model.
In our view this product—propelled by its ‘grass roots’ pricing policy and it’s powerful combination of features—offers a TDM tool ‘for the rest of us.’ A tool with the potential to change the role of business rule and business decision management systems within the enterprise, offering the possibility for:
- a much higher standard of traceability between business decisions and: processes, information and business motivation;
- better integration, and more prominence of, business decisions within an enterprise architecture;
- stronger support for business vocabulary management and decision logic testing in one package—aimed specifically at business SMEs rather than IT;
- support for representing complex business logic, using TDM, to which many BRMSs cannot scale with simple rules and
- the prospect of relegating traditional BRMS to the role of deployment vehicle, rather than management system, thereby removing the need to translate decision models into business rules.
Although some details have yet to be ironed out by the current version of Decision Modeller (for example: there is currently only limited support for decision governance; the only deployment target currently supported is the TDM savvy OpenRules; it doesn’t yet implement TDM views; support for use case integration isn’t finalised and the tool has the ‘rough edges’ you might expect from a new release), it seems to us that this product should and will have a big impact on the way in which decision logic is managed in enterprises.
We heartily commend this tool to all fellow TDM practitioners.