2012: A Critical Moment in Time for The Decision Model


It is not unusual for a significant moment in time to pass almost unnoticed. When a cultural shift occurs in a subtle steady fashion, it may elude immediate detection. The year 2012 may well have been one of those magical moments in time.

Since 2009, this column has chronicled interest and adoption of The Decision Model. But something has been different about 2012. A shift happened from multiple directions – a shift in terminology, emergence of IT standards for a new kind of software, a wider range of decision modeling projects, establishment of corporate Centers of Excellence for decision modeling, and early academic incorporation of decision modeling skills.

2012: A Critical Moment in Time for The Decision ModelThis means that The Decision Model is at the center of a serious shift in the way we perceive and manage the business rule and logic dimension. So, this month’s column highlights the shift, starting with 2009 and ending with 2012. At its core are the seven observations indicating that a shift is happening. More important, each observation contains corresponding article links to related Modern Analyst articles.

Before the Beginning

Once upon a time (i.e., prior to 2009), business rules and business logic were elusive - much like an invisible dimension. We navigated through business processes and systems somewhat successfully, despite that we could not quite distinguish the business rules and logic that were at play. Certainly, they were there somewhere –sprinkled in program code, buried in procedure manuals, or wired within the heads of experts.

Nevertheless, those of us practicing a business rules approach believed that this secret dimension existed. In fact, we believed that it was running most aspects of all businesses. We believed in it because we frequently bumped into it in the form of system errors or output that was inconsistent, incorrect, obsolete, or just plain nonsensical. We explained this perplexing behavior as the result of unclear requirements, out-of-date documentation, and inflexible or prepackaged software. What was really going on here?

The truth is simple. We really couldn’t see this dimension at all. We merely inferred that it existed from the evidence left behind - those nasty error messages and strange output. Was it really there?

2009: Now We See It

In 2009, The Decision Model gave the invisible dimension its own recognizable structure and behavior. With structure and behavior, we could actually see it - observe it directly in very tangible form.

2010-2011: Momentum Builds

For several years, The Decision Model found its way into many places in subtle ways: IIBA meetings, requirements and development projects, standards group discussions, online communities and social media, modeling and requirements tools, and in a Decision Model column in Modern Analyst. Case studies emerged and at the 2012 IIBA Building Business Capabilities event we heard success stories from organizations like Intel and Freddie Mac.

2012: The Year of the Decision

The subtle but steady rate of adoption from 2009 to 2011 escalated. The question became not whether to create decision models but how quickly to get started and for which (or how many) projects. Indeed, early in 2012, many organizations began with a short pilot before trying the decision model on a full project. By the end of 2012, it was more common for organizations to skip the pilot, proceeding directly to a full decision model development project. This trend represents a shift in behavior, the confidence in and embracing of decision modeling as the key to solving real world business problems.

The seven compelling observations of 2012 are the following:

  1. Decision modeling is widely recognized as a new discipline, replacing previous business   rules approaches.
  2. Decision modeling is confirmed as a legitimate software marketplace.
  3. There is common recognition that requirements must include decision models for decision logic.
  4. Decision modeling becomes a common approach for “BRMS rescue” projects.
  5. Decision modeling fits naturally in agile development.
  6. Decision modeling is the key deliverable for large-scale Data Quality initiatives
  7. Decision modeling is integrated into academic curriculums.

Observation #1:

Decision modeling is widely recognized as a new discipline, replacing previous business rules approaches.

In 2012, the phrase “business logic” is replacing the phrase “business rule”. With this change, decision modeling also is replacing previous business rules approaches. This shift is happening in small, medium, and large corporations on every continent.

Related Article:

A Modern Analyst article about this is “Five Most Important Differences Between The Decision Model and Business Rules Approaches – These are not by accident!” This article first summarizes business rules approaches in practice today. It then explains the five most important decision model differences and their benefits. It ends with how these five differences have changed real world projects and culture.

Observation #2:

Decision modeling is confirmed as a legitimate software marketplace.

Prior to 2009, early adopters of The Decision Model created them in MS/Visio and MS/Excel. In 2009 and 2011, decision modeling capability started appearing in a rule repository, rule engine, requirements tools, and enterprise architecture tools. In 2011, the first BDMS[1] product appeared as a new generation of software. A BDMS goes beyond decision modeling support to automatic validation, test case generation, through to automation with customizable governance workflows.

Recently, the OMG[2] invited proposals for a specification called the Decision Model and Notation (DMN) and a consortium are working on a draft to be published in 2013. The DMN initiative legitimizes decision modeling as an emerging software market. Companies represented on the DMN submission team include Oracle, FICO, IBM, TIBCO, KPI and others.

Related Articles:

A Modern Analyst article on the formation of the DMN is “OMG Seeking Decision Model Notation Standard”. It provides information to Modern Analyst readers regarding the OMG and its interest in decision models. It explains the DMN specific goals.

An excellent recent article on the progress of the DMN is “Processes and a Decision Model Notation,” by Paul Harmon, BP Trends Advisor (http://www.bptrends.com), December 17, 2012.

Observation #3:

There is common recognition that requirements must include decision models for decision logic.

While different organizations address the capture and management of business rules differently, the most common approach was to include them in requirements deliverables. Sometimes they are documented as part of a lengthy requirements document (often 100s of pages) or are captured as a subtype of requirement in requirements tools.

More recently, decision models are the new requirements deliverables replacing business rule statements. One whole decision model represents one holistic requirement.

Related articles:

A Modern Analyst article (from 2010) on decision models in requirements is “Six Steps for Accelerating and Perfecting Requirements.” It presents a requirements framework and methodology with three prominent characteristics: a framework, a new model, and visualization.

Another related Modern Analyst article is “Case Study Using the Decision Model to Decompose Underwriting Calculations.” It explains how a small group of people, including a Decision Architect, Expert Underwriter, a Business Analyst, and a Data Modeler, captured definitions and detailed underwriting rules in decision models. It explains that The Decision Model has become a corner stone within the project, with all of the testers, developers, analysts and business experts referring back to it as the master map of the logic.

Observation #4:

Decision modeling becomes a common approach for “BRMS rescue” projects.

BRMS rescue projects are quite common. They happen in organizations that had adopted one or more commercial business rule engines (BRMS). Over the years, business rule projects separated business rules from other aspects of the system and automated them in this specialized software. Unfortunately, in almost every case, the business rules became lost to the business because they translated into proprietary technical code and the business person’s initial business rule statements disappeared or became out of date. BRMS rescue projects mine the technical rules and recast them into business-friendly decision models.

Related Article:

An article related to the role of BDMS to BRMS is: “We Already have a BRMS, What are We Missing.”  It covers how did we get to the current BRMS adoption, what is the current state of our business rules in those environments, how do we rethink the original premise of business governance of business rules, what is the role of technology in this new world, what is a BDMS, and where can we go now.

Observation #5:

Decision modeling fits naturally in agile development.

In 2012, The Decision Model made its appearance in agile development projects. An agile project can prioritize decisions targeted for decision models and divide them among iterations, as appropriate. The Decision Model is an excellent way for a SME and a developer to agree to the business logic to be implemented; in fact, with appropriate tooling, The Decision Model is in all that is needed for deployment, allowing the developer to focus on other issues, dramatically simplifying the development cycle.

Related article:

An excellent article on a real-world experience with The Decision Model for agile development is: “The Decision Model Meets Agile.” Inspired by a discussion in The Decision Model Group, it focuses on the emerging role of decision models for such projects.

Observation #6:

Decision modeling is the key deliverable for large-scale Data Quality initiatives.

Perhaps the most embarrassing observation in 2012 is its unexpected growing use for huge Data Quality initiatives. In fact, we mistakenly wrote, “Data validation rules ensure that data meeting certain requirements so that it is of good quality. …Data validation rules themselves are typically not part of the Decision Model, but external to it”[3]. Subsequently, our clients ignored our advice and used it quite successfully for managing business-governed data quality logic and many of our projects are primarily about data quality issues. Since 2010 we have actively participated in the MIT Chief Data Officer and Information Quality Conference, and presented on the use of The Decision Model.

Related articles:

One Modern Analyst article describing a real-world data quality project is “Better, Faster, Cheaper – Part II – the Decision Model Meets Data Quality Head On.”  It explains a project in the financial services industry. It involved redesigning a failed sub-process that had resulted in billions of dollars of backed up financial transactions. This particular financial process had a history of failed and abandoned process improvement projects. This decision modeling project was highly successful. The business owners, SMEs, and IT became very excited and involved because they accomplished goals previously believed to be impossible.

Another Modern Analyst article on the use of The Decision Model for data quality is “The Unanticipated Role of The Decision Model in Data Quality.”  It explains why and how DQ decision models are a new weapon in the ongoing battle for higher data quality.

Observation #7:

Decision modeling is integrated into academic curriculums.

Based on the book, some academic organizations began to include decision modeling in different kinds of curriculums, anticipating the need for such expertise in business.

Related articles:

One Modern Analyst article related to The Decision Model in academia is “Business Analysis Certificate Program Features The Decision Model”.  Its author is a Business Analysis Instructor at the University of Washington (UW) Professional & Continuing Education who teaches the Decision Model.

Another Modern Analyst article related to The Decision Model in academia is “A New Information Systems Paradigm: What Does a Business Analyst Need to Know?”  It first provides an overview of the new breed of information systems including what a business analyst needs to know and what a corresponding academic or training curriculum needs to include. Second, the article demonstrates how one undergraduate IS academic program has addressed the major changes driving this paradigm shift. Third, the article provides references for readers interested in getting the training and skills to be successful in the new IS paradigm.

2013: There’s No Going Back

Returning a question from the beginning of this column: Do you believe there is truly a business logic dimension? Or, is it merely in your imagination? Can you observe it directly as having its own distinct structure and predictable behavior?

If you can, you are in good company. Detecting a new dimension can be uncomfortable and overwhelming. But, once you are able to see what was previously invisible, you are able to leverage it to its full potential. Once you have knowledge of it, you will never lose sight of it…for you will know that it has always been there.

Author: Barbara von Halle and Larry Goldberg of Knowledge Partners International, LLC (KPI)

Larry Goldberg is Managing Partner of Knowledge Partners International, LLC (KPI), has over thirty years of experience in building technology based companies on three continents, and in which the focus was rules-based technologies and applications. Commercial applications in which he played a primary architectural role include such diverse domains as healthcare, supply chain, and property & casualty insurance.

Barbara von Halle is Managing Partner of Knowledge Partners International, LLC (KPI). She is co-inventor of the Decision Model and co-author of The Decision Model: A Business Logic Framework Linking Business and Technology published by Auerbach Publications/Taylor and Francis LLC 2009.
Larry and Barb can be found at www.TheDecisionModel.com

[1] BDMS stands for Business Decision Management System; the first one is Sapiens DECISION.

[2] OMG stands for Object Management Group, an IT standards group

[3] von Halle, Barbara and Larry Goldberg, The Decision Model: A Business Logic Framework Linking Business and Technology, © 2009 Auerbach Publications/Taylor & Francis, LLC.

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