bpmNEXT 2015 Day 2 Demos: Sapiens Decision, Signavio

We finished the morning demo sessions with two on the theme of decision modeling and management.

Sapiens: How to Manage Business Logic

Michael Grohs highlighted the OMG release of the Decision Model and Notation (DMN) standard, and how the decision model is really a business logic model. However, business rule management systems are typically technical solutions, and don’t do much for business users and analysts trying to model their decision logic and rules based on their policies and procedures. Decision-aware processes extract declarative knowledge from process models, greatly simplifying the process models and moving the declarative information to a model format more suitable to business logic, such as a decision table. BPMS and DMS are complementary, and can be combined to create a complete model of the business process. He provided a demo of their decision modeling and repository tooling, which starts with the definition of a community space that shares a glossary, attributes and models, and has governance workflows for decision model approval and deployment. The glossary allows for the definition of fact types, including multiple synonyms to allow different stakeholders to use their own terminology. The decision models are made up of rule families that capture the business logic, with a visual syntax that indicates the rules and conditions that make up a particular decision. This can be expanded into a full decision table style that shows the if-then-else logic using the business terms. Different instances of decisions and rules sets can be created — in his demo example, the insurance policy renewals base logic versus that for a hurricane-prone state such as Florida — and visually compared in the graphical or tabular view, with changes highlighted or listed in detail in a report. Rule sets can be validated to highlight conflicts and missing information, then exported in a variety of formats for importing into a DMS for execution.

Signavio: Business Decision Management

Gero Decker talked about their collaborative process design and SAP upgrade tools as an introduction, but mainly addressed decision modeling and how they are embracing the DMN standard: modeling decisions, inputs and knowledge sources, then linking that to a decision activity in a BPMN model. DMN provides a graphical model form, and also allows for decision tables for detailed steps. Like Sapiens, Signavio does only decision modeling, not execution, and exports in standard formats for importing to a DMN such as Drools for execution. They are releasing the Signavio Decision Manager in a few weeks, and he gave us a preview demo of modeling and testing rules integrated with their process modeling environment. Similar to the modeling that we saw from Comindware earlier this morning, Signavio can be used to model higher-level enterprise architecture constructs such as value chains plus full BPMN models for specific capabilities within those models; he used a BPMN model as a jumping-off point for demonstrating decision modeling by creating a business rule task. From that point, you can specify a decision table directly in situ, or choose to create a DMN model at that point, which launches the DMN modeler with the top-level question/answer in the DMN model linked to the business rule activity from the BPMN model. The DMN model can be built out graphically, data objects defined and rules added with decision tables, and sub-decisions added as required. The DMN modeler can make use of the existing glossary in the Signavio environment for data objects and attributes. The decision tables can be validated to detect conflicts, and can export test cases in a spreadsheet format to drive manual or automated testing. They are also doing some work on detecting complex decision logic within BPMN models, with the goal to refactor the models to externalize the decision logic into DMN models where it makes the BPMN model unnecessarily complex.

IBM BPM and ODM Analyst Event

IBM decided to entertain the industry analysts far from the madding crowds of the Impact conference, and invited a group of us to San Francisco for a day to their discuss business process management and operational decision management offerings. David Millen, VP of BPM & DM (assuming the role from Phil Gilbert, who has moved on to General Manager of Design), started the day with some stats on the continued importance of improving process in the minds of managers, plus how the trend towards the consumerization of IT is driving more power to change into the hands of the business users. He continued with their message of how visibility, collaboration and governance are required to effectively manage change, and the emerging roles required to manage operations, such as chief customer officer.

BPM and ODM have been effectively bundled as part of the same product suite, which includes the three pillars of IBM BPM, IBM ODM and IBM Case Manager, with IBM Blueworks Live and IBM Business Monitor as horizontal components that (if you believe the graphic) support all three of the pillars in their marketecture diagram:

IBM Blueworks Live



IBM Case Manager

IBM Business Monitor

This brings Case Manager more into the BPM fold, although it will remain to be seen whether there is a closer merging of the technologies or if this is mostly a marketing exercise. However, when the various product specialists discussed the roadmaps (under NDA so not detailed here), IBM Case Manager was the only one that was not discussed, although Dave Caldeira (Director, ECM Strategy) is here to wave the flag. I see that it’s a fundamental problem that FileNet/Case Manager is in a completely separate software business unit within IBM: I’ve been saying for a while that integration between the products would be easier if they were all part of the same group. Bruce Silver later referred to the lack of information about Case Manager as the elephant in the room: in his opinion, the one gaping whole in the content at today’s sessions.

I spent the middle part of the day in several small meetings with IBM and a couple of their customers, some of which was undoubtedly off the record so I won’t be sharing that either, then we all came back to finish the day with a bit on IBM’s BPM/ODM-related services and a final Q&A.

Having analyst days separate from major vendor conferences makes a lot of sense: much easier to set up the meetings and see the people who you need to see, and no conflicts with other sessions. Definitely a valuable day for me to get caught up on the BPM/ODM roadmaps.

You can also see coverage of the day from James Taylor and Jim Sinur, who have already published their notes from the day; lots of other analyst bloggers here (Bruce Silver, Clay Richardson, Mark McGregor) so there will likely be more over the next day or two.

Update: Bruce Silver’s coverage here.

TIBCO TUCON2012 Day 1 Keynotes, Part 1

The keynotes started with TIBCO’s CEO, Vivek Ranadivé, talking about the forces driving change: a massive explosion of data (big data), the emergence of mobility, the emergence of platforms, the rise of Asia (he referenced the Gangnam Style video, although did not actually do the dance), and how math is trumping science (e.g., the detection and exploitation of patterns). The ability to harness these forces and produce extreme value is a competitive differentiator, and is working for companies like Apple and Amazon.

Raj Verma, TIBCO’s CMO, was up next, continuing the message of how fast things are changing: more iPhones were sold over the past few days than babies were born worldwide, and Amazon added more computing capacity last night than they had in total in 2001. He (re)introduced their concept of the two-second advantage – the right information a little bit before an event is worth infinitely more than any amount of information after the event – enabled by an event-enabled enterprise (or E3, supported by, of course, TIBCO infrastructure). Regardless of whether or not you use TIBCO products, this is a key point: if you’re going to exploit the massive amounts of data being generated today in order to produce extreme value, you’re going to need to be an event-enabled enterprise, responding to events rather than just measuring outcomes after the fact.

He discussed the intersection of four forces: cloud, big data, social collaboration and mobility. This is not a unique message – every vendor, analyst and consultant are talking about this – but he dug into some of these in detail: mobile, for example, is no longer discretionary, even (or maybe especially) in countries where food and resources are scarce. The four of these together all overlap in the consumerization of IT, and are reshaping enterprise IT. A key corporate change driven by these is customer experience management: becoming the brand that customers think of first when the product class is mentioned, and turning customers into fans. Digital marketing, properly done, turns your business into a social network, and turns customer management into fan management.

Matt Quinn, CTO, continued the idea of turning customers into fans, and solidifying customer loyalty. To do this, he introduced TIBCO’s “billion dollar backend” with its platform components of automation, event processing, analytics, cloud and social, and hosted a series of speakers on the subject of customer experience management.

We then heard from a customer, Chris Nordling, EVP of Operations and CIO of MGM Resorts and CityCenter, who use TIBCO for their MLife customer experience management/loyalty program. Their vision is to track everything about you from your gambling wins/losses to your preferences in restaurants and entertainment, and use that to build personalized experiences on the fly. By capturing the flow of big data and responding to events in realtime, the technology provides their marketing team with the ability to provide a zero-friction offer to each customer individually before they even know that they want something: offering reduced entertainment tickets just as you’re finishing a big losing streak at the blackjack tables, for example. It’s a bit creepy, but at the same time, has the potential to provide a better customer experience. Just a bit of insight into what they’re spending that outrageous $25/day resort fee on.

Quinn came back to have a discussion with one of their “loyalty scientists” (really??) about Loyalty Lab, TIBCO’s platform/service for loyalty management, which is all about analyzing events and data in realtime, and providing “audience of one” service and offerings. Traditional loyalty programs were transaction-based, but today’s loyalty programs are much more about providing a more holistic view of the customer. This can include not just events that happen in a company’s own systems, but include external social media information, such as the customer’s tweets. I know all about that.

Another customer, Rick Welts of the Golden State Warriors (who, ironically, play at the Oracle stadium) talked about not just customer loyalty management, but the Moneyball-style analytics that they apply to players on a very granular scale: each play of each game is captured and analyzed to maximize performance. They’re also using their mobile app for a variety of customer service initiatives, from on-premise seat upgrades to ordering food directly from your seat in the stadium.

Mid-morning break, and I’ll continue afterwards.

As an aside, I’m not usually wide awake enough to get much out of the breakfast-in-the-showcase walkabout, but this morning prior to the opening sessions, I did have a chance to see the new TIBCO decision services integrated into BPM, also available as standalone services. Looked cool, more on that later.

Best Practices For Modeling Processes And Rules With @Ronald_G_Ross

Ron Ross presented in the first breakout session of the BPM track, discussing best practices for creating better (and fewer) process models by modeling business rules together with processes. I’ve talked on this subjet quite a bit, although I come at it from the process modeling side whereas Ron is from the rules side. His business partner, Gladys Lam, was also in the audience; their book Building Business Solutions: Business Analysis with Business Rules and Ron’s earlier book Business Rule Concepts covers these concepts in much more detail.

I used to joke that process modelers tend to create process models wherein the business rules are just huge networks of flow logic directly in the process, whereas rules modelers create process models with a single task that just calls a rules engine. Ron isn’t going quite that far, but definitely advocates reducing the modeling of rules directly in a process notation (as BPMN gateways, for example) to create more concise and smarter process models. Rules should be expressed in business language; rules models are fundamentally different than process models, although the decisions made in the rules models can then be used within the process model. In his example, an insurance claim process included a conditional flow path when the claim is valid, but doesn’t explicitly show what rules are applied to determine if a claim is valid – that’s a job for the rules model.

He discussed some different patterns for harvesting rules from processes – conditional flows, maximum inter-task timing, and minimum inter-task timing – and introduced their RuleSpeak guidelines for expressing the resultant business rules in concise business language. He made a distinction between behavioral rules and decision rules; the former relies on a governor to watch for the rules being met or violated (often implemented in processes as an interrupting event of some sort), while the latter is about applying a decision at a point in a process. In short, rules are the embodiment of your business policies that ensure that you get consistently achieve the right results; in the rules world, processes are just a way of connecting the rules.

The key is to externalize the rules from the processes, and (primarily) model the high-volume standardized transactions. Low-volume, specialized processes don’t need to be modeled prior to execution, but can be informed and guided by rules: this is the basis of adaptive case management. This moves the need for agility into business rules – which are typically easier to change on the fly – and both simplify and stabilize business models.

Increasing Revenue Through Multi-Channel Decisioning

John DeMarchis from PNC Financial Services gave the final morning keynote on how they’re using multi-channel decisioning to increase revenue through a personalized customer experience. They looked at some of the compelling user experiences in the consumer space that are setting expectations of how people want to interact with service providers – Amazon and Google, for example – but also had to consider the loss of confidence in the US financial system that many consumers have experienced through the financial crisis. This led them to develop a customer interaction management system that uses Pega decision management to inform and direct customer interactions through all of their engagement channels. This provides centralized decisioning for consistency, real-time decisioning to allow next best action capabilities during the interaction, and adaptive learning to adjust the models based on market and customer behaviors.

Key to this is determining each customer’s current state so that they can be appropriately targeted for offers and notifications without annoying them, using the channel of their choice. Seriously, I wish my bank could do this.

The results: they are at the top of the customer experience rankings in specific geographic regions, and are ranked highly in terms of how they interact with their customers for marketing purposes. Interestingly, they started this with the simple idea to do cross-selling, but found that using the data and decisioning capabilities, they could do much, much more.

We finished up with some closing thoughts from Alan Trefler, since this is the last of the general keynotes; it’s all breakout sessions from here on in. I have (paper) notes from my meetings with executives yesterday, and a few more meetings today, which I’ll try to summarize here later today or tomorrow.

Decision Management And Next Best Action

Rob Walker, Pega’s VP of Decision Management (who joined Pega as part of the Chordiant acquisition), gave a keynote on day 2 of PegaWORLD about next best action. He started with a great visual of the analysis of a particular baseball pitcher’s stats, showing that there was some degree of predictability of what type of pitch (e.g., fastball, slider) will occur after an initial pitch of each type. In other words, if you knew those statistics, you would have a better chance of being prepared for a particular type of pitch once you were smoked by that initial fastball. Sticking to a baseball theme, he moved on to talk about the concepts behind Moneyball: using statistics to build a better team than you can with beliefs and biases. In other words, more data and a lot of analysis can give you a competitive advantage, an idea that holds value far beyond the realm of baseball.

He spoke about adding in all of that extra data and analytics to the customer view as “color” being added to the picture in order to make details more evident throughout the lifecycle. This can, for example, allow you to detect when a customer is likely to defect to a competitor based on their service history and behavior, or what new services that they are most likely to buy at a given time. Bring this next-best-action marketing to the Pega unified marketing portfolio, and you have this capability baked right into your processes and multi-channel customer communications. Instead of using an inside-out strategy of trying to determine the right market to target for a specific product, this allows for an outside-in strategy of maximizing the value of a specific customer through understanding their propensities, and doing it fast enough to make the next best offer in real time, while they are on your website or on the phone with your customer service or sales rep.

IBM Impact Day 2: Engage. Extend. Succeed.

Phil Gilbert spoke at the main tent session this morning, summarizing how they announced IBM BPM as a unified offering at last year’s Impact, and since then they’ve combined Business Events and ILOG to form IBM ODM (operational decision management). Business process and decision management provide visibility and governance, forming a conduit to provide information about transactions and data to people who need to access it. IBM claims to have the broadest, most integrated process portfolio, having taken a few dozen products and turned them into two products; Phil was quick to shoot down the idea that this is a disjointed, non-integrated collection of tools, referring to it instead as a “loosely coupled integration architecture”. Whatever.

Around those two core products (or product assemblies) are links to other enterprise tools – Tivoli, MDM, ECM and SAP – forming the heart of business processes and system orchestration. In version 8 of BPM and ODM, they’ve added collaboration, which is the third key imperative for business alongside visibility and governance.

We saw a demo of the new capabilities, most of which I talked about in yesterday’s post. For ODM, that included the new decision console (social activity stream, rules timeline) and global rules search. For BPM, there’s the new socially-aware process portal, which has been created on their publicly-available APIs so that you can roll your own portal with the same level of functionality. There’s searching in the process portal to find tasks easily. The new coach (UI form) designer allows you to create very rich task interfaces more easily, including the sidebar of task/instance details, instance-specific activity stream, and experts available for collaboration. They’ve incorporated the real-time collaboration capabilities of Blueworks Live into the BPM coaches to allow someone to request and receive help from an expert, with the user and the expert seeing each other’s inputs synchronously on the form in question. Lastly, Approve/Reject type tasks can be completed in-line directly in the task list, making it much faster to move through a long set of tasks that require only simple responses. He wrapped up with the obligatory iPad demo (have to give him credit for doing that part of the live demo himself, which most VPs wouldn’t consider).

The general session also included presentations of some innovative uses of BPM and ODM by IBM’s customers: Ottawa General Hospital, which has put patient information and processes on an iPad in the doctors’ pockets, and BodyMedia, which captures, analyzes and visualizes a flood of biometric data points gathered by an armband device to assist with a weight loss program.

IBM Vision for BPM, ODM and SOA

Opening day at IBM Impact 2012 (there were some sessions yesterday, but today is the real start), and a good keynote focused on innovation. The wifi is appalling – if IBM can’t get this right with their messages about scalability, who can? – so not sure if I’ll have the chance to post any of this throughout the day, or if you’ll get it all when I get back to my hotel room.

This post is based on a pre-conference briefing that I had a week or two ago, a regular conference breakout session this morning, and the analyst briefing this afternoon, covering  IBM’s vision for BPM, ODM (decision management) and SOA. Their customers are using technology to drive process innovation, and the IBM portfolio is working to address those needs. Cross-functional business outcomes, which in turn require cross-functional processes, are enabled by collaboration and by better technical integration across silos. And, not surprisingly, their message is moving towards the Gartner upcoming iBPMS vision: support for structured and unstructured process; flexible integration; and rules and analytics for repeatable, flexible decisions. Visibility, collaboration and governance are key, not just within departmental processes, but when linking together all processes in an organization into an enterprise process architecture.

The key capabilities that they offer to help clients achieve process innovation include:

  • Process discovery and design (Blueworks Live)
  • Business process management (Process Server and Process Center)
  • Operational decision management (Decision Server and Decision Center)
  • Advanced case management (Case Manager, which is the FileNet-based offering that not part of this portfolio, but integrated)
  • Business monitoring (Business Monitor)

Underpinning these are master data management, integration, analytics and enterprise content management, surrounded by industry expertise and solutions. IBM is using the term intelligent business operations (which was front and center at Gartner BPM last week) to describe the platform of process, events and decision, plus appropriate user interfaces for visibility and governance.

Blueworks Live is positioned not just as a front-end design tool for process automation, but as a tool for documenting processes. Many of the 300,000 processes that have been documented in Blueworks Live are never automated in IBM BPM or any other “real” BPMS, but it acts as a repository for discovering and documenting processes in a collaborative environment, and allowing process stakeholders to track changes to processes and see how it impacts their business. There is an expanded library of templates, plus an insurance framework and other templates/frameworks coming up.

One exciting new feature (okay, exciting to me) is that Blueworks Live now allows decision tasks to be defined in process models, including the creation of decision tables: this provides an integrated process/decision discovery environment. As with process, these decisions do not need to become automated in a decision management system; this may just document the business rules and decisions as they are applied in manual processes or other systems.

Looking at IBM BPM v8, which is coming up soon, Ottosson took us through the main features:

  • IBM BPM inbox showing inline task approvalSocial collaboration to allow users to work together on tasks via real-time interactions, view activity streams, and locate experts. That manifests in the redesigned task interface, or “coach”, with a sidebar that includes task details, the activity stream for the entire process, and experts that are either recommended by the system based on past performance or by others through manual curation. Experts can be requested to collaboration on a task with another user – it includes presence, so that you can tell who is online at any given time – allowing the expert to view the work that the user is doing, and offer assistance. Effectively, multiple people are being given access to same piece of work, and updates made by anyone are shown to all participants; this can be asynchronous or synchronous.
  • There is also a redesigned inbox UI, with a more up-to-date look and feel with lots of AJAX-y goodness, sorting and coloring by priority, plus the ability to respond to simple tasks inline directly in the inbox rather than opening a separate task view. It provides a single task inbox for a variety of sources, including IBM BPM, Blueworks workflows and Case Manager tasks.
  • Situational awareness with process monitoring and analysis in a performance data warehouse.
  • iPhone app task listMobile access via an iOS application that can interface with Blueworks Live and IBM BPM; if you search for “IBM BPM” in the iTunes app store (but not, unfortunately, in the Android Market), you’ll find it. It supports viewing the task list, task completion, attach documents and add comments. They are considering releases the source code to allow developers to use it as a template, since there is likely to be a demand for a customized or branded version of this. In conjunction with this, they’ve released a REST API tester similar to the sort of sandbox offered by Google, which allows developers to create REST-based applications (mobile or otherwise) without having to own the entire back-end platform. This will certainly open up the add-on BPM application market to smaller developers, where we are likely to see more innovation.
  • Enhancements to Process Center for federation of different Process Centers, each of which implies a different server instance. This allows departmental instances to share assets, as well as draw from an internal center of excellence plus one hosted by IBM for industry standards and best practices.
  • Support for the CMIS standard to link to any standard ECM repository, as well as direct integration to FileNet ECM, to link documents directly into processes through a drag-and-drop interface in the process designer.
  • There are also some improvements to the mashup tool used for forms design using a variety of integration methods, which I saw in a pre-conference briefing last week. This uses some of the resources from IBM Mashup Centre development team, but the tool was built new within IBM BPM.
  • Cloud support through IBM SmartCloud which appears to be more of a managed server environment if you want full IBM BPM, but does offer BPM Express as a pre-installed cloud offering. At last year’s Impact, their story was that they were not doing BPM (that is, execution, not the Blueworks-type modeling and lightweight workflow) in the cloud since their customers weren’t interested in that; at that time, I said that they needed to rethink their strategy on this and and stop offering expensive custom hosted solutions. They’ve taken a small step by offering a pre-installed version of BPM Express, but I still think these needs to advance further.

WebSphere Operational Decision Management (ODM) is a integration/bundling of WebSphere Business Event Manager and ILOG, bringing together events and rules into a single decision management platform for creating policies and deploying decision services. It has a number of new features:

  • ODM event streamSocial interface for business people to interact with rules design: decisions are assets that are managed and modified, and the event stream/conversation shows how those assets are being managed. This interface makes it possible to subscribe to changes on specific rules.
  • Full text searching across rules, rule flows, decision tables and folders within a project, with filtering by type, status and date.
  • Improved decision table interface, making it easier to see what a specific table is doing.
  • Track rule versions through a timeline (weirdly reminiscent of Facebook’s Timeline), including snapshots that provide a view of rules at a specific point in time.
  • Any rule can emit an event to be consumed/managed by the event execution engine; conversely, events can invoke rulesets. This close integration of the two engines within ODM (rules and events) is a natural fit for agile and rapid automated decisions.

There’s also zOS news: IBM BPM v8 will run on zOS (not sure if that includes all server components), and the ODM support for zOS is improved, including COBOL support in rules. It would be interesting to see the cost relative to other server platforms, and the compelling reasons to deploy on zOS versus those other platforms, which I assume are mostly around integrating with other zOS applications for better runtime performance.

Since last year’s big announcement about bringing the platforms together, they appear to have been working on integration and design, putting a more consistent and seamless user interface on the portfolio as well as enhancing the capabilities. One of the other analysts (who will remain nameless unless he chooses to identify himself) pointed out that a lot of this is not all that innovative relative to market leaders – he characterized the activity stream social interface as being like Appian Tempo three years ago, and some of the functionality as just repackaged Lombardi – but I don’t think that it’s necessarily IBM’s role to be at the very forefront of technology innovation in application software. By being (fairly) fast followers, they have the effect of validating the market for the new features, such as mobile and social, and introducing their more conservative customer base to what might seem like pretty scary concepts.

NSERC BI Network at CASCON2011 (Part 2)

The second half of the workshop started with Renée Miller from University of Toronto digging into the deeper database levels of BI, and the evolving role of schema from a prescriptive role (time-invariant, used to ensure data consistency) to a descriptive role (describe/understand data, capture business knowledge). In the old world, a schema was meant to reduce redundancy (via Boyce-Codd normal form), whereas the new world schema is used to understand data, and the schema may evolve. There are a lot of reasons why data can be “dirty” – my other half, who does data warehouse/BI for a living, is often telling me about how web developers create their operational database models mostly by accident, then don’t constrain data values at the UI – but the fact remains that no matter how clean you try to make it, there are always going to be operational data stores with data that needs some sort of cleansing before effective BI. In some cases, rules can be used to maintain data consistency, especially where those rules are context-dependent. In cases where the constraints are inconsistent with the existing data (besides asking the question of how that came to be), you can either repair the data, or discover new constraints from the data and repair the constraints. Some human judgment may be involved in determining whether the data or the constraint requires repair, although statistical models can be used to understand when a constraint is likely invalid and requires repair based on data semantics. In large enterprise databases as well as web databases, this sort of schema management and discovery could be used to identify and leverage redundancy in data to discover metadata such as rules and constraints, which in turn could be used to modify the data in classic data repair scenarios, or modify the schema to adjust for a changing reality.

Sheila McIlraith from University of Toronto presented on a use-centric model of data for customizing and constraining processes. I spoke last week at Building Business Capability on some of the links between data and processes, and McIlraith characterized processes as a purposeful view of data: processes provide a view of the data, and impose policies on data relative to some metrics. Processes are also, as she pointed out, are a delivery vehicle for BI – from a BPM standpoint, this is a bit of a trivial publishing process – to ensure that the right data gets to the right stakeholder. The objective of her research is to develop business process modeling formalism that treats data and processes as first class citizens, and supports specification of abstract (ad hoc) business processes while allowing the specification of stakeholder policies, preferences and priorities. Sounds like data+process+rules to me. The approach is to specify processes as flexible templates, with policies as further constraints; although she represents this as allowing for customizable processes, it really just appears to be a few pre-defined variations on a process model with a strong reliance on rules (in linear temporal logic) for policy enforcement, not full dynamic process definition.

Lastly, we heard from Rock Leung from SAP’s academic research center and Stephan Jou from IBM CAS on industry challenges: SAP and IBM are industry partners to the NSERC Business Intelligence Network. They listed 10 industry challenges for BI, but focused on big data, mobility, consumable analytics, and geospatial and temporal analytics.

  • Big data: Issues focus on volume of data, variety of information and sources, and velocity of decision-making. Watson has raised expectations about what can be done with big data, but there are challenges on how to model, navigate, analyze and visualize it.
  • Consumable analytics: There is a need to increase usability and offering new interactions, making the analytics consumable by everyone – not just statistical wizards – on every type of device.
  • Mobility: Since users need to be connected anywhere, there is a need to design for smaller devices (and intermittent connectivity) so that information can be represented effectively, and seamless with representations on other devices. Both presenters said that there is nothing that their respective companies are doing where mobile device support is not at least a topic of conversation, if not already a reality.
  • Geospatial and temporal analytics: Geospatial data isn’t just about Google Maps mashups any more: location and time are being used as key constraints in any business analytics, especially when you want to join internal business information with external events.

They touched briefly on social in response to a question (it was on their list of 10, but not the short list), seeing it as a way to make decisions better.

For a workshop on business intelligence, I was surprised at how many of the presentations included aspects of business rules and business process, as well as the expected data and analytics. Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised, since data, rules and process are tightly tied in most business environments. A fascinating morning, and I’m looking forward to the keynote and other presentations this afternoon.

NSERC BI Network at CASCON2011 (Part 1)

I only have one day to attend CASCON this year due to a busy schedule this week, so I am up in Markham (near the IBM Toronto software lab) to attend the NSERC Business Intelligence Network workshop this morning. CASCON is the conference run by IBM’s Centers for Advanced Studies throughout the world, including the Toronto lab (where CAS originated), as a place for IBM researchers, university researchers and industry to come together to discuss many different areas of technology. Sometimes, this includes BPM-related research, but this year the schedule is a bit light on that; however, the BI workshop promises to provide some good insights into the state of analytics research.

Eric Yu from University of Toronto started the workshop, discussing how BI can enable organizations to become more adaptive. Interestingly, after all the talk about enterprise architecture and business architecture at last week’s Building Business Capability conference, that is the focus of Yu’s presentation, namely, that BI can help enterprises to better adapt and align business architecture and IT architecture. He presented a concept for an adaptive enterprise architecture that is owned by business people, not IT, and geared at achieving measurable business success. He discussed modeling variability at different architectural layers, and the traceability between them, and how making BI an integral part of an organization – not just the IT infrastructure – can support EA adaptability. He finished by talking about maturity models, and how a closed loop deployment of BI technologies can help meet adaptive enterprise requirements. Core to this is the explicit representation of change processes and their relationship to operational processes, as well as linking strategic drivers to specific goals and metrics.

Frank Tompa from University of Waterloo followed with a discussion of mapping policies (from a business model, typically represented as high-level business rules) to constraints (in a data model) so that these can be enforced within applications. My mind immediately went to why you would be mapping these to a database model rather than a rules management system; his view seems to be that a DBMS is what monitors at a transactional level and ensures compliance with the business model (rules). His question: “how do make the task of database programming easier?” My question: “why aren’t you doing this with a BRMS instead of a DBMS?” Accepting his premise that this should be done by a database programmer, the approach is to start with object definitions, where an object is a row (tuple) defined by a view over a fixed database schema, and represents all of the data required for policy making. Secondly, consider the states that an object can assume by considering that an object x is in state S if its attributes satisfy S(x). An object can be in multiple states at once; the states seem to be more like functions than states, but whatever. Thirdly, the business model has to be converted to an enforcement model through a sort of process model that also includes database states; really more of a state diagram that maps business “states” to database states, with constraints on states and state transitions denoted explicitly. I can see some value in the state transition constraint models in terms of representing some forms of business rules and their temporal relationships, but his representation of a business process as a constraint diagram is not something that a business analyst is ever going to read, much less create. However, the role of the business person seems to be restricted to “policy designer” listing “states of interest”, and the goal of this research is to “form a bridge between the policy manager and the database”. Their future work includes extracting workflows from database transaction logs, which is, of course, something that is well underway in the BPM data mining community. I asked (explicitly to the presenter, not just snarkily here in my blog post) about the role of rules engines: he said that one of the problems was in vocabulary definition, which is often not done in organizations at the policy and rules level; by the time things get to the database, the vocabulary is sufficiently constrained that you can ensure that you’re getting what you need. He did say that if things could be defined in a rules engine using a standardized vocabulary, then some of the rules/constraints could be applied before things reached the database; there does seem to be room for both methods as long as the business rules vocabulary (which does exist) is not well-entrenched.

Jennifer Horkoff from University of Toronto was up next discussing strategic models for BI. Her research is about moving BI from a technology practice to a decision-making process that starts with strategic concerns, generates BI queries, interprets the results relative to the business goals and decide on necessary actions. She started with the OMG Business Motivation Model (BMM) for building governance models, and extended that to a Business Intelligence Model (BIM), or business schema. The key primitives include goals, situations (can model SWOT), indicators (quantitative measures), influences (relationships) and more. This model can be used at the high-level strategic level, or at a more tactical level that links more directly to activities. There is also the idea of a strategy, which is a collection of processes and quality constraints that fulfill a root-level goal. Reasoning that can be done with BIMs, such as whether a specific strategy can fulfill a specific goal, and influence diagrams with probabilities on each link used to help determine decisions. They are using BIM concepts to model a case study with Rouge Valley Health System to improve patient flow and reduce wait times; results from this will be seen in future research.

Each of these presentations could have filled a much bigger time slot, and I could only capture a flavor of their discussions. If you’re interested in more detail, you can contact the authors directly (links to each above) to get the underlying research papers; I’ve always found researchers to be thrilled that anyone outside the academic community is interested in what they’re doing, and are happy to share.

We’re just at the md-morning break, but this is getting long so I’ll post this and continue in a second post. Lots of interesting content, I’m looking forward to the second half.