Enabling Operational Excellence
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Posts Tagged ‘intelligent processes’

No, ‘Process’ is Not a Dirty Word – Just Not the Right Word

Jim Sinur recently wrote a short, readable and deeply thoughtful opinion piece on www.BRCommunity.com entitled “Is Process a Dirty Word?”. See http://www.brcommunity.com/b812.php. Jim’s basic point is this, “… people frown on the word process these days … [based on] the outdated view that process implies a rigid and inflexible approach to work actions that support a static business model.” I think Jim is right about that … and wrong too. Where Jim is Right. The main point Jim makes is right. Compared to traditional, static process models, processes are becoming highly dynamic. They can “not only can act, they can sense and decide new courses of action, leveraging a combination of pattern recognition and decision features based on events, cases, process instances, and data (big data or not; cloud based or not).” At the extreme, they essentially cease to exist as models “carved in stone”. Jim puts it this way: “In the future the process model will more represent the audit trail of what the process did and the decisions it made.” (Of course I think one can legitimately question whether a process model exists at all if it manifests only as facts about what each execution/performance of the process has actually done, but let’s let that go.) Where Jim is Wrong. Jim points out that “Processes are becoming more goal-seeking in their design and can change in near real time … processes will more commonly seek conflicting goals [and go about] balancing them.” When processes become ‘goal-seeking’ or ‘goal-balancing’, they address the question of ‘why’ (strategy), no longer just ‘how’ (transform). The resulting solution is a system, not just a process. Process is merely one component of such a system. By the way, I’m using system in the general dictionary sense, not in any particular technical sense: a complex unity formed of many often diverse parts subject to a common plan or serving a common purpose.[1] Jim astutely points out that such processes can use “… pattern recognition [to analyze] the audit trails of past executions [and] identify what has worked best in the past under [the same] circumstances.” But surely audit trails (besides being data) are features of systems, not processes. And you’d always want to verify the results against business goals (which may conflict), and business policy (which may have changed). Should we call such processes intelligent? I wouldn’t. They’re just highly flexible. It’s the system that becomes intelligent. So these days I think we should be talking talk about FlexProcess and IntelligentSystem. By the way, can you do FlexProcesses and IntelligentSystems without business rules? Sure. Can you do them well? In your dreams. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ www.BRSolutions.com

[1] Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary, 1a.

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Why Not Just Use IBM Watson or Similar Platforms for Automating Operational Business Decisions?

Caveat: I reserve the right to change my mind on this at any time and would love to be proven wrong. The key characteristic of many operational business decisions is that they need to be directly traceable to business policy, regulations, contractual obligations, and so on. You need to be able to readily demonstrate compliance in the broadest sense of the word. (That of course has always been true for business rules. That’s what they do!) So for that reason and others, I doubt that IBM Watson and peers will prove viable platforms for execution-time support of business rules. The engineering of rules themselves – rule engineering – will remain professional work for humans to do (hopefully assisted by machines). Fortunately effective techniques for rule engineering have been proven in practice.[1] I know some experts are calling for smart processes or intelligent processes these days. But if they’re not addressing business rules, they’re not really that smart. We want to enable smartbusiness, not just smart processes.

[1] These include platform-independent expression guidelines such as RuleSpeak (free on www.RuleSpeak.com). In our book Building Business Solutions: Business Analysis with Business Rules we explain patterns for harvesting business rules from business process models and other deliverables. We have also developed highly effective techniques for decision engineering. See our Primers (free): http://www.brsolutions.com/publications.php#primers  

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What Makes Business Smart?

I am certainly interested in what makes processes smart. But I’m a lot more interested in what makes business smart. My observations:
                                • A process lets you interact with customers, but doesn’t guarantee those interactions are the best possible.
                                • A process crosses silos and boundaries of place and time, but doesn’t ensure you communicate across those silos and boundaries.
                                • A process produces things, but doesn’t ensure you produce the right things.
                                • A process pays the bills, but doesn’t find you new money.
                                • A process lets you play the game, but doesn’t determine whether you will win.
                                • A process lets you act, but doesn’t guarantee you will learn from it.
Here are things I know are directly involved in making your business smart. All of them affect processes, but none of them are processes:
    • Business rules
    • Core business concepts
    • Operational business decisions
    • Strategy
    • Policy monitors (KPIs)
So as you start hearing analysts say that smart processes are the next big thing, take it with a grain of salt. Be very clear about three things:
    1. The target should be smart business – not smart processes per se.
    2. Smart automation won’t go very far unless you specify the right things.
    3. The things you need to specify are knowledge things, not process things.
(I suppose I could add there are no silver bullets, but I’m pretty sure you already know that.)

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