Enabling Operational Excellence
Enabling Operational Excellence
Enabling Operational Excellence
Enabling Operational Excellence

TURNING OPERATIONAL KNOWLEDGE & COMPLIANCE INTO A COMPETITIVE EDGE

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Posts Tagged ‘knowledge economy’

BPM and the Knowledge Economy: White-Collar Work

Make no mistake, the future lies with automation of white-collar work. Fewer and fewer business problems these days focus on manufacturing and production processes, i.e., the nothing-but-widgets category. For all the non-widget-centric business activity in the world – which includes just about all every conceivable form of white-collar work – the following needs become paramount.
  1. Ensuring the quality of meta-data.
  2. Demonstrating compliance based actual rules, rather than the artifacts and effects that IT systems produce.
  3. Retaining, teaching and repurposing intellectual capital.
What would I do to correct the shortcomings of BPM for non-widget-centric business activity? Our answer is to become more why-centric, as opposed to narrowly how-centric.[1] You should focus on business capabilities, not just business processes. That shift has several essential features:
  • Understanding business strategy as something distinct from business processes (and BPM). Business goals and business risks should be drivers of business process design – not the other way around. You need to be strategy-driven, not simply process-driven.
  • Designing core metrics around business goals and business risks – the things that concern C-suite executives the most.
  • Realizing that for white-collar work the 3-D world of widgets has vanished, and that tolerances and quality can be expressed only in terms of business rules.
  • Treating business rules as a first-class citizen, externalized from process models.[2]
  • Identifying operational business decisions (based on encoded business rules) as a crucial focal point in re-engineering business processes.
  • Including a Why Button as part of every business solution. Pressing the Why Button leads immediately to the business rules that produced the results you see from any process.
~~~~~~~ Read more about the future for processes: BPM and the Knowledge Economy: Nothing But Widgets? http://www.brsolutions.com/2015/11/16/bpm-and-the-knowledge-economy-nothing-but-widgets/ What is the Future for Processes? http://www.brsolutions.com/2015/11/09/what-is-the-future-for-processes/ Are Processes and BPM Relevant in the Digital Economy? http://www.brsolutions.com/2015/10/19/are-processes-and-bpm-relevant-in-the-digital-economy/ Measuring Quality and Defects in the Knowledge Economy: http://www.brsolutions.com/2015/10/27/measuring-quality-and-defects-in-the-knowledge-economy/ Quality and Tolerances in the Knowledge Economy: http://www.brsolutions.com/2015/10/29/quality-and-tolerances-in-the-knowledge-economy/ ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ www.BRSolutions.com


[1] Refer to: Ronald G. Ross, “The Why Engineer™,” Business Rules Journal, Vol. 14, No. 11 (Nov. 2013), URL:  http://www.BRCommunity.com/a2013/b727.html
[2] Refer to the Business Rules Manifesto, now in almost 20 languages: http://www.businessrulesgroup.org/brmanifesto.htm

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BPM and the Knowledge Economy: Nothing But Widgets?

BPM often overreaches. Understanding, modeling and managing a business capability effectively requires a balanced view of six basic questions, not just one, as given in the table below. I follow Zachman in these matters, so yes, the table is Zachmanesque.

Interrogative

Basic Business Question

Kind of Model

1. What What inventory of things needs to be managed to support business activity? structural model (e.g., concept model[1], data model)
2. How How do transforms of things in business activity need to take place to add value? process model
3. Where Where does business activity occur? network model
4. Who Who collaborates with whom to undertake business activity? interaction model (e.g., organizational chart, use case)
5. When When does business activity take place? temporal model (e.g., schedule, event model, milestone model)
6. Why Why are results of business activity deemed appropriate or not? strategy model (e.g., Policy Charter[2], constraint model)
  If your business does nothing but manufacture or produce physical widgets (forget all the meta-data about those widgets), you will probably emphasize question 2 (i.e., process) above the others. Your overall approach and architecture will reflect that. You will naturally gravitate toward BPM. That tendency has at least three basic risks, even for organizations that do fall into the nothing-but-widgets category:
  • Your metrics will largely focus on process productivity (e.g., throughput, bottlenecks, latency), rather than strategic goals and alerts centered on external risks. E-suite executives tend to be much more focused on the latter.
  • Your mindset will be procedural, rather than declarative, which can cause you to embed business rules in process flows rather than externalize them. As a result your process models will be unnecessarily complex and your overall solutions un-agile.
  • You approach will fall woefully short in addressing the intellectual capital that underlies your processes. Such operation business knowledge ranges from simple meta-data, to the business logic that underlies operational business decisions.
Fewer and fewer business problems these days fall into nothing-but-widgets category. Even for widget-centric businesses, at least three needs are increasingly urgent:
  1. Ensuring the quality of meta-data.
  2. Demonstrating compliance based actual rules, rather than the artifacts and effects that IT systems produce.
  3. Retaining, teaching and repurposing intellectual capital.
These are not strengths of common BPM practices. ~~~~~~~ Read more about the future for processes: What is the Future for Processes? http://www.brsolutions.com/2015/11/09/what-is-the-future-for-processes/ Are Processes and BPM Relevant in the Digital Economy? http://www.brsolutions.com/2015/10/19/are-processes-and-bpm-relevant-in-the-digital-economy/ Measuring Quality and Defects in the Knowledge Economy: http://www.brsolutions.com/2015/10/27/measuring-quality-and-defects-in-the-knowledge-economy/ Quality and Tolerances in the Knowledge Economy: http://www.brsolutions.com/2015/10/29/quality-and-tolerances-in-the-knowledge-economy/ ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ www.BRSolutions.com


[1] Refer to Refer to Business Rule Concepts:  Getting to the Point of Knowledge (4th ed), by Ronald G. Ross, 2013, Chapter 1 and Part 2.  http://www.brsolutions.com/b_concepts.php 
[2] Refer to Building Business Solutions:  Business Analysis with Business Rules by Ronald G. Ross and Gladys S.W. Lam, 2nd ed. (Sept, 2015), an IIBA Sponsored Handbook, Chapter 4.  http://www.brsolutions.com/b_building_business_solutions.php 

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What is the Future for Processes?

To understand the future of processes, you must dig a little deeper than many people do. Process thinking goes back well over a 100 years, to the origin of modern iron and automobile production. The raw materials and finished goods of such manufacturing and production processes are literally spatial – 3-dimensional. What can you do to significantly improve productivity in a 3-dimensional world? The answer these days is simple: You build robots. Robotization has literally changed the world during the past 30-40 years. Rather than manufacturing and production processes, however, the world is now increasingly focused on white-collar and digital processes. What 3-dimensional presence do the raw materials and finished goods of these processes have? Well, exactly none. The raw materials and finished goods of these processes aren’t physical and simply have no spatial presence whatsoever (except maybe for paper artifacts). Robots (at least physical ones) aren’t an option. That fact of life makes a huge difference in how you have to think about automation for such processes. Instead, the raw materials and finished goods of such processes are all about your operational business knowledge – your intellectual capital – and your capacity to express and apply it. That capability, in turn, depends directly on your business terminology and business language. For white-collar processes you have no choice – the world is semantic. So you must deal with the subject matter semantically. That takes us in a very different direction than most professionals currently foresee. For one thing it takes us toward natural language and away from diagrams-for-everything. That’s a huge shift in mindset. Imagine having a business conversation with your smart phone about gaps and ambiguities in business policies and in the meanings of the vocabulary you use to talk about subject matter knowledge. Don’t think that’s possible? Have you watched your kids talking to their smart phones lately? Sooner or later businesses will realize that operational business knowledge differentiates their product/services and enables their ever-more-automated processes to function. Capturing, managing and re-using that intellectual capital puts a premium on structured business vocabulary (concept models[1]) and on business rules expressed in structured natural language[2]. Those business rules are the only way you have to ensure quality from white-collar and digital processes. ~~~~~~~ Read more on this topic: Are Processes and BPM Relevant in the Digital Economy? http://www.brsolutions.com/2015/10/19/are-processes-and-bpm-relevant-in-the-digital-economy/ Measuring Quality and Defects in the Knowledge Economy: http://www.brsolutions.com/2015/10/27/measuring-quality-and-defects-in-the-knowledge-economy/ Quality and Tolerances in the Knowledge Economy: http://www.brsolutions.com/2015/10/29/quality-and-tolerances-in-the-knowledge-economy/ ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ www.BRSolutions.com
[1] Refer to “What Is a Concept Model?” by Ronald G. Ross,  Business Rules Journal, Vol. 15, No. 10 (Oct. 2014), URL:  http://www.BRCommunity.com/a2014/b779.html
[2] e.g., in RuleSpeak®. Refer to http://www.rulespeak.com/en/

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Measuring Quality and Defects in the Knowledge Economy

Everyone wants high quality from their business processes. But what exactly does quality mean these days? Let me tell you a quick story that recently got me thinking. I like to eat toasted raisin bread in the morning. I even have a favorite brand. Every morning when I’m at home I eat several pieces. Over the years I’ve become so experienced with the brand’s quality that I can spot defects. I know when they’ve laid on the cinnamon a little too heavily, or when the dough didn’t rise quite enough. Every morning I look forward to doing my little AM taste test. But one morning recently I suddenly realized the large majority of client processes we’ve worked with over the last decade are not ones I can perform any taste test for. There’s nothing physical from the process I can taste or hear or touch. There’s nothing whatsoever to directly assess quality by. That’s because some clients simply have no physical products at all – e.g., insurance, finance, taxation, etc. But a good number do – e.g., electrical equipment, trucking, railroads, and so on. For these latter clients the processes of immediate concern didn’t directly involve those physical things however – only just white-collar stuff. So the question becomes how do you assess quality from a business process when there’s no physical product? How do you identify defects when there isn’t any physical result? My conclusion: When there isn’t any physical product from a business process, quality and defects are purely a matter of business rules. If you’re not documenting and managing business rules as part of your BPM or quality management approach (or elsewhere) you’re missing a crucial part of the picture. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ www.BRSolutions.com

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Fundamental Challenges Facing Your Business: #3 – Managing Operational Business Knowledge

Many or most IT methodologies remain essentially in the Dark Ages with respect to knowledge management. They seem to focus blindly on pumping out code faster and faster. We may be living in a knowledge economy, but we’re sure not acting like it. When I say knowledge management I don’t mean what probably comes to mind. I’m not talking about fuzzy text in vast e-mail archives or tacit knowledge in people’s heads. I’m talking about explicit business rules. Business rules (done correctly) represent knowledge – core operational knowledge. Many companies today are in peril of losing or outsourcing that knowledge. Who’s to blame? Business managers for not ‘getting it’ of course. But that’s just where the buck stops. Ultimately practitioners are to blame. They’re not making core operational knowledge tangible to their managers. How you make that kind of knowledge ‘real’? True business-side rulebook management[1] (which is not the kind BRMS offer).[2] That’s no longer optional either. In a knowledge economy your company simply can’t afford to lose its business rules! ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ www.BRSolutions.com


[1] Ronald G. Ross, “What You Need to Know About Rulebook Management,” Business Rules Journal, Vol. 10, No. 9 (Sep. 2009), URL:  http://www.BRCommunity.com/a2009/b500.html
[2] For best-of-class example, see RuleXpress from www.RuleArts.com.

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Knowledge Worker vs. White-Collar Worker: Opinions Needed

Knowledge worker is a term bandied about in discussion of business process management (BPM). Is it synonymous with white-collar worker, or different? How do you use the term? I ask because there’s significant new and significant interest in automating new areas of white-collar work so as to render it more consistent, traceable and scalable. That requires capturing and encoding the know-how as business rules and on a broader scale, engineering and automating operational business decisions. Knowledge is a very far-ranging term, and there are many forms of knowledge beyond day-to-day operations of a business. Does it confuse the issue to call white-collar workers “knowledge workers”? Is knowledge worker perhaps a broader term than white-collar worker? Which term works best in your organization? Here is some background information from Wikipedia. I confess I have never heard the term gold collar before, but it seems to me there’s an important potential difference there. White-Collar Worker

A white-collar worker is a person who performs professional, managerial, or administrative work. Typically, white-collar work is performed in an office or cubicle. Other types of work are those of a blue-collar worker, whose job requires manual labor and a pink-collar worker, whose labor is related to customer interaction, entertainment, sales, or other service oriented work. Many occupations blend blue, white and/or pink (service) industry categorizations.

Knowledge Worker

Knowledge workers are workers whose main capital is knowledge. … What differentiates knowledge work from other forms of work is its primary task of “non-routine” problem solving that requires a combination of convergent, divergent, and creative thinking.

Knowledge workers are employees who have a deep background in education and experience and are considered people who “think for a living.” They include software developers, doctors, lawyers, inventors, teachers, nurses, financial analysts and architects. As businesses increase their dependence on information technology, the number of fields in which knowledge workers must operate has expanded dramatically.

Even though they sometimes are called “gold collars”, because of their high salaries, as well as because of their relative independence in controlling the process of their own work, current research shows that they are also more prone to burnout, and very close normative control from organizations they work for, unlike regular workers.

www.BRSolutions.com

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Meta Here. Meta There. Meta Everywhere?

As a young database professional in the mid-1970s I grew up on metadata – data that describes and defines other data. In fact, I wrote one of the first books explaining it from a data-as-corporate-resource point of view in 1980.[1] Who knew that in the 21st century there would ever be such a thing as big data, more dependent on metadata (if that’s possible) than even ‘regular’ (transaction) data?! Or that the metadata of phone conversations would become a central artifact in the struggle over civil liberties?! Back then it never much occurred to me that there could be other kinds of “meta”. Well, except maybe metaphysics. But you don’t want to go there. That’s some realm beyond physics where physics isn’t physics any more.[2] Anyway, I was wrong about there not being other important kinds of “meta”. Other Meta’s In the 1990s I learned there was such a thing as meta-rules – rules that govern rules. That led to RuleSpeak® – rules for expressing rules in structured natural language.[3] It also more recently led to new thinking about the engineering of governance – rules guiding the creation, approval and dissemination of business policies in an organization. (Think rulebook management as governance infrastructure.) I’m also pretty sure there could be metaprocesses – processes that orchestrate or transform other processes. It seems to me that one goal of intelligent agents is exactly that. What else? I’m no expert on that. What other meaningful kinds of “meta” are there? It’s fun to play with the question words where, who, and when, but I don’t think there are any real “meta’s” to those. I could be be wrong. Thoughts? I do have one strict rule for judging when you have something truly “meta”. Here’s my rule: Some meaningful verb(s), not a preposition, must be used in defining a “meta” thing. Examples we’ve already discussed:
  • Metadata – data that describes and defines data. (You should not say just “data about data”.)
  • Meta-rule – rule that governs rules. (You should not say just “rules about rules”.)
  • Metaprocess – process that orchestrates or transforms other processes. (You should not say just “processes about processes”.)
Where else could you look for “meta’s”? Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary (MWUD) defines the kind of “meta” we’re discussing here as follows[4]:

3b: of a higher logical type – in nouns formed from names of disciplines and designating new but related disciplines such as can deal critically with the nature, structure, or behavior of the original ones

MWUD gives these examples (the verbs are mine):
  • metalanguage – language for discussing languages.
  • metatheory theory for structuring theories.
  • metasystem – system for organizing systems.
In science & research literature these days you commonly read about meta-analysis. An article in The Economist recently defined meta-analysis as “a technique which uses entire studies as single data points in an overarching statistical analysis”. In other words, an analysis that analyzes other analyses. I wonder if there is such a thing as meta-architecture – architecture for designing architectures? That’s certainly an interesting question, and I’m not certain I know the answer. Thoughts? I do know there’s meta-vocabulary – vocabulary that enables communication about vocabularies. That’s a central feature of the OMG standard SBVR (Semantics of Business Vocabulary and Business Rules).[5] I can tell you with great certainty that a meta-vocabulary is not the same thing as metadata – not by a long shot! I can also tell you that in a knowledge economy, meta-vocabulary will ultimately prove more important than metadata. The Ultimate Metas I believe there’s also such a thing as meta-knowhow – knowhow that enables the organizing of other knowhow. Unfortunately, as few business practitioners today know how important meta-knowhow is as knew how important metadata was in the mid-1970s. That will change. And it won’t take long. Meta-knowhow for organizing core operational business knowhow[6] is essential not only to play in the knowledge economy, but simply to contain the costs of operating as we do today. Best practices already exist for the area. Companies are paying a huge (and unsustainable) price for not engaging with them. I will have much more to say about meta-knowhow in the near future. The most interesting and powerful “meta” of all, however, has to be meta-idea – an idea that enables the birthing (ideation[7]) of (other) ideas. These are the things that bootstrap whole cultures to a new level of intellectual empowerment. Examples: (the ideas of) libraries, encyclopedias and universal education. In The Second Machine Age[8] the authors argue convincingly that with the internet’s true coming of age we’re living the next big meta-idea right now. It’s hard to argue the point. You (the reader) are experiencing it at this very moment. After all, how likely is it that we would be conceptualizing “meta” together here if it weren’t for the internet?! P.S. The concept “meta” is itself actually a meta-idea. Now there’s a good brain teaser if you want to play with it! www.BRSolutions.com


[1] Data Dictionaries and Data Administration: Concepts and Practices for Data Resources Management, by Ronald G. Ross, AMACOM (American Management Association), New York, 1981, 454pp. The definition of metadata in the preceding sentence is straight from the glossary, pp. 432.
[2] I mean the Merriam-Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary definition 1b(1): something that deals with what is beyond the physical or the experiential.
[3] See www.RuleSpeak.com. The RuleSpeak guidelines are free.
[4] MWUD’s meaning for metaphysics is different: 3a: beyond : transcending. It lists examples as metapsychosis, metageometry, metabiological, and metempirics (meta-empirics). Let’s not go there(!). The “meta” I mean (definition 3b) is far more specific and useful, even if highly abstract.
[5] Refer to the SBVR Insider section on www.BRCommunity.com.
[6] For discussion of operational business know-how, refer to my posts Single Source of Business Truth (http://www.brsolutions.com/2014/03/18/single-source-of-business-truth/) and Managing Know-How in the Knowledge Economy: What Role Do Business Rules Play? (http://www.brsolutions.com/2013/08/12/managing-know-how-in-the-knowledge-economy-what-role-do-business-rules-play/).
[7] MWUD definition: the process of entertaining and relating ideas.
[8] The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies, by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 2014, pp. 306.

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Single Source of Business Truth

Re-engineering knowledge work is the central problem of the knowledge economy. In recent work at Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and current work a major bank in Canada we used RuleSpeak® to create what I call a “single source of truth for operational business IP (intellectual property)”. This is far more than a conceptual data model. Beyond structured business vocabulary its central feature is comprehensive rules. It may be like what some professionals call a “conceptual ontology” (as opposed to an operational ontology to be embedded in IT systems). But we would never use the term “ontology” in our work.  Most business people and SMEs simply wouldn’t ‘get’ that. The idea is that all audiences (or subcommunities) in an organization should work off a single trusted source of explicit know-how (business vocabulary and business rules), no matter what their specific responsibilities:
    • producing training materials for line workers.
    • making changes in operational policies.
    • providing proof of compliance for auditors.
    • creating new products.
    • communicating with IT.
Here are some key observations about our work to create a single source of business truth:
    • Our primary audience is not IT. Yet our work is of sufficient precision that straightforward translation into an implementation form can basically be taken as a ‘given’.
    • Our approach recognizes that people are the essential ingredient in business (as opposed to other kinds of knowledge problems). People can violate rules. For coordinating the work of people, direct support for behavioral rules, not just definitional or decision rules, is a must.
    • Our work could not be undertaken without a structured natural language for business rules like RuleSpeak. The non-IT audiences do need rich business semantics, but they have no desire whatsoever to become semantic programmers. They simply would not commit if the work were conducted on that basis.
    • No one today knows what the optimal syntax is for expressing all forms of business know-how in all circumstances. I suspect there isn’t one. That fact, plus the exponential increase in computer capability for processing natural language, indicates clearly that focusing on syntax is simply the wrong direction. RuleSpeak is based on, and was one of the reference languages for SBVR (Semantics of Business Vocabulary and Business Rules, on OMG standard), which supports a non-syntax approach. A language for ‘speaking’ with computers that is not a computer language – now that’s an idea whose time has definitely come!
www.BRSolutions.com

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Managing Know-How in the Knowledge Economy: What Role Do Business Rules Play?

I’ve been writing a lot recently about the knowledge economy and what makes a business smart. Let me dig a little deeper. The kind of knowledge I’m talking about might be better described as know-how.

know-how:  accumulated practical skill or expertness …  especially:  technical knowledge, ability, skill, or expertness of this sort[1]

Know-how that you can encode and retain is represented by business rules and the structured business vocabularies (concept models) on which the business rules are based.  Know-how is a subset, a small one probably, of knowledge.  Briefly, knowledge can range from practical to theoretical, from certain to probabilistic, and from frequently applicable to infrequently applicable.  At the risk of saying the obvious, you can’t run the day-to-day operations of a business on knowledge that is theoretical, probabilistic, or infrequently applicable.  In short, business rules are about know-how management, a strictly limited subset of knowledge management. Like knowledge, know-how can be either tacit (in people’s heads) or explicit.  The classic test for when knowledge is tacit is ‘lose the person, lose the knowledge’.  Obviously you want to retain know-how. As a senior manager recently put it, “No organization should depend on absent brains.”

know-how retention:  expressing know-how explicitly in a form understandable by business people and business analysts, and managing the know-how, such that it is always available for future reference or use (by those capable and authorized)

The over-time infrastructure needed to retain know-how is provided by a general rulebook system (GRBS).  It’s what rule management should really be all about. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ from Building Business Solutions: Business Analysis with Business Rules, by Ronald G. Ross with Gladys S.W. Lam, An IIBA® Sponsored Handbook, Business Rule Solutions, LLC, 2011, 304 pp,http://www.brsolutions.com/bbs

[1] Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary

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Four Big Questions: Why Aren’t We Acting Like We’re in a Knowledge Economy?!

Ask yourself …

Why should every business define its own business vocabulary even though almost everybody operates in some larger community of practice? 

Why should every business invent its own business rules even though perhaps only 20% of its business rules directly impact competitive advantage? 

Why should regulatory bodies issue regulations without adequate definitions and provably correct (anomaly-free) business rules? 

Why should contracts, agreements, and deals be signed with terms of agreement and definitions already spelled out, only to have IT implement them essentially from the ground-up? 

What’s the knowledge economy? According to Wikipedia:

“Various observers describe today’s global economy as one in transition to a ‘knowledge economy,’ as an extension of an ‘information society.’  The transition requires that the rules and practices that determined success in the industrial economy need rewriting in an interconnected, globalized economy where knowledge resources such as know-how and expertise are as critical as other economic resources.”

Catch that part about rules?! ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ from Building Business Solutions: Business Analysis with Business Rules, by Ronald G. Ross with Gladys S.W. Lam, An IIBA® Sponsored Handbook, Business Rule Solutions, LLC, 2011, 304 pp,http://www.brsolutions.com/bbs    

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