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

TURNING OPERATIONAL KNOWLEDGE & COMPLIANCE INTO A COMPETITIVE EDGE

We systemize tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge

Blog Enabling Operational Excellence

Everyday Always-On Compliance

circle of handsTo speak plainly, most companies have no coherent strategy for integrated compliance. Laws, regulations, contracts, deals, agreements, guarantees, warranties, etc. all represent business obligations, the very essence of business rules.

What form of traceability is needed for business obligations? Traceability from governing rules to automated rules, where:

  • Governing Rules include acts, laws, statutes, regulations, contracts, MOUs, agreements, terms & conditions, deals, bids, deeds of sale, warranties, guarantees, prospectuses, citations, certifications, notices, and business policies
  • Automated Rules include code tables, parameter settings, procedural code, implementation rule statements, help messages, etc.

Governing rules provide the baseline for running the business. These governing rules must be interpreted and supplemented, ultimately getting implemented in a wide array of platforms and tools.

In most companies today there is virtually no traceability for obligations between governing rules and automated rules. There’s an abyss, a big black hole, where there should be ready knowledge. Where does that leave the company?

  • Companies’ corporate memory is riddled with disconnects and gaps. Going back in time, it is difficult or impossible to determine who interpreted what governing rules into what implementation components, or why they did it the way they did.
  • Companies consequently are deeply dependent on hero-professionals to retain tacit knowledge. You hope they remember things correctly and thoroughly – and that they don’t leave the company.

A solution to the compliance challenge requires rethinking and reworking the traceability landscape for obligations to feature three layers of rules, not just two. The middle layer, practicable rules, is key.

practicable rule: an expression of a business rule that a capable (authorized) worker can read and understand and decide directly whether or not the business is in compliance in all circumstances to which the rule applies

Practicable rules are ones you can run the business by, whether or not ultimately automated. They should be expressed in structured natural language (e.g., RuleSpeak®) based on business (not IT or data) vocabulary. Here is an example:

An account may be considered overdrawn only if cash withdrawal is greater than the current balance of the account.

The acid test for whether a business rule is practicable is this:

You can give the statement either to a knowledgeable worker for use in day-to-day business operations to apply manually, or give to IT for implementation in an automated system, and get the same results either way.

Is that possible?! Absolutely!

The re-engineered landscape for compliance and traceability reveals the two distinct interpretations that need to be tracked:

  1. First, governing rules are interpreted into practicable rules.
  2. Second, those practicable rules that can be automated (by no means all of them) are interpreted into specifications that automated platforms can execute.

The key to operational excellence for compliance is committing both kinds of interpretations explicitly to automated corporate memory right as they happen.

By the way, business-side rule management does not have to be pursued at an enterprise scale. You can start out at any scale, including the project level. 

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Read more about the Big-5 business challenges: http://www.brcommunity.com/articles.php?id=b904

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Who (or What!) Makes Your Day-to-Day Business Decisions?

Operational business decisions happen every minute of every day in your organization. You’d like to think that business managers can truly manage them. You’d also like to think that the results of those decisions are comprehensively correct, consistent, traceable, and repeatable (high quality). But are they? Based on real-life evidence I strongly suspect they often are not. Let’s be clear what kind of decision I mean. Say “decision” and many business people immediately think strategic decision (e.g., whether to enter some new market), or tactical decision (e.g., which supplier to use for a year-long special project). Those are not the kinds of decision I’m not talking about. I’m not talking about project decisions either. When IT professionals talk about “decisions” they often mean branch points within the deep systemic logic executed by machines – classic decision points in data processing. I don’t mean that either. Instead, I mean decisions in the day-to-day, minute-to-minute bread-and-butter operations of the business. Some examples of such operational business decisions:
  • Whether to give a mortgage to a given applicant.
  • What discounts a premium customer will receive on a purchase.
  • Which customer gets preference if some product or resource is in short supply.
Your business makes these kinds of decisions hundreds or thousands of times a day – or hour, or minute. These are the kinds of decisions that regulators, auditors, and compliance officers care about. The kind your business partners deem important because they are directly impacted.   Are the decisions high quality? At a major insurance company a thoroughly competent, highly experienced business system analyst recently told us: “When we looked hard at business rules currently implemented in existing systems, we found at least 30% were flatly wrong.” After a moment’s reflection he added, “That’s a very conservative estimate; the actual figure was probably much higher.” The organization was just beginning to recognize the magnitude of the problem. And whose problem is it? The analyst said, “IT told us they couldn’t solve the problem because it was a business issue not a software issue. And they were absolutely right about that.” We might have thought this case an outlier if we hadn’t heard similar estimates from credible sources in many other companies. And we’ve found the same ourselves. Not long ago we were asked to conduct an audit of implemented business rules in one area of business for a major North American bank. The results frankly astounded us. We double- and triple-checked. No error. To conduct the audit first we harvested 518 business rules from the relevant Policies and Procedures Manual, the printed (and on-line) reference source for loan officers, and expressed them in RuleSpeak. How many business rules were implemented correctly in their automated system? We found zero – zero! – fully aligned. Some 447 were actually not implemented at all; the remainder just partially aligned. You wouldn’t think it possible but it gets even worse. We found 261 business rules implemented in their system that did not appear anywhere in the Manual. What sort of way of doing business is that?! Who (or what!) is making the decisions?! To put things in proper context it helps to appreciate the costs associated with maintaining legacy systems not built on business rules. In a recent visit to a very large health care organization, a high-level manager cited the following statistics. They’re staggering. He reported it takes their organization:
  • 24 person-years per year to maintain a 30-year old monolithic COBOL legacy system.
  • 400 person-days over a 4-month period to make changes to business rules of ‘moderate’ complexity.
The manager admitted sadly, “Truth be told, we work for our legacy systems, not the business.” Beyond these frightening costs the manager also described how a subtle stagnation had crept into the staff’s very way of thinking about their business. “Our business leads are so familiar with the limitations of our legacy systems, they don’t even consider business innovations they know from experience to be difficult for the system to handle. Sometimes I wonder if they can even think through innovation effectively anymore.” With variations it’s a story we hear time and time again. The need for innovation is ever more immediate, but the reality of achieving it ever so distant. Who (or what) is making the decisions is in your organization?! At BRS, we have dedicated ourselves to pioneering innovative techniques for achieving order-of-magnitude improvements in how businesses literally operate themselves. We offer no silver bullets. It’s heavy lifting to put an organization onto a different track with respect to their core knowledge practices. Is it worth it? Absolutely. When we see control over decisions coming back where they belong – into the hands of business managers – the results are always extremely rewarding.

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Governance, Compliance and Business Rules (Through Young Eyes)

When my older son graduated from college, he worked as an intern for a professional sports team.  At the end of his very first day of work he called me, puzzled.  “I asked them what my responsibilities were,” he related, “and they said, ‘We need you to know what we are supposed to be doing’.”  After a long pause he went on, “I wanted to ask them why they didn’t already know what they were supposed to be doing, but I didn’t think that would be such a great idea my very first day there.” Let’s see whether at some level that situation sounds familiar to you.  It turns out his area of responsibility had to do with ensuring operational compliance with corporate sponsorship agreements.  The sponsorships are quite expensive.  You might think these agreements would be relatively simple, but of course, there’s no such thing as a truly simple business.  A sponsorship contract:
  • Outlines a complex configuration of promotional and other benefits, some automatable and some not, all usually tailored specifically for the individual sponsor.
  • Is loaded with obligations, decision criteria, and computation formula (read ‘business rules’) to govern the sponsorship relationship.
  • Is amended frequently, both formally and informally (via hand-shake), owing to the dynamic nature of the sponsors’ marketing needs.
To continue the story of my son’s first day, they gave him a stack of contracts and amendments, operational schedules, and invoices and told him to see if they all matched.  Of course they didn’t.  Not by a mile. By the end of the first week, my son had become fairly fluent in the organization’s governance problems.  (Ah, young minds!)  The contracts and schedules were all produced by different people at different times.  Some of the schedules were hand-done and some automated.  But even the ones that were automated often didn’t match the contracts.  The invoices were automated, but in many cases they too bore little resemblance to the contracts.  The IT people were not much help either.  “They seem to speak a different language,” my son reported naively.  Bottom line:  A number of the sponsors were becoming quite annoyed — not a good thing for a mediocre team in a mid-sized market. But there was still more.  The sales reps were, shall we say, quite creative in what they offered the sponsors.  Their terminology, which often found its way into the contracts, was highly idiosyncratic.  Yet they were talking about the same shared resources (e.g., banner boards in the stadium) that had to be coordinated real-time across many sponsors.  They seemed oblivious to some of the company’s rules — even though some, quite literally, were dictated by physics (e.g., a banner board can only say one thing at a time; there is only so much time during a game, etc.). By the way, my son went to one of the team’s games his first week at work.  The team lost.  Attendance was poor.  Sponsors were unhappy.  “I think it’s going to be a season,” he said. After a moment of reflection he added, “You know what really worries me is that I am going to figure all this out, then walk right out the door with all that knowledge.  They’ll be right back where they started.  Doesn’t seem to me like a very good way to run a business.” Welcome, my son, to the reality of business rule mismanagement in the 21st century!

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The Governance Process Is What It Is – And That’s Way More Than Meta!

It’s a shame to have to resort to a ‘meta’ discussion to have what should be a direct conversation about governance process(es). After all, what’s more fundamental to an organization than those?! Does the BPM space ‘get’ it? Recent discussion in social media makes me doubt it. So back to ‘meta’ we go.[1] Here’s a recent wrong-headed post in social media that got my attention.

“I don’t see the appropriateness of labeling governance processes (e.g., business planning process, inventory policy process) as ‘meta’. They’re on a par with all the other business processes (i.e., request for proposal process, hiring process, product commercialization process, etc.). The process management process, on the other hand, is a meta process in that it stands above every one of the other processes, both governance and non-governance.”

My goodness! The process management process stands above governance processes? In what conceivable universe?! From a business perspective something is fundamentally flawed about a BPM approach that fails to recognize governance processes as above all others. Let’s think about it a bit. Some definitions …
  • I define ‘governance process’ as ‘process that governs other processes’. It’s ‘meta’ because both subject and predicate are the same kind of thing. (Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary 3b.)
  • I define ‘meta-process’ as ‘process that transforms other processes’. Since ‘governs’ is a specialization of ‘transforms’, that makes governance process a specialization of meta-process. I recognize there can be other kinds (specializations) of meta-process.
In other words there is a governance variety of meta-process that is the class of all processes that govern other processes. One example or instance of that class is THE governance process (singular) that governs the organization as a whole.

Aside: I can’t believe I had to prove in theory that an organization has a governance process!

To take the analysis further, you could specialize governance meta-process beyond THE governance process (singular) for an organization as a whole to suit governance of individual business areas or processes. The results (outputs) of all other specializations, however, should be consistent with the results (outputs) of THE governance process (singular). That’s a fancy way of saying you want to ensure business alignment. In social media, I wanted to initiate a discussion of what form the results (outputs) from all governance processes should take. If you want to talk about process improvement for governance processes, wouldn’t that be a foremost question?! No luck. These BPM participants wouldn’t go there. It leads me to believe they don’t really ‘get’ that governance is always about setting business policies. Indeed, if you want to improve the governance process sooner or later you’ll have to come to grips with business rules. Instead, they seemed satisfied to conclude the conversation with simply “a process is a process is a process”. I’m afraid not! ~~~~~~~~ www.BRSolutions.com

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