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!
Ron Ross, Principal and Co-Founder of Business Rules Solutions, LLC, is internationally acknowledged as the “father of business rules.” Recognizing early on the importance of independently managed business rules for business operations and architecture, he has pioneered innovative techniques and standards since the mid-1980s. He wrote the industry’s first book on business rules in 1994.
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