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

Posts Tagged ‘violation response’

How to Make Your Business Rules Context-Sensitive

Want context-sensitive business rules? It doesn’t necessarily work the way you think it might. Let’s take an example: A client must have a physical address. That’s the rule; it just says what it says. Separately from the rule itself, several things can be specified:
    • How strictly the rule is to be enforced. Such specification might be: ‘strictly enforced’, ‘override with prior authorization’, ‘override with explanation’, ‘guideline’, etc.
    • What response and/or message is appropriate when the rule is violated.
Both things can be specified to be context-dependent. Back to the example:
    • Suppose the rule is violated in signing up as a member of a website. The enforcement level might be “guideline” and the response might be “We encourage you to provide this information so that we may serve you better in the future.”
    • Suppose the rule is violated in placing an order. The enforcement level might be “strictly enforced” and the response might be “We’re sorry. But we need your address to send you this order.”
The rule is (still) the rule. It still reads: “A client must have a physical address.”. It hasn’t changed one iota. But its application has now become context-sensitive. People think often think they have far more rules than they actually do. They simply haven’t provided the differential breach specifications needed. I discuss breach responses in the post: http://www.brsolutions.com/2012/06/03/breaking-the-rules-breach-questions/ www.BRSolutions.com

Continue Reading

When is a Business Architecture a Dumb One?

In a recent discussion on social media I was explaining what I thought would make a business architecture smart. Tom Graves replied that he wasn’t sure what made one smart, but that he did know what makes one dumb. His criteria …  
    • rigid rule-based boundaries.
    • over-reliance on rigid true/false rules.
    • attempts to implement most or all of that architecture through automated ‘business-rules engines’ that can only work with rigid true/false rules.
He went on to say that these criteria suggest that “a first requirement for a smart business-architecture is that it go beyond all these mistakes.” Tom’s emphasis on ‘true/false’ rules needs to be carefully qualified. After all, you do want the internal workings of a rule engine to be based on formal logic. I believe what he really means is an approach that allows no shades of gray with respect to nuanced enforcement of business rules. On that point I hardily agree. In addition, Tom got me to agree with him on two major points about the current state of the industry. In his words …

1. The quest for ‘certainty’ in an inherently-uncertain world is futile. Rules of all kinds exist to help human thinking and human judgment, not to act as a substitute for it.

2. The software vendors … are frankly not far short of committing fraud with many of the claims they make as to the efficacy and validity of their ‘business-rules engines’.

The term business rule unfortunately has been hijacked by software vendors to mean something very different from the original concept. For example, production rules[1] (the basis for the majority of current product offerings) are not business rules. Full stop. This distorted view of business rule needs to be rectified. Don’t let yourself be sucked into it! For real business rules there are three (optional) supplemental specifications for each business rule statement[2]:

(1) level of enforcement

(2) violation (breach) response

(3) violation (breach) message.

It is through these specifications that the richness of behavioral coordination can arise.


[1] Production rules (also called productions) can be used to implement business rules, but are not business rules per se.  Production rules typically provide support for action selection, which results in non-declarative statements. According to Wikipedia, a production rule system (essentially, an expert system) is …

a computer program typically used to provide some form of artificial intelligence, which consists primarily of a set of rules about behavior

Production rule systems are a class of platform whose rule format and operation are aimed toward developers.  According to Wikipedia:

“A production system provides the mechanism necessary to execute productions in order to achieve some goal for the system.  Productions consist of two parts:  a sensory precondition (or ‘IF’ statement) and an action (or ‘THEN’). If a production’s precondition matches the current state of the world, then the production is said to be triggered.  If a production’s action is executed, it is said to have fired.”

[2] Refer to “Breaking the Rules: Breach Questions” http://www.brsolutions.com/2012/06/03/breaking-the-rules-breach-questions/

Continue Reading

Point-of-Knowledge Architecture: True Business Agility, Incremental Development, In-Line Training, and Real-Time Compliance

Excerpted from Business Rule Concepts: Getting to the Point of Knowledge (4th ed, 2013), by Ronald G. Ross, 162 pp, http://www.brsolutions.com/b_concepts.php Let me use an example to sketch the workings of business rules in smart architecture based on points of knowledge[1].  Refer to the Figure to visualize how the system works.

Aside: I have been using this same slide since 1994(!).

Suppose you have a process or procedure that can be performed to take a customer order.
  • An order is received.  Some kind of event occurs in the system.  It doesn’t really matter too much what kind of event this is; let’s just say the system becomes aware of the new order.
  • The event is a flash point — one or more business rules pertain to it.  One is:  A customer that has placed an order must have an assigned agent.
  • We want real-time compliance with business policy, so this business rule is evaluated immediately for the order.  Again, it doesn’t much matter what component in the system does this evaluation; let’s just say some component, service, or platform can do it.
  • Suppose the customer placing the order does not have an assigned agent.  The system should detect a fault, a violation of the business rule.  In other words, the system should become aware that the business rule is not satisfied by this new state of affairs.
  • The system should respond immediately to the fault.  In lieu of any smarter response, at the very least it should respond with an appropriate message to someone, perhaps to the order-taker (assuming that worker is authorized and capable).
What exactly should the error message say? Obviously, the message can include all sorts of ‘help’.  But the most important thing it should say is what kind of fault has occurred from the business perspective.  So it could start off by literally saying, “A customer that has placed an order must have an assigned agent.”  We say the business rule statement is an error message (or better, a guidance message). That’s a system putting on a smart face, a knowledge-friendly face, at the very point of knowledge.  But it’s a two-way street.  By flashing business rules in real-time, you have an environment perfectly suited to rapidly identifying opportunities to evolve and improve business practices.  The know-how gets meaningful mindshare.  That’s a ticket to continuous improvement and true business agility.

Smarter and Smarter Responses

Is it enough for the system simply to return a guidance message and stop there?  Can’t it do more?  Of course. For the order-taking scenario, a friendly system would immediately offer the user a means to correct the fault (again assuming the user is authorized and capable).  Specifically, the system should offer the user another procedure, pulled up instantaneously, to assign an appropriate agent.  If successful, the user could then move on with processing the order. This smart approach knits procedures together just-in-time based on the flash points of business rules.  It dynamically supports highly-variable patterns of work, always giving pinpoint responses to business events (not system events).  In short, it’s exactly the right approach for process models any time that applying know-how is key — which these days, is just about always! The Business Rules Manifesto (http://www.businessrulesgroup.org/brmanifesto.htm) says this:  “Rules define the boundary between acceptable and unacceptable business activity.”  If you want dynamic processes, you must know exactly where that boundary lies, and how to respond to breaches (at flash points) in real time. Is that as smart as processes can get?  Not yet.  Over time, the business rules for assigning appropriate agents might become well enough understood to be captured and made available to the system.  Then when a fault occurs, the system can evaluate the business rules to assign an agent automatically.  At that point, all this decision-making gets tucked very neatly under the covers.  Even if the business rules you can capture are sufficient for only routine assignments, you’re still way ahead in the game. Smart architecture based on business rules is unsurpassed for incremental design, where improvement:
  • Focuses on real business know-how, not just better GUIs or dialogs.
  • Continues vigorously after deployment, not just during development.
  • Occurs at a natural business pace, not constrained to software release cycles.
The Manifesto says it this way:  “An effective system can be based on a small number of rules.  Additional, more discriminating rules can be subsequently added, so that over time the system becomes smarter.”  That’s exactly what you need for knowledge retention, as well as to move pragmatically toward the knowledge economy.  Business rules give you true agility.

Continue Reading 1 Comment

Breaking the Rules: Breach Questions

What should happen when a business rule is broken[1]? As discussed in this post, Business Analysts should answer three questions:
    1. How strictly should the business rule be enforced?
    2. What message is appropriate?
    3. What response is needed?
Developing a friendly, secure business solution requires overt answers to these questions for at least a subset of business rules. (As explained later, defaults can be assumed for the others.) It should also be possible to easily change or evolve the answers (including defaults) after deployment of the business rules, thus permitting the business capability to become incrementally smarter. The goal is context-dependent, pinpoint reaction to breaches in real-time.  Addressing breaches intelligently is key to creating friendly, agile, secure business solutions, ones that can evolve rapidly in day-to-day operation. Breach Question 1.  Enforcement Level How strictly should a behavioral rule[2] be enforced? Example …

Business Rule:  A service representative must not be assigned to good customers in more than 3 states or provinces.

Ask:  How strictly should this business rule be enforced?

Enforcement Level:  Override by pre-authorized actor

Table 1 lists the most common enforcement levels for behavioral rules.[3] Table 1Common Enforcement Levels for Behavioral Rules
Enforcement Level Description
strictly enforced Violations are disallowed in all cases – achieving some newstate successfully is always prevented.
override by pre-authorized actor The behavioral rule is enforced, but an actor with proper before-the-fact authorization may override it.
override with explanation The behavioral rule may be overridden simply by providing an explanation.
guideline Suggested, but not enforced.
  Be sure not to overlook the last enforcement level Table 1.  A business rule that is actively evaluated, but not enforced, is (literally) a guideline. Guidelines are business rules too! Breach Question 2.  Guidance Message What message should be returned when a breach of a business rule occurs? When a business rule is breached, somebody, often a business actor directly engaged in a business process, needs to know about it.  The breach means the work being conducted has strayed outside the boundaries of what the business deems acceptable or desirable.  From a business perspective an error has been made, so some error message should go out.  What should that error message say? As a default, we like to say that the business rule statement is the error message.  From a business point of view, that equivalence must always be true – what else are business rules about?! Rather than saying ‘error message’ (which sounds technical) or ‘violation message’ (which sounds harsh, especially for guidelines), we say guidance message. Generally, guidance messages should be as friendly and as helpful as possible.  For example, guidance messages can be written in a more personal, informative style. More explanation or suggestions can be appended or substituted as desired.  Perhaps a link to other media (e.g., a how-to video) can be provided.  Sometimes the best guidance message takes the form of some icon or signal (e.g., a warning light turning to yellow or red).  Guidance messages frequently need to be specific to the circumstances in which a breach occurs (e.g., what role or user produced it). In all cases, guidance messages should be made available only to people who are qualified and capable. Breach Question 3.  Breach Response Does the breach response for a business rule need to be more selective, rigorous, or comprehensive than simply a message? Example …

Business Rule: A cursory review of a received engineering design must be conducted within 5 business days of the date received.

Ask:  What breach response is appropriate for this business rule?

Breach Response:  The received engineering design must be brought to the attention of the manager of the department by the morning of the next business day.

Breach responses can take any of the following forms:
    • business rule (as illustrated above), or set of business rules
    • processes or procedures
    • sanctions or penalties
    • operational business decisions
    • special notifications, displays or instructions
Multiple breach responses might be desirable for a business rule. They might also need to be specific to the circumstances in which a breach occurs (e.g., what particular part of a process is being performed). Usually, breach responses serve to increase user-friendliness. In cases of potential fraud or malicious business behavior, however, breach responses should be much more aggressive. Defaults Natural defaults for the three breach questions are listed in Table 2. Table 2.  Defaults for the Breach Questions
Breach Question Default
enforcement level strictly enforced
guidance message the business rule statement itself
breach response none
 
[1]Fundamental to business analysis with business rules is the assumption that breaches of business rules can be detected.  If you can’t detect breaches, how can you run the business?! To say it differently, if you can’t detect breaches of a business rule, but you can still run the business, perhaps you don’t need the business rule at all(!).
[2]This breach question applies only to behavioral rules. Since definitional rules must always be true, they are in essence strictly enforced.
[3]Table 12-1 of Business Rule Concepts, 3rd Ed. (Chapter 12) discusses additional enforcement levels.  It also provides tips for designing procedures with business rules.

Continue Reading 3 Comments

The Debate Continues: Expert Systems vs. Business Rules … Yet Another Response

guest post by Jan Purchase, Director of Lux Magi Ltd ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ I do see value in distinguishing ‘policy’ rules from ‘expert’ rules. It’s also clear that, at their extremes, these rule types are poles apart. Still I fear that this distinction may be a continuum rather than a discrete dichotomy. Policy rules might be exemplified as the constraints of business operational practice – the rules that dictate what a company should and should not do. They might be mined from the boundary conditions of the fact model of the company’s business capability – as you suggest in your excellent book on this subject[1]. An example policy rule might assert, for example, “A company agent may be assigned to a high-value customer only if the agent is assigned to at most five other clients”. Expert rules, on the other hand, are often seen as more complex – for example, using heuristics to determine the best, anti-cancer drug to apply in a given situation, or forecasting regional sales opportunities. Often these expert rule bases use expert experience, genetic algorithms, fuzzy logic and feedback loops to reach a decision. They seek to augment, or even supplant, the wisdom of a small population of subject matter experts. But isn’t there a middle ground too? Consider an insurance policy decision rule that bin-sorts clients into good, bad and medium risk (the latter to be referred to a human underwriting expert). If this were a simple four-row, decision table based on the value of the policy and the risk profile of a client, you would probably consider it a ‘policy rule’. But if I add scorecarding, heuristics and analytics, at what point does it become an ‘expert rule’? Would you consider all decision rules (as opposed to constraint rules) to be ‘expert rules’? Or do they need to be complex or directly represent the experience of SMEs? Don’t all rules, to some extent, represent the wisdom of experts? Don’t many of them constitute and inform policy? In short: Is there a simple question we can ask (concerning a rule) to determine if it is a ‘policy’ or ‘expert’ rule? ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ See my reply to Jan: http://www.brsolutions.com/2012/05/29/the-debate-continues-expert-systems-vs-business-rules/ Answer to Jan’s Question: The question to ask of every rule is whether the end-point is enforcement or is it a decision. An enforcement rule never becomes a decision rule, and a decision rule never becomes an enforcement rule. Once an enforcement rule, always an enforcement rule (assuming you don’t retire it). You can adjust thresholds (e.g., the mph of the speed limit), you can change the enforcement level (e.g., from ‘strictly enforced’ to ‘override with explanation’), you can change the sanctions (or eliminate them), etc., etc. And you can and should use analytics to measure and improve the rate of success in achieving underlying business goals. But it’s black and white. Enforcement is enforcement and decisions are decisions.

Continue Reading

The Debate Continues: Expert Systems vs. Business Rules

Here is my latest post in the on-going debate over decision management systems, expert systems, and business rules. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~ There is a fundamental difference between rules whose intent is enforcement (however strict) vs. rules whose intent is to make (expert) decisions. Rules whose intent is enforcement (e.g., speed limits) revolve around:

* detection of violations (think speed trap) * level of enforcement (e.g., strictly enforced) * violation message (electronic sign flashes ‘You’re speeding’) * violation response (cop chases you down the street with siren) * sanction or penalty (speeding ticket and a fine)

I chose an example that is probably not automatable (never be too sure) because such ‘behavioral rules’ (SBVR term) are everywhere in everyday life and therefore easy to comprehend independently of existing platforms and IT support. But there are a huge number that are automable; we just seem to be blinded to them sometimes for whatever reason (probably technical bias). Behavioral rules would not be involved in diagnosing (deciding) what’s wrong with a missle or classifying (deciding) the risk category of a prospect for insurance. In SBVR those are ‘definitional rules’ (or you could call them decision rules). They are about (encoding the know-how to make) smart (expert) decisions. It is true that decision rules often support behavioral rules in some fashion (e.g., is this particular speeder worth bothering over?). But it always comes down to this fundamental distinction: Is the end-point about enforcement, or is it about a decision. Enforcement and decisions are simply different. Are decision rules and behavioral rules both business rules? Yes. Should they be treated the same by platforms and methodologies? No. Why? They are different. Failing to understand the difference harms both business ‘users’ (poor governance processes) and decision management systems (oversell).

Continue Reading 4 Comments

R.I.P. Straight-Line, Old-School Processes!

Consider the business rule: A vehicle must not exceed the posted speed limit. Some of the issues for this business rule are (a) how do you detect a violation and (b) how do you respond to a violation. These issues raise the question, whose process is it? Are we talking about the process of the person driving down the street, or the process of the policeperson operating the speed trap? The two processes are obviously related in some way, but definitely not the same. The cop’s process is best viewed as interrupting the driver’s process. Let me come back to that point in a minute. There are two fundamental kinds of business rules[1]:
  • Decision rules (or a little more broadly, definitional rules). These are the kind of business rules that expert systems traditionally addressed. It’s the kind you find in decision tasks – e.g., whether someone should be given credit.
  • Behavioral rules. These are business rules that can be violated – e.g., speeding down the street, or being off-sides in football. For behavioral rules you need cops or referees or whatever to interrupt a more basic process when a violation occurs. It’s just the natural way to do things (if you don’t want anarchy).
Aside: You might say the examples of behavioral rules I’ve cited (speeding and off-sides) are not automatable. Well, I’m less and less sure about that these days. I see a lot of cameras where I live ‘watching’ for cars running red lights. The camera takes a picture of your license plate and the position of the car in the intersection and you get a ticket in the mail. For the record, I haven’t gotten one. But they do make me more careful about yellow lights. In any case, a great many behavioral rules are automatable. They arise as interpretations of some law, act, statute, regulation, contract, agreement, business deal, MOU, business policy, license, certification, warranty, etc.  For these kinds of business rules, you need a ‘watcher’ outside the process, standing ready to interrupt the process if a violation occurs. A classic example: The fuel rods in a nuclear power plant must be covered with water. If a process of operating the power plant ever violate that rule, I want an immediate violation response to interrupt the guilty process(!). That business rule is about operating a power plant, but the same idea holds true for business processes in general. Detecting violations of behavioral rules is how you can stitch together dynamic processes in real time. Such dynamic processes cannot be achieved by embedding business rules in either a model of the business process, or the process itself. The ‘watcher’ must be on the outside, protecting the interests of the larger (business) community. Such rule independence is the fundamental idea of business rules, as expressed by the Business Rule Manifesto[2]. R.I.P traditional, hard-wired processes!    


[1] Based on SBVR, the OMG standard Semantics of Business Vocabulary and Business Rules. See the SBVR Insider section on www.BRCommunity.com for more information. [2]http://www.businessrulesgroup.org/brmanifesto.htm The Manifesto (2 pp, free) been translated into 15 languages.
 

Continue Reading 4 Comments

How Business Processes and Behavioral Rules Relate: The Fundamental Insight of Business Rules

In football, when a referee throws a flag, the results of the most recent transform (play) are undone. In effect, by enforcing a rule, the referee prevents or negates the new state (yardline and sometimes the down) and enforces some other state. That’s the way behavioral business rules[1] work. Speed through a school zone and see if your desired state isn’t modified if some policeman happens to be watching. The relationship between behavioral rules and business processes is an indirect one, through state. Business tasks try to produce new states; behavioral rules step in to modify or prevent the new state if a violation occurs … just like the policeman parked in the school zone with a radar gun. More precisely, business tasks precipitate events that try to change state (the outputs, final or interim), and behavioral rules ‘watch’ for the particular events that produce violations. A violation produces a response, which can be another process – e.g., the referee jumping in to whistle the play dead or the policeman putting down his doughnut and chasing you. Yes, it’s important know which business tasks can violate which behavioral rules, but their relationship more complexly networked than you might think. In general, every behavioral rule expressed declaratively can be analyzed to produce two or more events (I call them flash points) where it can be violated and needs to be evaluated. I can provide endless examples. (Refer to http://www.brcommunity.com/b623.php?zoom_highlight=flash+point or to Chapter 8 of Business Rule Concepts, 3rd ed.) These events are likely to be in different business processes (or procedures or use cases) … and sometimes a given process may not have been modeled at all (or the event occurs ‘spontaneously’). The fact that each behavioral business rule can be violated at two or more flash points is a fundamental insight of the business rule approach. It’s precisely where current platforms, tools and methodologies fall short, and why consistency and compliance are so difficult to achieve. In other words, it’s an essential idea in really ‘getting’ business rules.


[1] In SBVR, there are two kinds of business rules; the second kind is definitional rules. As their name suggests, definitional business rules shape concepts and provide criteria for making decisions.

Continue Reading

Our Clients

[cycloneslider id="our-clients"]