Smart Business Analysis Don't Drown in Decisions
Consider the following examples of decisions arising in a regulated environment:
A government agency in Europe has regulations relating to social benefits. The agency must make decisions that conform to those regulations. Examples: Is this person eligible for this benefit? How much benefit, and for how long, is this person entitled to?
An individual company might also have decisions that are dependent on those regulations. Example: "Is this person entitled to paid leave to care for a sick child?" (The regulations might require companies of a certain size to pay for such leave.) Such decisions are likely to depend on the company's own policies and practices as well.
These examples represent true operational business decisions — ones valid for decision analysis. By the way, it's hardly surprising that the decisions are in effect about money. Of course money entails decisions! But here are two important observations before we get carried away.
1. One-Off Behavioral Rules.
- One-off means the rules follow no particular pattern so they won't readily fit into a decision table.
- Behavioral means the rules bestow obligations or prohibitions on people and organizations, and so can be violated.
- Payment of benefits shall cease immediately upon the death of the beneficiary.
- Payment of benefits shall not be made to any beneficiary living outside the country for more than 9 months of a fiscal year.
- Payment of benefits shall not be made directly to any minor.
Is decision analysis well-suited to capturing such one-off behavioral rules? No, not directly. Is it productive to treat an operational action, such as 'Pay Benefit', as a decision (e.g., "Should a benefit payment be made?" No, not from a business perspective.
Behavior related to the evaluation and enforcement of behavioral rules should be autonomous, much like the autonomic nervous system in the human body. It's definitely at a lower rung on the business ladder of intelligence than decision-making. There's simply no need to make it more complicated than it already is.
More on Autonomous Behavior
Automation is not the most fundamental objective for business rules and their application. In any event automation is not always possible. More fundamental is autonomy (a.k.a. rule independence).
Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary (MWUD) defines autonomy as the quality or state of being independent, free, and self-directing. Autonomy always implies a degree of political or organic independence. Autonomy for business rules yields at least three important benefits:
So, for the example let's assume the following:
- There is a task or action 'Make payment', probably in some business process.
- There is an independent 'watcher' — i.e., an automated service or person responsible for evaluating and applying the behavioral rules.
In performing the task for any particular real-world case the 'watcher' might detect violations of relevant behavioral rules. If so, when a violation is detected the 'watcher' applies each behavioral rule to its specified level of enforcement, and possibly sends some appropriate message(s) and/or invokes some procedure(s). That's how basic business behavior becomes autonomous so the business can concentrate on matters requiring greater skill, experience, or intelligence — i.e., true business decisions.
If you're not careful everything becomes a decision. Where do you draw the line? Creating a smart business process is not enough. It must be competent at conducting business fundamentals as well.
2. Violations of Behavioral Rules.
Consider the following (one-off) behavioral rule:
A non-citizen may cash a payment of benefits for a citizen only if married to that citizen and the citizen is not deceased.
What happens in the following scenario?
The citizen dies or divorces the non-citizen. Then the non-citizen tries to cash a payment.
There's no organizational decision involved in that action. You can say there's a personal decision — e.g., the non-citizen decides to try to violate the rule and cash a payment. But the business doesn't really care about that decision.
The focus of the business should be on simply detecting violations in the most straightforward manner possible. You don't need a business decision for that.
If you have a decision for every possible kind of violation (event) of every behavioral rule, you'll very quickly drown in decisions. Don't go there!
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 According to the OMG standard SBVR (Semantics of Business Vocabularies and Business Rules), the second fundamental kind of business rule is definitional. A definitional rule bestows a necessity or impossibility on knowledge, and so cannot be violated per se. Inference-type rules are definitional. For information about SBVR see the SBVR Insider section on www.BRCommunity.com
 These regulations / business policies are not entirely ready to be deployed into the business — i.e., are probably not yet practicable. So they are not expressed following all RuleSpeak® guidelines.
 MWUD 1 : a part of the vertebrate nervous system that innervates smooth and cardiac muscle and glandular tissues, governs actions that are more or less automatic (as secretion, vasoconstriction, or peristalsis)
 As always, business vocabulary is highly important too. For example, which does payment mean in the earlier regulations / business policies: accrual of benefit, act of payment, amount of payment, or something else? Clear definitions are no small issue in producing correct results.
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