Many IT analyst firms write a great deal about achieving business agility. Some time ago a group of Gartner Group analysts wrote a linked set that was particularly thoughtful and made me think about the need for both decision management and process management.
Agility is defined by Gartner as "the ability of an organization to sense environmental change and to respond efficiently and effectively to that change". I like the definition as it talks about sensing, which neatly includes expected and unexpected changes as well as sudden and gradual ones, and because it emphasizes efficiency and effectiveness in response. It is not enough to respond quickly to be agile, one must also respond appropriately.
At an overview level, one paper  discussed both how a focus on agility is a necessary consequence of the accelerating pace of business change and that technology has a role (though not the only one) to play in this. Clearly people are always going to be a bottleneck when it comes to change, that's just how people are. Indeed one of the papers discussed "Human latency" as something that reduced agility. Some technology approaches make it harder to be agile and some make it easier. Some help you persuade people to change, others to implement the changes once they get agreed. Some, like business rules, can replace people in time-sensitive processes by helping you automate decisions. Indeed the paper on Communication-Enabled Business Processes discussed the class of process initiated by an application and gave some examples of how and why you might replace human decision-making with automated decision-making to streamline and improve a process.
Gartner has an agility cycle that it uses to show both how agility is achieved and that it is ongoing. These are described in some detail  but the basic steps are:
These seem to me to be eminently sensible, though I suspect that Strategize and Decide will be done iteratively together in many cases. This cycle is referenced by all the other papers as the basic approach to delivering agility. Clearly different approaches are called for and different issues arise in each step and the papers do a good job of discussing this.
Two of the papers discuss approaches to agility that are getting a lot of press currently - Service Oriented Architecture or SOA and Business Process Management or BPM. Both papers, it seems to me, make it clear why SOA and BPM can be necessary for agility in some (perhaps many) circumstances but not sufficient for it in most.
The main paper for those interested in business rules discusses how agility and rules are complements not contradictions and emphasizes that "Hard-coding your business rules will severely limit the agility you can expect to achieve". Modernizing legacy applications to take advantage of business rules is a key way to enhance agility and this also makes it clear why BPM and SOA along won't generate the agility you want - if you are hard coding business rules into your services or your processes you are going to be limited, no matter what. You are also not going to get the collaboration you need as your business users can't read code, let along write it. This paper also discusses how rules contribute to all 5 stages of the agility cycle - by helping explaining what happened when you sense a change; by helping business and IT collaborate to strategize about what could be done; to make it easier to analyze and test possible rules so as to decide what option to take; to communicate the rules effectively using formats common to both IT and business people; and to act in an automated yet agile way.
As the paper concludes "for many operational and transactional settings, explicit business rules offer a fast path to agility that is worth investigating". Could not agree more.
Here's the list of Gartner papers:
Author, with Neil Raden, of Smart (Enough) Systems.
This post is reproduced from James Taylor's Decision Management blog
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