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Principle #2: Be Transparent and Agile

Most information systems in use today are opaque and hard to change. The use of programming languages—code—to specify their behavior makes them opaque to any but the most technically adept. This opacity, and the difficulties of confirming that changes made to the code do what they are expected to do, make for long change cycles and a lack of responsiveness. The combination means that extensive information technology projects must be planned, budgeted, and executed to make changes to the behavior of a system.

These characteristics are unacceptable in a Decision Management System. Opacity is unacceptable because many decisions must demonstrate that they are compliant with policies or regulations. If the code is opaque, then it will not be possible to see how decisions have been made and it will not be possible to verify that these decisions were compliant. Decision Management Systems also make decisions that are based on detailed business know-how and experience. If the code is so opaque that it cannot be understood by those who have this know-how or experience, then it is unlikely to be correct.

Organizational decision-making changes constantly, so agility is also essential. As regulations change, the behavior of any Decision Management System that implements that regulation must also change. Organizations also want Decision Management Systems to make good decisions—effective ones. Effective decisions based on the expectations of customers must be competitive, yet the behavior of competitors and customer expectations change constantly. And moreover, customers and competitors are not obliged to tell organizations when their expectations or plans change. An ability to rapidly change Decision Management Systems to respond is essential.

Decision Management Systems must therefore be both transparent and agile:

  • The design must be transparent so that it is clear that the system is executing the behavior expected of it.
  • The execution must be transparent so that it is clear how each decision was made.
  • They must be agile so that their behavior can be changed when necessary without delay and without unnecessary expense.

Design Transparency and Why It Matters

A Decision Management System must exhibit design transparency. It must be possible for non-technical experts—those who understand the regulations or policies involved or who have the necessary know-how and experience—to determine whether the system is going to behave as required. Those without IT expertise must be able to manage the way in which decisions are made so that it is clear to all participants involved. The drivers or source of this behavior must be identifiable so that those reviewing the behavior of the system can clearly assess its effectiveness in meeting objectives.

Tracking the source of decision-making behavior also means that changes in those sources can be quickly mapped to the changes required in the system. Design transparency means it is possible to determine the way in which a proposed change will ripple through the Decision Management System. One regulatory change might affect many decisions, for example, and decisions may be dependent on the same data elements because they have information needs in common.

Organizations must be sure that their Decision Management Systems will make decisions accurately and effectively after a change is made. This requires that the ripples and impacts of any change can be determined before it is made. Design transparency is essential to being able to trace these impacts.

Execution Transparency and Why It Matters

When a decision is made by a person, that person can be asked to explain the decision. If a person rejects an application for a loan, for instance, he can be asked to appear in court, to write a letter explaining, or simply to answer the customer’s questions. This is not possible when a system makes a decision. A Decision Management System must therefore provide an explanation of a decision that will satisfy customers or suppliers who are materially affected by it. When a decision is regulated, such as when deciding which consumers may have access to credit, a Decision Management System must provide an exact description of how each decision was made so that it can be reviewed for compliance. Decision Management Systems must deliver real execution transparency in these cases.

Not all decisions require execution transparency. When marketing or promotional decisions are being made, it may not be necessary to understand exactly why a particular offer was made to a particular site visitor. When a Decision Management System is being used to decide when to bring a human into the loop, for fraud investigation for instance, it may also not be necessary to understand why as the human acts as a second “pair of eyes.”

Even when a Decision Management System does not require execution transparency, an understanding of how each decision was made can help improve the decision-making of the system. Building in execution transparency is therefore generally a good idea, whether it is required or not. Any approach to developing Decision Management Systems must support execution transparency as well as design transparency.

Business Agility and Why It Matters

An increase in transparency is likely to result in an increase in business agility—if it is easier to see how something works, it will be easier to change how it works when this is needed. A faster response to a needed change improves overall business agility. Transparency is necessary for agility but not sufficient. Once a change is identified and its design impact assessed, it must be possible to make the change quickly and reliably. Decision Management Systems can require real-time changes to their behavior in extreme cases. Daily or weekly changes are very common. When sudden market changes occur, such as major bankruptcies or an outbreak of hostilities, the resulting need for changes to Decision Management Systems can be extreme. Money—and perhaps lives—will be lost every minute until the change is made.

Decision Management Systems must change constantly to reflect new regulations, new policies, and new conditions. This rate of change must be both possible and cost-effective. For most businesses and other organizations, it will not be acceptable if the needed agility in Decision Management Systems comes at too high a price. For a Decision Management System, change must be easy, it must be reliable, it must be fast, and it must be cost-effective.

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