Organisations of all sizes face the constant challenge of making reliable, consistent and faster decisions to stay ahead of the competition and adapt to changing industry dynamics.
Consumers want companies to provide products and services immediately, which is forcing them to find better ways to make decisions with more insight and control.
Enter business rules management – an approach to increase agility and responsiveness by automating decision-making processes.
CIOs from several industries – including government, telecommunications, non-profit, building and construction, and healthcare – gathered in Melbourne in July to discuss how business rules management (BRM) systems can be used to automate business processes. The roundtable was sponsored by Progress.
Many organisations in attendance were already using a business process management (BPM) system. So the first and most obvious question posed was, ‘why would they need to consider purchasing a BRM?’
Craig Law, managing director and regional VP, Progress Australia and New Zealand, says the parallel evolution of BPM and BRM is no coincidence.
Both practices and technologies are focused on creating explicit models of business that can be directly translated to the execution of those models. This greatly reduces the time required to develop applications, Law says.
“The value of BPM and BRM systems strongly correlates with the degree of automation in translating business-friendly models to executable code. Separating out processes and rules from enterprise applications turns them into explicit assets to be managed.
“This allows for greater visibility into business operations, greater agility in changing these assets, and reusability across multiple business applications,” he says.
The main driver for BPM has become business agility, says Law, which is a shift from its early focus on improving efficiency and achieving compliance.
“Business process agility is critical to maintaining a competitive edge; if you can’t change your business process to meet new regulations or customer requirements, to accommodate a merger, or keep up with your competitors’ new offerings, then you are going to fall behind.
“Business rules support greater process agility and can be applied in a variety of patterns and places. BRM and BPM together give companies the ability to build for change, an imperative in today’s fast-moving business environment,” he says.
During the roundtable, many attendees said they had automated business rules management across their organisations and were already seeing positive outcomes.
Mark Taylor, general manager, IT, at trading and investment company, Mitsubishi Corporation, says the company is in the early stages of optimising its business processes using a rules-based approach.
Taylor says the organisation recently implemented a solution which includes a powerful workflow engine. As part of a phase 1 deployment, the company ensured all previous business rules were transferred across to the new system, which provided key insights into the available capabilities, he says.
“This has opened up a long list of requirements that we intend to work through to automate and digitise existing processes,” he says.
“Previously we had a very inflexible and code-based system that was used to implement workflow and rules, and consequently, they were very limited in their application.”
Food manufacturer, Mondelez International, has implemented business rules to automate tasks across several areas of the organisation, says global information security architect lead, Craig Pitts.
“The biggest benefit we’ve seen is consistency of process when staff members change or hand over roles during typical staff movements. These consistency and speed improvements allow for faster, more flexible business decisions and time savings through a predictable set of processes that they interact with,” he says.
Attendees agreed that there is a need for organisations to automate and therefore, speed up the process of making business decisions. This is predominantly because demands on IT departments are always increasing while resources are not, says Ken Smyth, sales engineer at Progress.
Smyth says automating rules management with a system that keeps rules apart from the business logic lightens the IT load and gives organisations more time to focus on business innovation.
“It’s a win-win all around, decreasing change cycles by 90 per cent while delivering lower operational costs and fostering business agility,” he says.
Hardy Dusterwald, GM, business process management, at Telstra says the telco has implemented business process rules using BPM software. This has supported the digitisation of processes resulting in faster and more consistent business results, he says.
“We have implemented a number of different process-based applications for many areas of the business. The results have led to a decrease in elapsed time to process requests; an increase in our net promoter score; and increase in efficiency when dealing with the number of episodes per day,” he says.
“These rules are configured in such a way so we can adapt and change as required. For example, the next time the process is activated, the new set of rules are applied and the process can follow a new path.
“We also take this information into our business intelligence systems to analyse the impact of these rule sets,” he says.
Still, one CIO from the healthcare sector says that business rules-driven IT solutions have been limited in their application to date and they have only been adopted for ‘tactical’ initiatives.
“There are clear opportunities within the health sector for such systems but I don’t see them as a high priority for the short to medium term,” he says.
Automating rules while still maintaining control
Attendees agreed that striking a balance between the need to automate business rules and still allowing individuals to have the flexibility to implement business change is vital.
This is extremely important, not everything can be or should be automated, says Mondelez’s Pitts.
“Some things are just too costly to automate and should be documented and simply referred to. Also, if there is a need to make a judgement call – such as a security, financial or audit determination – then it’s imperative to have a person make that call as part of the process,” said Pitts.
Mitsubishi Corporation’s Taylor adds that there are diminishing returns for automation in cases where complexity and flexibility requirements increase.
“Therefore careful consideration must be given to which processes to target as user uptake will be lower if the perceived benefits are minimal,” says Taylor.
Telstra’s Dusterwald says selecting the right technology and organisation structure to accommodate the ever changing business landscape is imperative.
“So when we evaluate an initiative for implementation into the BPM platform, we have a checklist to see that the business has completed the process analysis and it has the ability to apply any business changes and maintain it.
“Our guiding principle is to build for change not only during project execution but also once a capability has been migrated to production,” he says.
Bill Swale, senior account executive at Progress, adds that the concepts of automation and change are complimentary rather than conflicting when enabled by a BRM system.
“When rules are automated in a no-coding BRM system, the flexibility to implement change available to business is significantly increased.
“Moreover, the reliance of the business on IT to schedule, code, test and release changes into production is bypassed so individuals are freed from this constraint to innovate and respond to change in their business environment,” he says.
Industry regulation calls for more agility
New staff, constant changes and high speed adoption of new technology as industries become more regulated, drives a mandatory requirement for agility and flexibility.
“What was relevant and critical five years ago isn’t always critical today, even if it’s still relevant,” says Mondelez’s Pitts. “If technology can make that easier, then you should leverage that.”
Mitsubishi’s Taylor says that irrespective of regulation, an agile approach has become the de facto standard of managing change inside the business.
“Although it’s been a rather ‘out-of-the-box’ agile approach, it needs needs to be tweaked to what works in your organisation. The [approach] may vary between companies but will evolve to encapsulate the elements of regulation, leadership and collaboration that exist within the business,” he says.
Progress’ Law adds that whether organisations manufacturer steel or builds software, they need to equip systems for rapid-fire change.
“But it can be hard to shift direction when the rules that drive business performance are buried in source code. Responsive control of these rules is the key to an agile system and an agile business,” he says.